Boosting confidence and improving financial literacy: Early wins from AWEF projects in Asia

In 2020, ANDE announced eight grantees working across East and Southeast Asia to receive funds for one-year projects under the Advancing Women’s Empowerment Fund (AWEF), aimed to address the significant gap in access to finance for women-led and owned SGBs. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, just as projects were about to start.

Facing the major public health concerns and economic uncertainty, ANDE and its grantees had to scramble to adjust and adapt the projects. On the program side, grantees had to change the way they delivered their programs. They also had to contend with the investment sector’s increased hesitancy to invest in the midst of the crisis. Despite these challenges, all of the AWEF projects have still seen positive results in achieving their goals.

The projects were less than six months out from their completion, so many of the long-term impacts on investment in women in the region remain to be seen and studied. However, observations from the AWEF grantee organizations and self-reported survey data shows that across the different AWEF funded programs, women entrepreneurs’ confidence and investment literacy grew profoundly.

Hira Saeed, at CaterpillHERs, which partnered with the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship on their AWEF project, said that through their programming, women-led startups grew to better understand where in their growth timeline investment fits in. Many women entrepreneurs came away with the confidence that it was okay for their businesses to still be in the “bootstraps” phase and the knowledge of what kind of investment best fits their business models.

Jona Resphiti from MIT’s D-Lab had similar observations. She particularly highlighted the growth in confidence seen in women entrepreneurs throughout this process, that it’s not just about the final amount of money they will raise. When talking about the guiding questions of their program implementation, Jona noted,
“If I were to rewrite it, I would say: ‘how can we build more inclusive programs so women entrepreneurs feel more empowered, more comfortable, more confident, more aware, more resilient, in seeking capital aligned funding.’ This could mean that it translates into more [venture capital] money, but it could also mean that they decide to follow other pathways that are more relevant to them…What’s also important is how they feel about fundraising. Do they feel confident? Do they feel good? Is this something that adds to their mental stress? I think that’s something that we hadn’t necessarily planned to capture for, but I think now it is just as important of an outcome to build this as it is to measure those financial numbers at the end.”

Villgro Philippines and SHEInvestments, two other grantees, also noted similar outcomes. Priya Thachadi from Villgro highlighted that an early observed development in their programming was the confidence in their women entrepreneurs to make connections with investors proactively, discern which investors are best for them, and know whether generating investment capital was the appropriate step for their business at that time.

They particularly mentioned that the majority of participants wanted credit lines to build their business credibility. Through the program, the entrepreneurs were confident enough in their investment knowledge to discern this. James Wilson from SHE Investments also highlighted that their entrepreneurs had more confidence and expertise surrounding investment language. They now know better what questions to ask and the correct terminology surrounding investment. They also now have confidence in their ability to discern when to chase investment opportunities.

ANDE has been happy to hear about this immediate positive outcome on women entrepreneurs’ confidence and investment literacy as a result of AWEF funding. We look forward to hearing more about the long-term effects of the projects in East and Southeast Asia, as well as being able to compare outcomes with the next round of AWEF funding in Africa, where three new grantees started one-year projects in June 2021.