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EBRD and donors support 5,000 women-led businesses in Western Balkans

By Bojana Vlajcic

  • €65 million in loans extended to women-led businesses in Western Balkans
  • Financing and advisory support has helped women entrepreneurs to boost their businesses
  • Initiative supported with donor funds by Sweden, Luxembourg and Italy

Around 5,000 women-led firms in the Western Balkans have received financing and advisory support from the EBRD and donors since 2014, helping them to grow their businesses and become more competitive.

The financing for businesses run or owned by women is extended under the EBRD and donor-funded Women in Business programme, which promotes women’s entrepreneurship and their participation in business by providing them with access to finance and know-how.

To mark the results and share lessons learned, the EBRD organised an event gathering 13 partner financial institutions from all six countries in the Western Balkans region, including large commercial banks and non-bank microfinance institutions.

To date, just over €65 million has been extended to women-led micro, small and medium-sized enterprises under this programme. More than 60 per cent of these loans were to women in rural and less developed areas outside the main urban centres. 

The impact assessment of the first phase of the programme, which finished in 2019, showed that 96 per cent of the businesses boosted their income as a result of the programme’s support, out of which a third reached between 25 and 50 per cent growth. It was also estimated that 94 per cent of beneficiaries increased their number of employees, creating nearly 3,000 jobs in the region.

As well as loans, women entrepreneurs benefit from grants that subsidise consultancy projects, training programmes, mentoring and networking activities. These grants were funded by Sweden, Luxembourg and Italy.

Aleksandra Vukosavljevic, Director, Financial Institutions, Western Balkans, EBRD, said: “Women entrepreneurship plays a key role in creating jobs and driving economic growth. We firmly believe that creating equal opportunities for women in business is not only a question of gender equality, but also an economic priority. That’s why in the countries where we work we support women entrepreneurs to succeed and be more engaged in business.”

The programme was first launched in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2014, after which it expanded to include the five other countries in the Western Balkans. The programme is currently supported by Sweden.

Maria Melbing, Head of the Unit for the Western Balkans and Turkey, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, said: The inclusion of women and ensuring that female entrepreneurs participate in economic life on equal terms as men is fundamental to any long term inclusive economic development. The economic downturn following the impact of the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine have hit women-owned businesses especially hard. For economic recovery, a functioning financial sector with access to capital and financial know-how is critical for SMEs in general, and those women-owned in particular. With EBRD’s expertise and experience in supporting access to finance through lending and capacity building, Sida is confident that they will continue to be of great support to the Women’s economic empowerment agenda in the Western Balkans.”

In the Western Balkans, women entrepreneurs continue to face gender-specific challenges, both in terms of access to finance and access to know-how, curtailing economic opportunities to establish and grow their businesses. To apply for financing and advisory services, women entrepreneurs should reach out to the following partner financial institutions:

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