Katharina Cavano l Palladium - Dec 11 2020
Closing the Gender Finance Gap: USAID Calls for Funding Proposals

Credit: Ravi N Jha

More than 1 billion women across the world still do not use or have access to the financial system, and the latest reports from the International Finance Corporation estimate that there is a USD 300 billion gap in financing for women-owned businesses. Strengthening women’s participation in the private sector is a critical component of building better economies.

But for many women, they simply cannot access the financial services needed to support their businesses through loans, grants, or lines of credit. These inequalities can leave women in developing countries and their businesses far more susceptible to and less prepared for economic shocks.

Investing in Women Means Investing in the Economy

With the ultimate goal of driving significant private capital to support women in developing countries and to close the gender finance gap at scale, the USAID’s CATALYZE Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Program (W-GDP) is calling for proposal applications from projects that build greater financial resilience for women in the developing world.

According to Palladium’s Emily Brearley, Gender Lens Specialist for CATALYZE, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted women, and now there is more urgency than ever to invest in women. “We’ve seen the data, seen all the reports, all the analyses, and we know that lending to women is profitable, but for some reason, it’s not happening,” she says. “The time is ripe for us to decisively close the gender financing gap.”

W-GDP uses blended finance to catalyse private capital and mobilise sustained private sector involvement for women-owned or led businesses, businesses that disproportionately hire women, and businesses that deliver services and technologies particularly suited to serving women in the developing world. The blended finance approach helps to promote new and additional investment, products, and services to create sustained economic opportunities for women.

"It's time to decisively close the gender financing gap."

“Investing in women, in essence, is investing in our economy as a whole,” Brearley explains. “It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good business, and it can help countries recover from the economic downturn and build back better. But without adequate funding, it will be nearly impossible.”

The United Nations estimates that it will take 257 years to close the gender gap in economic opportunities should the development community continue business as usual. And while there have been advances in health and education, little progress has been made for women’s participation in the labour market. The Invest in Women portfolio seeks to change that through blending public and private efforts and resources to creatively disrupt markets that are not currently meeting the financial needs of women.

Call for Proposals

Via the CATALYZE vehicle, USAID will award up to USD 6 million in total funding to the winning proposals, with a minimum eligible bid of USD 1 million. Qualified applicants should be seeking to significantly scale financial services, products, or investments into the hands of low-income women and should demonstrate a proven track record of successful investments.

Brearley adds that in her experience, she’s yet to see a competition call for grants like this before.

“CATALYZE is a very exciting mechanism focused on innovation and doing things differently, which is exactly what we need to finance women and close the growing finance gap.”

How to Apply

Interested organisations are invited to learn more and apply through the USAID CATALYZE site. Applicants must refer to the Call for Proposals guidelines. The deadline for application submissions is 31 January 2021.

CATALYZE is a USAID Private Sector Engagement Hub project and is implemented by Palladium. For more information on the call for proposals, contact financewomen@thepalladiumgroup.com.