She’s Next: Empowering Women Entrepreneurs
Around the world, small businesses are the backbone of the economy, creating jobs and contributing to GDP. However, according to the World Economic Forum, men still outnumber women three to one when it comes to business ownership. The main barriers women face, include lack of business education, lack of confidence - and in particular, lack of funding1.
In a recent survey across Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus, carried out for Visa by growth hub Emerging Europe, women entrepreneurs highlighted high competition, raising capital and unfavorable business conditions as their biggest practical hurdles2.
Their main aim - cited by 47 percent - was to gain the necessary skills to acquire additional funding, with more than a third saying they wanted to improve their digital marketing and social media skills, and a quarter hoping to learn how to do business online.
And while most said they preferred card payments, many were still reliant on cash, hampering their efforts to improve efficiency.
It was for reasons such as these that Visa launched its She's Next initiative in 2019, initially in the United States, with the aim of empowering women around the world to start and manage their own businesses.
Recounting the impact of the She’s Next programme
Through She's Next, women entrepreneurs learn how to develop a business plan, manage their business, digitize operations and apply for loans.
They also gain access to a network of other women business owners, who share their wisdom, expertise and experience to inspire less experienced business owners. Meanwhile, free educational resources and interactive tools are available to help women start, manage and grow their small businesses.
Globally, Visa has already invested over $2.87 million in She's Next, as part of its aim to digitally enable 50 million small businesses around the world - a target it's well on the way to achieving.
"The program takes a research-based approach, identifying the particular problems faced by women entrepreneurs and sharing best practices," says Andrew Torre, Regional President for Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEMEA) at Visa.
"We use a multi-channel strategy, forming partnerships with local tier-one financial institutions and NGOs, tailoring programs to each region. The aim is to help women acquire all the practical knowledge and support they need to successfully start and operate their business."
In the four years since its launch, the program has expanded to many new regions and has had some notable successes. It's now active, for example, in 17 countries across the Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEMEA) region, where it has received more than 52,000 applications. More than 560 women have been supported so far.
Supporting women-led businesses with resources
In five countries across Central Asia, Ukraine, Serbia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, Visa has provided skills, tools and funding to more than 10,000 participants, with more than 600 applications in Azerbaijan, 1,000 in Georgia and 4,700 in Serbia3.
Meanwhile, thanks to partnerships with the African Women Impact Fund, Standard Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, 55 women from South, East and West Africa are set to receive grants and training4.
And in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), meanwhile, Visa has partnered with IFundWomen to provide 20 grants and training from the Institute for Financial Wellbeing.
Here, there's a particularly pressing need for support, with fewer than five percent of businesses led by a woman, compared with a global average of around a quarter5.
Indeed, a recent survey of the MENA region carried out for Visa by YouGov found that four in ten women believed that gender stereotypes had negatively affected their work as an entrepreneur, and eight in ten said that societal approval played a part in their choice of career. Two thirds said a woman needed to be brave to open a business6.
Over the next year, Visa plans to expand the She's Next program into new countries in the CEMEA region, while continuing to develop its existing projects.
"Through our network, we'll continue to share best practice locally and regionally, extend our community, and hopefully continue to see excellent results for our participants," says Andrew Torre, Regional President for Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEMEA) at Visa.
For more detail on some of Visa's She's Next successes across the CEMEA region, see our companion article with spotlights from the program’s success stories here.
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1Here’s what women’s entrepreneurship looks like around the world, World Economic Forum, Victoria Masterson, 20 July 2022, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/07/women-entrepreneurs-gusto-gender/
2New Visa and Emerging Europe survey reveals women entrepreneurs want to develop their digital skills and take their businesses international, Emerging Europe, 1 March 2023, https://emerging-europe.com/pressroom/new-visa-and-emerging-europe-survey-reveals-what-women-entrepreneurs-want/
3CEMEA She’s Next FY2022 deliverables, Visa, 2022
4She’s Next Grant set to help African Women Fund Managers grow their Businesses, Visa, August / September 2022, Visa announces grant to help African women fund managers grow their businesses | Visa
5Women entrepreneurs can fuel economic growth in MENA, Visa, 12 October 2022, https://km.visamiddleeast.com/en_KM/visa-everywhere/blog/bdp/2022/10/12/women-entrepreneurs-can-1665559300827.html
6Visa Entrepreneur Study, Visa, YouGov, 14 March 2023