Investing in women is investing in the future

Investing in women is investing in the future
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What is the world’s fastest growing emerging market? It is not a country or a region. It’s the world’s women.

We don’t always think of women as a single emerging market, but we should. Like other emerging markets, the world’s women constitute a group that is both underrepresented in the global economy and the source of significant untapped potential. This is particularly true in developing countries.

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From Cambodia to Cote d’Ivoire, Jordan and Guatemala, enterprising women run businesses, farms and stores. Yet the female credit gap is estimated to be $300 billion, making women entrepreneurs far less likely than men to obtain the financing needed to expand their businesses so that they can thrive, employ more workers and help their communities prosper.

 

In agriculture, women in particular are sometimes so challenged to access advanced equipment and training that they often struggle to produce enough food to feed their own families.

The nature of women’s work may vary from region to region, but the challenges they face connect them all.

Like any emerging market, the world’s women represent both a significant need for investment and a significant opportunity for investors. As an emerging market, this female market is more than twice the size of China and India combined.

Here’s another critical truth about the world’s women: They form the bedrock of our communities and are a key source of stability. Societies that empower women to participate fully in civic and economic life are more prosperous and more peaceful. 

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is a U.S. government agency that supports investment in emerging markets, and we’re redoubling our focus on the world’s women.

This month, we’ll launch our 2X Women’s Initiative to mobilize $1 billion to invest in women and unlock the multi-trillion-dollar investment opportunity they represent.

OPIC is the U.S. government’s development finance institution, an agency with a long history of supporting investment in emerging markets to address some of the world’s biggest challenges from poverty and hunger to insufficient electricity.

By supporting investment in these regions, we’ve achieved a significant impact, building power plants, hospitals and affordable housing, while also expanding access to health care and financial services.

Our work has not only helped U.S. businesses and investors gain access to many of the world’s fastest growing markets, it’s helped foster economic and political stability in fragile regions, from Eastern Europe following the fall of the Soviet Union to places like Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, which today are home to large youth populations and rapidly growing classes of consumers.

Time and again, we’ve seen that even a small investment in women can be transformative. A factory worker in India who worked long hours for little pay used an OPIC-supported microfinance loan to start her own dressmaking business, increasing her income and hiring more workers from the community.

We’ve helped female smallholder farmers in Kenya obtain fertilizer and equipment to improve their yields, sometimes earning enough money to send their children to school for the first time. And the major infrastructure we’ve helped build has also empowered women, by employing them in well-paying jobs.

Through OPIC’s 2X Women’s Initiative, we are committing to doing more to support women directly because we know that investing in women is one of the most effective ways of empowering communities, expanding opportunities for the next generation and promoting stability. That’s because women invest most of their earnings in their families, on food, health care and education.

That’s an investment that pays excellent dividends. It’s not just women who will benefit from this investment. It’s all of us.

Ray W. Washburne is president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. government’s development finance institution.