- Conference celebrates women entrepreneurs in the Western Balkans
- Critical role of the financial sector to mainstream gender inclusion highlighted
- The EBRD and NLB Banka Podgorica sign new credit line for women-led SMEs
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has held a conference in Podgorica, Montenegro, gathering partner banks and financial institutions, donors, businesswomen, experts and other stakeholders to discuss further support for women’s entrepreneurship. The conference was organised as part of the flagship EBRD Women in Business (WiB) programme, which is supported by Sweden in the Western Balkans.
Participating financial institutions from across the Western Balkans presented the programme’s sub-borrowers – women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – with awards to celebrate their work and contribution to women’s economic inclusion.
In addition, a key panel with bankers and experts focused on the role of the financial sector in mainstream gender-responsive financing.
During the conference, the EBRD also signed a €1 million credit line with NLB Banka Podgorica that will be on-lent to women-led businesses in Montenegro. The new credit line builds on the success of the first €2 million loan extended to the bank when it first joined the WiB programme.
Aleksandra Vukosavljevic, EBRD Director, Financial Institutions, Western Balkans and Eastern Europe, said: “We are pleased to continue our strong cooperation with NLB in Podgorica. The new credit line to NLB will help boost the competitiveness of local women-led businesses, create more job opportunities and strengthen inclusive growth across the SME sector in Montenegro.”
EBRD Women in Business is a comprehensive programme that helps women-led SMEs to access tailored finance and business advice. Advisory services in the Western Balkans are currently supported by Sweden via grants from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). EBRD loans are provided to local partner banks, who in turn provide targeted loans to women-owned or run companies in more than 20 countries, including in the six Western Balkans markets.
Maria Melbing, SIDA’s Head of the Unit for the Western Balkans and Türkiye, said: “Sida is proud of the partnership with the EBRD through the Women in Business programme, which is helping foster a sustainable ecosystem for entrepreneurship in the Western Balkans. When women are given the opportunities to innovate, lead and succeed as entrepreneurs, the whole of society benefits. The programme has proven critical in helping them tap into this potential, while facilitating their access to tailored advisory services and financing from partner financial institutions whose capacity for on-lending to the segment has also been reinforced.”
Women-led SMEs continue to face barriers when accessing finance in the countries where the EBRD invests, including Montenegro. They tend be seen as an untested segment and are therefore underserved by local commercial banks.
To address that issue, the EBRD’s Women in Business programme has been operational in the Western Balkans since 2014. By the end of 2022, the programme had disbursed €74 million in sub-loans to approximately 6,000 women entrepreneurs. In addition to Sida, the programme was also supported earlier by Italy and Luxembourg. With donor support, Women in Business has delivered more than 600 advisory projects and trained over 900 women in the Western Balkans.