EBRD, Sweden and Luxembourg expand support to women entrepreneurs in the Western Balkans

By Viktorija Melohina

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and Luxembourg have agreed a new programme to offer comprehensive support for women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) led by women entrepreneurs through a Women in Business Programme focusing on the Western Balkans.

The Women in Business Programme builds on the premise that women-led SMEs need both finance and advice to grow. The programme, which includes financing, technical assistance for participating financial institutions and business advice for women entrepreneurs will be formally launched in the coming months and will cover Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia over four years.

The Bank will initially contribute €20 million to create credit lines for on-lending to women-led businesses via local financial institutions to promote sustainable lending to women-led SMEs, subject to final approvals by the EBRD’s Board of Directors.

Sida has made available a further SEK 33 million (equivalent to approximately €3.6 million) for institutional capacity-building to assist participating financial institutions in developing financial products that meet the specific needs of women-led enterprises; and provide women-led enterprises with the know-how they need to grow and develop their businesses.

The programme will build on advisory services projects with mentoring and longer-term coaching to provide women entrepreneurs with the knowledge and confidence to take the next step.

Further donor funding totalling €1.5 million has also been made available for the Programme by Luxembourg.

The Women in Business Programme builds on the EBRD’s extensive experience in financing SMEs, providing advice for small business and promoting women’s economic inclusion as an important avenue for economic growth.

“Sweden and Luxembourg’s contributions to this programme are significant, not only in terms of size but also strategically in serving as key partners of the EBRD in promoting women entrepreneurship,” said Andras Simor, EBRD Vice President for Policy.

“Sweden has been very active at the forefront of supporting women’s full inclusion in economic life and discussions are ongoing for a similar EBRD programme that would cover a further six countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.”

“Programmes like the EBRD’s Women in Business activities play a critical role in strengthening women’s economic empowerment and moving towards achieving a gender-equal society. We are delighted to continue to support the EBRD’s efforts in this area, in the Western Balkans and beyond,” said HE Staffan Herrström, Swedish Ambassador to Poland when signing the agreement with the EBRD on behalf of Sida.

“Women entrepreneurship is an important avenue for growth in the Western Balkans,” said Miguel Marques, EBRD Adviser on behalf of Luxembourg. “We are pleased to continue our long-standing support for the EBRD’s Women in Business activities in the region.”

Sweden is one of the largest bilateral donors to the EBRD. In 2013 Sweden provided a total of €9.5 million to multilateral and bilateral funds for technical assistance and investment grant support.

In 2013 Luxembourg provided €1.7 million to support the EBRD’s technical assistance and advisory programmes.