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Community Contribution

Improving Access to Finance for W- SMEs In Western Balkans

Dragana Stanojevic

In late 2020, CATALYZE Engines of Growth Western Balkans (EoG) was launched to support Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the six Western Balkan (WB) economies with access and utilization of appropriate financial products and services to improve their resilience and growth. In a“bank-centric” region, with a young, post-socialist private sector, SMEs are often considered non-bankable due to lack of collateral or credit history. Women-Owned and Women Led SMEs (W-SMEs) are even further affected by limited access to information, skills, technology, networks and assets, and traditional norms. W-SMEs represent only around 25% of the entire WB economy, often operating in traditionally“female sectors” as relatively invisible micro companies.

In such a context, EoG faced the challenge of identifying W-SMEs and providing suitable support. To address this, EoG used CLA tools in the following steps: collaboratively setting the activity goal and defining strategic financing approaches, designing the learning agenda, establishing a system of communication and stakeholders’feedback loops, creating a regional network of partners, leveraging additional funds to support W-SMEs, and embracing multidimensional methodologies including strategic communication and trainings.

This brought a positive transformation for: 1) Continuous learning and adapting: EoG team is now more effective, dynamic, responsive, and impactful, and 2) External collaboration: deep involvement of private sector partners and USAID contributing to adaptive monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) approaches and tools, funds, and activities to better respond to W-SMEs needs. This has had a positive spillover on EoG development results: 40% of EoG-supported SMEs are now W-SMEs and the unlocking of private capital for W-SMEs is growing.

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