EU empowering Women Entrepreneurs in the Eastern Partnership Women in Business Programme

Armenia Ukraine
EU empowering Women Entrepreneurs in the Eastern Partnership Women in Business Programme

A charming ice cream haven, nestled in the heart of historic Yerevan, has been serving customers for years. Since its launch in 2017, Pink Berry has captivated people’s hearts with its vibrant branding and inventive flavour fusions, which have propelled the company to the forefront of the local market. Yet, as the company’s daily growth and sales surged, so did the complexities of managing its expanding operations.

So Pink Berry started a new digital chapter by applying for assistance from the Women in Business Programme, which is supported by the EU and implemented by the EBRD. The programme helped the company design fresh packaging, while also boosting sales via advertising initiatives, and offering guidance on optimizing its financial strategies.

This transformation not only empowered the company to focus on its growth trajectory, but also aligned it with its environmental aspirations. As Pink Berry sets its sights on new horizons, it envisions seizing export opportunities, conquering uncharted markets, and bolstering its domestic presence through innovative strategies, and product evolution.

More than 2,000 kilometres away from Yerevan, Marta Butchko runs a well-known resort, with spa facilities and restaurants, in the serene surroundings of Yabluniv, a village in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast in western Ukraine. Khrystyna Ltd also got financing through the Women in Business Programme, which Butchko used to modernize cottages and install insulation – a strategic move aimed at enticing a broader range of customers. However with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came a sharp decline in revenues. Despite the ongoing war, Butchko is optimistic that once peace is restored in Ukraine, her investment will pay back, and she will have a successful resort.

Pink Berry and Khrystyna Ltd are just two women-led businesses in the Eastern Partnership that got support under the Women in Business Programme – a transformative initiative that has a far-reaching impact.

Launched in 2014 with EU support, the Women in Business Programme runs in the Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine), encouraging women's entrepreneurship and involvement in business. The programme does this by helping women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) access funds, expertise, and other business services. The ultimate goal is to show that when market issues are resolved, barriers are removed, and women-led SMEs are treated fairly, they can play a role in economic growth, job generation, and social advancement in free, market-based, and democratic societies.

From 2015 through 2022, the Women in Business Programme launched various initiatives, including credit lines for women-led SMEs, sub-loans under the Women in Business scheme, and technical assistance to Partner Financial Institutions (PFIs), which involved assessments, capacity building, training, and the creation or testing of new products and services to suit women-led businesses.

As a result, the programme has brought about a significant change in the banking sector, making it more gender-responsive, supportive, and less risk-averse. All of the PFIs have set up specialized Women's Banking Programmes that offer tailored financial and non-financial services to women entrepreneurs in the EaP region.

Over the years, the programme has provided around EUR 86.2 million to 12 PFIs in Eastern Partnership countries. Through employing the First Loss Risk Cover (FLRC) element, the PFIs provided 5,961 sub-loans to women-led SMEs, totalling an impressive sum of over EUR 99.5 million.

As part of its training component for women, the programme conducted 13 seminars, which attracted 543 attendees. Furthermore, 891 women entrepreneurs from the Eastern Partnership did Business Lens self-assessments and obtained customized output reports. These assessments serve as a mechanism to help women get deeper insights into their business activities and financial requirements, while also pinpointing areas for growth and advancement. The initiative also facilitated 589 business advisory projects and provided in-person training for 1,181 women entrepreneurs via Women in Business Workshops.

The EBRD took an innovative approach through combining funding with technical guidance for local financial institutions, and providing direct advisory assistance to women entrepreneurs. This initiative contributed to establishing a sustainable financial mechanism in the market, allowing women entrepreneurs to access affordable financing that meets their specific requirements. A year after the conclusion of their advisory projects (projects from 2014 to 2021 were evaluated), more than half (56%) of women-led SMEs saw a rise in employment, which resulted in the net creation of 2,666 jobs. About 78% of these SMEs reported an increase in their turnover.

With ever-growing demand for financial support and expertise from women entrepreneurs, the EBRD is committed to maintaining its comprehensive assistance through both the financial and advisory aspects of the Women in Business Programme across the region. This ongoing initiative, which is made possible by generous support from donors, including the European Union, is a beacon of hope for women who are seeking to make their mark in the business world in EaP countries.

As the programme continues, it's set to be a driving force behind the success stories of a great number of women entrepreneurs, empowering them to overcome barriers, access funding, and realize their visions.

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