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Announcing the 10 winners of the Women MSME Fintech Innovation Fund

The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) launched the Women MSME FinTech Innovation Fund in March 2019 in partnership with the Australian Government (DFAT), the Dutch development Bank (FMO), and Visa Inc, with the financial support from the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.

Through the Women MSME Fintech Innovation Fund, companies were invited to develop digital solutions to improve access to finance for women-owned, managed or led MSMEs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa and Viet Nam.

Following a rigorous and independent selection process, we are delighted to announce 10 winners who will pilot their innovative solutions over the next 12 months.

Background

More than 45% of micro, small and medium sized companies (MSMEs) in Asia and the Pacific experience access to finance as a constraint. More than 90% of enterprises in developing Asia and the Pacific are MSMEs, making them a vital source of income and employment. The constraints faced by MSMEs limits regional economic growth.

To address the issues that female business owners face, we need entrepreneur-centric solutions that will allow her to grow her business and reach her full potential. FMO has proudly partnered with UNCDF and UNESCAP on the Women MSME Fintech Innovation Fund to stimulate entrepreneurs to innovate and find scalable and impactful business models. This fund will also support start-up ecosystems blossom, and to focus the challenges that MSMEs face

- Andrew Shaw, Senior Advisor, Fintech and Financial Inclusion at FMO

All MSMEs in the region face supply-side, demand-side, and enabling environment constraints in their access to finance. Due to cross-cutting socio-cultural norms, women-owned, managed or led enterprises face additional gender-specific barriers in access to institutional credit and other financial services, as well as greater vulnerability to the barriers compared with MSMEs owned by men.

The Women MSME Fintech Innovation Fund was launched to identify and support solutions to overcome the access to finance barriers faced by women-owned, managed or led enterprises in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa and Viet Nam. The Innovation Fund invited companies to submit a proposal for a project to pilot an innovative solution that would help to meet this challenge.

We received over 100 innovative proposals from businesses registered in more than 20 countries around the region. The breadth of proposals received was impressive. It is encouraging to see how digital finance and digital solutions can be used to address some of the barriers women led MSMEs face in accessing finance and advancing their business. ESCAP is grateful to the Government of Canada for their support to this initiative

- Hongjoo Hahm, Deputy Executive Secretary, ESCAP

The Women MSME Fintech Innovation Fund is hosted by the UNCDF SHIFT Fund Facility which was developed by UNCDF in 2015 with support from the Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

Process

110 applications were received and analysed by a Review Team composed of industry experts. The Review Team produced a shortlist of 30 applicants, who were invited to develop a pitch on their proposed solution.

UNCDF, UNESCAP, Visa and FMO provided mentoring and guidance for the applicants’ pitch preparation. This helped them focus and refine their pitches to better present their business solutions and expected impact. The shortlisted applicants then delivered their pitches to one of three Investment Committees representing the ASEAN, SAARC, and Pacific regions respectively.

At the heart of Visa’s social impact vision is the belief that micro and small enterprises are the backbone of the global economy, providing income and employment to improve the livelihoods of billions everywhere. We also believe that given the right opportunities and support, women owned-business and entrepreneurs can have a significant impact on economic growth. Partnerships such as the Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund will give fintechs the support they need to implement locally-relevant solutions to help more women-owned MSMEs thrive with access to formal financial services.

- Arif Qayyum, Senior Director, Social Impact, Asia Pacific

The Investment Committees were composed of top industry experts for each of the target countries. This encompassed diverse expertise from different sectors such as institutional finance, fintech, regulatory and development. The Investment Committee selected the best projects based on criteria including innovation, design, impact, additionality, scalability, gender focus and team experience.

Transforming towards digital economy requires inclusive partnerships and concerted effort towards enhancing MSMEs competitiveness. We thank ESCAP, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Government of Canada, the Dutch development Bank and VISA for their collaboration and support for bringing in the much-needed synergy on advancing women MSMEs through use of the UNCDF SHIFT Innovation Fund mechanism

- Rajeev Kumar Gupta, SHIFT ASEAN and SAARC Programme Manager, UNCDF

A total of 10 projects were selected as winners. These projects will receive risk capital to pilot their solutions, in addition to mentoring and guidance from industry experts.

Meet the Winners

iFarmer

iFarmer proposes to develop a digital agriculture platform that links investors with rural women farmers in Bangladesh, in order to improve their access to finance and capital. iFarmer is also creating a tracking device for livestock to enable the delivery of agricultural insurance.

Romoni Services

Romoni Services is creating a digital platform for Bangladeshi microentrepreneurs in the creative industries. The platform enables the creation of virtual service lists and prices for products to offer for sale, whilst also using the transaction data for individual credit scoring.

BanhJi FinTech

BanhJi FinTech plans to provide digital and financial literacy support to women-owned or led MSMEs in Cambodia, enabling them to use BanhJi’s financial platform. The platform offers digital payments, automated bookkeeping, and data-driven credit assessments for working capital financing.

SHE Investments

SHE Investments intends to create a financial bookkeeping app for women microenterprises, enabling them to easily record daily income and expenses. This data will be the basis of financial records that can be used as part of an application for financing from financial institutions.

HFC Bank

HFC Bank intends to launch an e-wallet for women entrepreneurs in Fiji, enabling them to conduct business and build savings using the same account. The e-wallet will be linked to a bank account to enable the provision of financing to users.

Infocorp

Infocorp is developing a digital platform to link unbanked women cattle farmers with investors, using livestock as collateral for loans through a blockchain solution. Tracking tags allow the accurate verification of livestock collateral, in addition to enabling the provision of livestock insurance to smallholders.

Aeloi Technologies

Aeloi Technologies is proposing to introduce a green energy mobility platform to Kathmandu, powered by digital tokens. The scheme aims to make green public transport a viable and quality alternative to private vehicles, whilst also helping its users, particularly women, to develop a credit score and access financial services.

SparrowPay

SparrowPay is developing a mobile wallet and payment gateway for the unbanked in Nepal. The wallet offers payment solutions and improved access to finance. SparrowPay intends to onboard women MSMEs by providing financial and digital literacy training through its local partners.

SkyEye

SkyEye proposes to launch a mobile marketplace app that will provide rural women MSMEs with a market for their produce. The app will facilitate transactions and mobile payments, introducing users to the concept of digital payments and moving them towards more advanced financial use-cases.

Tinh Thuong Microfinance Institution (TYM)

TYM is developing a pioneering digital mobile application combining three functions: savings and financial management, communications and access to business information. The aim is to introduce digital savings for their current members and the wider public to mobilize funds and ultimately be able to provide more and larger loans for small women-owned enterprises.

Congratulations to the 10 winners! We will be providing regular updates on these projects as the pilots are conducted over the next 12 months, looking at how the solutions are benefiting women and MSMEs in their respective countries.

About the Women MSME FinTech Innovation Fund

The Innovation Fund is hosted by the United Nations Capital Development Fund’s (UNCDF) Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations (SHIFT) in ASEAN program, supported by the Australian Government.

The Women MSME FinTech Innovation Fund is part of a regional programme Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship: Creating a Gender-Responsive Entrepreneurial Ecosystem implemented by the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in partnership with UNCDF, and funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada. The Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship programme aims to support the growth of women entrepreneurs in the Asia-Pacific region through addressing the challenges faced at three levels: enabling policy environment, access to finance and use of ICT for entrepreneurship.

Funding and mentorship support for the Women MSME FinTech Innovation Fund is also provided by the Dutch development Bank (FMO) and by Visa Inc.

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