How USAID is Supporting Women Entrepreneurs

Women are key drivers of economic growth -- it’s indisputable. But the impact women could have on the global economy far exceeds the effect they currently have due to social and cultural limitations they face in both developing and developed countries.

Women account for one-half of the potential human capital in any economy. More than half a billion women have joined the world’s work force over the past 30 years, and they make up 40 percent of the agriculture labor force. Yet, women hold fewer assets, earn less, own a fraction of the world’s enterprises, and are often denied more opportunities than men, even when they have the same or higher level of education. In Africa, women-owned enterprises make up as little as 10 percent of all businesses. In South Asia, that number is only 3 percent. And while women make up more than 40 percent of the agriculture labor force only 3 to 20 percent are landholders. 

At USAID, we believe that gender equality and women’s empowerment are not just part of development but the core of development. In order to significantly reduce poverty and build vibrant economies, women and girls must have access to education, healthcare, and technology. They must have control of resources, lands, and markets. And they must have equal rights and equal opportunities as breadwinners, peace-builders, and leaders.

To help achieve these goals, USAID works with think tanks, implementing partners, local counterparts, innovators, accelerators and incubators, and the business community to promote greater economic opportunity for women throughout the world. We proudly support an array of women entrepreneurs as well as organizations that support the development and growth of women entrepreneurs through graduation models, training programs, and employment opportunities. One such organization is VisionSpring.

VisionSpring is an American-based social enterprise led by CEO Ella Gudwin that creates affordable access to eyewear everywhere. Blurry vision hinders one’s ability to work, learn, and remain productive. A pair of corrective eyeglasses can increase productivity by 35% and has the potential to increase income by 20%. Despite the opportunity to have an impact on the low-income individuals, the market has failed to meet the needs of such a consumer. VisionSpring fills this market gap by providing those earning less than $4 per day with access to affordable eyeglasses. To date, they have reached 3.9 million low-income individuals with vision restoring eyeglasses, creating over $842 million in income at the household level.

Additionally, VisionSpring generates economic opportunity by empowering local women to serve as Vision Entrepreneurs and operate a microfranchise, traveling from village to village and conducting vision camps, checking eyesight and selling glasses. “I feel very good when everyone comes to VisionSpring’s eye camp,” said Vision Entrepreneur Striti Rani Chandra from the Tangail District in Bangladesh. “Moreover people also say that the eye camp becomes very convenient for them as they can come here easily, examine their eyes free of cost and take glasses. People get very happy after getting service from this eye camp.” 

VisionSpring is one of many USAID partners that showcase the tremendous promise women represent for economic growth and prosperity. Through our support, we aim to open the world of economic opportunity for women and help address the barriers to building businesses that women face today. 

We celebrate the amazing work of our partner women entrepreneurs and that of others at this week's 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Hyderabad, India, which highlights the theme Women First, Prosperity for All and focuses on supporting women entrepreneurs and fostering economic growth globally.  

The eighth annual GES intends to inspire innovative initiatives, forge new collaborations across countries, and increase economic opportunities, particularly amongst women. Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump will lead the U.S. delegation to elevate women’s entrepreneurship globally.  

GES is the preeminent annual entrepreneurship gathering that convenes emerging entrepreneurs, investors, and supporters from around the world. GES 2017 provides an environment that empowers innovators, particularly women, to take their ideas to the next level. Through two and a half days of networking, mentoring, and workshops, GES empowers entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas, build partnerships, secure funding, innovate, and find target customers.  

In the weeks leading up to GES, we promoted some of the most promising women entrepreneurs USAID has partnered with, so readers can learn more about the exciting work they are doing and the impact they are having on local communities and the economy. We look forward to being part of the ongoing conversation and greater efforts to enhance women’s role in driving economic growth.