Igniting the next generation of women entrepreneurs in Colombia

By: Kiki Del Valle, Executive Vice President, Market Development, LAC

For millions of women, digital inclusion is a critical step in strengthening their economic potential. In a year when the health and economic implications of COVID-19 were felt by so many, women specifically have been disproportionally impacted. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the pandemic has cost 34 million jobs in Latin America and states that women have experienced greater job loss when compared to men. While women have made great strides in their economic progress over the years, early statistics from the Inter-American Development Bank support that nowhere else is the unequal impact of the pandemic more visible than on jobs.

Creating equal opportunities for women in innovation is not only a question of gender equality, but also an economic priority. Insights from UN Women estimate that the pandemic will leave 118 million women and girls in poverty throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. A growing economy depends on a large and equally committed workforce. When women are sidelined due to expanded demands and job loss, the vitality of economies are put at risk as households lose half of their earnings capacity. In order for Latin America to work toward an inclusive reactivation of the economy, guarantee a prosperous future and a sustainable recovery, the private and public sector will have to focus on helping and providing women with education, the right financial tools, and access to capital. Increasing women’s access to digital tools and resources is a critical means to unlocking their prosperity both in their business and personal lives. Many entrepreneurs are stuck in the informal sector, unable to grow, which reduces their earning potential and size. In addition, many women entrepreneurs face significant gender-related challenges, including lower levels of financial education, fewer women role models, lack of support networks and lack of capital and assets.

It is estimated that there is a $98 Billion (USD) credit gap for women-owned enterprises in Latin America, and in 2020 alone, of the $4.4 billion of startup funding in Latin America, none went to female-only founded startups. The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) Report signals that women entrepreneurs are starting successful businesses with unprecedented speed in the Latin America and Caribbean region, but they are not yet receiving the funding, support or attention they deserve. The MIWE Report further highlights that when we dive into the challenges faced by women-owned and women-led startups, innovative, gender-specific support for women will drive their entrepreneurial success throughout the region’s recovery phase. Now in its fourth edition, the MIWE findings spotlight Colombia as the region’s leader for women entrepreneurs, driven by a high representation of women business leaders— more than half (57%) of business leaders in Colombia are women.

True to our strategic focus on digital and financial inclusion, we recently partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative to stimulate the growth and sustainability of early-stage female entrepreneurs and launched the region’s first Start Path Empodera program in Colombia. The program applies our award-winning Start Path global accelerator model to advance women-led startups as they seek to (1) achieve scale, (2) deliver innovative products and services, (3) raise their business profile, (4) access a community of women entrepreneurs, and (5) raise capital for growth. This is the latest program to join existing efforts, which include our support of the LEADS Mujer Virtual Accelerator that helps women-owned small businesses on their path toward growth.

As we look to develop sustainable programs for consumers and businesses on a journey toward prosperity, the next big task is scaling support from critical partners across sectors. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the crucial need for private and public sector partners to work together in new ways to leverage expertise, tap into resources, and expand the reach of digital and financial efforts. By bringing together complementary partners, Start Path Empodera is the latest example of Mastercard’s evolving role as a market organizer and leader in the region’s Tech for Good Partnership, which seeks to create new, powerful bridges that support the most vulnerable beyond just payments.

Increased understanding of the female entrepreneurial environment is essential to supporting the success of women. At Mastercard, we’re actively reimagining what it means to take part in today’s digital economy and what growth means for this ambitious segment of the digital economy. As societies continue to address existing cultural biases, we will do our part to ignite the partnerships and projects that will fuel the foundation for the personal and economic growth of women entrepreneurs.

Putting women entrepreneurs and startups on pathways towards resilience is key to powering an inclusive digital economy that works better for women and creates limitless possibilities for us all.