Unlocking the Potential of Women-led Micro & Small Enterprises

women-led small enterprises

Micro and small enterprises (MSEs) are the economic backbone of most economies worldwide, increasing employment and reinvesting in local communities. In emerging markets, there are 365-445 million micro, small, and medium enterprises. However, 80% of women-owned small businesses with credit needs are either unserved or underserved, representing a $1.7 trillion USD financing gap.

CARE’s Ignite program, launched in partnership with the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, focused on supporting micro and small enterprises, especially those led by women, in Pakistan, Peru, and Vietnam between 2020 and 2023.

Ignite took a market-based approach to service delivery that was sustainable and scalable by working with over 35 local partners across the three countries, 11 of which were core service delivery partners. These partnerships opened up much-needed access to financial and digital resources while building entrepreneurs’ business capacity and networks.

Ignite set out to reach 3.9 million entrepreneurs in three years with $5.26 million USD in grant funding from Mastercard. The program exceeded initial goals, reaching more than nine million entrepreneurs, and
unlocking access to $154.9 million USD in loans. More than 150,000 entrepreneurs were deeply supported with loans, critical support services, and training.

The commercial value in supporting women-led MSEs is irrefutable. Global data continues to show this and, together with Ignite financial service provider partners, CARE has proved it. Despite this, gender bias continues to permeate throughout financial institutions the world over. CARE is calling on all financial service providers to read the proof in this report that women are better financial clients, to support the drive for 100% financial inclusion for women, and to invest in reaching this goal.


Through Ignite, 51% of program participants received a business loan for the first time, with 10% going on to access a second loan. 81% of entrepreneurs increased their sales and 92% applied what they had
learned through Ignite training. Repayment rates on loans were high, with 100% repayment on one loan product in Pakistan. 90% of participants said that their quality of life had improved since participating
in the Ignite program.

68% of Ignite participants were women (95% in Vietnam, 99% in Peru). 79% of women reported that Ignite had supported them to achieve their business goals. CARE also saw an 81% reduction in stress levels amongst women who participated in Ignite. 83% of women are now using digital tools and services in their businesses, and 79% say digital tools and training had helped their businesses grow.

Unlocking the Potential of Women-led Micro & Small Enterprises

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