Interview: “Women’s entrepreneurship is an incredibly powerful tool to make women independent earners and contributors to the wider economy”


Odile Renaud-Basso, President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Photo: Courtesy of EBRD.
Odile Renaud-Basso, President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Photo: Courtesy of EBRD.

Odile Renaud-Basso is the President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the first ever woman head of a multilateral development bank. Previously, she served as Director General at the French Treasury and as Deputy Director-General of the Caisse des Dépôts, a French public financial institution. Ms Renaud-Basso is a graduate of the Paris Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Sciences Po), and an Ecole Nationale d’Administration alumnus. She also attended Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Under her leadership, EBRD signed a partnership with UN Women to address the COVID-19’s economic impact on women, and more recently to support the Women’s Entrepreneurship EXPO taking place on 16-17 November.

How has been your experience as the first ever woman to head a multilateral development bank?

It is an honour to be the first women to head a multilateral development bank, particularly during important milestones for the EBRD, as well as major shocks and events in our regions.

2021, for example, was a very important year for us. We approved our new Strategy for the Promotion of Gender Equality and also The Equality of Opportunity Strategy. The two strategies, while distinct, are interlinked to develop market relevant solutions to inequalities deepened by external shocks such as COVID19, Climate Change, and now the War on Ukraine.

One key learning was the importance of agility: that we must be ready to respond to shocks and events in our countries. We are applying this agility in the EBRD’s response to the war on Ukraine, ensuring that immediate and medium-term support has a strong focus on human capital to support those directly and indirectly affected by the crisis, which has dominated this year, both through the devastation inflicted by the conflict and the repercussions felt elsewhere.

In your experience, what should be the role of development banks in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG5 on gender equality?

Development banks, holding about 10 per cent of global public and private investments, are playing a key role in achieving SDG5. Through investments, strategies and policy work, development banks can act as powerful catalysts for dialogue, commitment and collaboration delivering inclusive and gender-equal market economies.

Our strong private sector focus approach and extensive experience promoting policy dialogue allow us to provide financial support and technical assistance to enable countries to benefit from the way greater gender equality can drive long-term growth.

How is EBRD working to advance gender equality, both internally and externally?

Gender equality is an integral part of the EBRD's commitment to promoting sustainable and inclusive market economies. We take action to enhance equal opportunities for men and women, and fully integrate gender across our operations.

For example, in our new Strategy for the Promotion of Gender Equality we have committed to significantly scale-up our work on gender equality, with the goal of reaching a share of at least 40 percent of EBRD operations with gender equality components by the end of 2025. In 2021, we had already reached 30%.

We are doing this through our work across three key areas: access to finance and entrepreneurship; access to skills and employment; and access to inclusive and gender-responsive services and public goods.

Our Women in Business Programme is a great example of this. We promote access to finance through partnerships with banks, and accompany these lines of credit with a variety of non-financial services. This provides women with loans for their businesses, along with the opportunity to develop their skillset, benefit from mentoring, and access a network of like-minded women entrepreneurs.

The programme has been a huge success. It is active in 24 economies, has signed almost EUR 700 million in financing, and has reached more than 90,000 women. Just last week we celebrated ten years of investing in women’s entrepreneurship in Turkey – the country where we first launched Women in Business. It is an incredible milestone. Just think what we can do over another ten years!

We recognise too that, as an organisation with a strong external presence in gender equality, we must also hold ourselves to the highest standards internally. That is why, in 2021, we were very proud to announce that the EBRD officially moved up to the next level of the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE) certification.

How is the EBRD partnership with UN Women supporting these efforts?

Our partnership with UN Women is one of the cornerstones of our focus to promote gender equality. It is all about complementarity: EBRD as an investor, working closely with our clients through investments and policy work, and UN Women, providing analytical capacity and knowledge creation, leveraging strong relationships with key stakeholders at the country level.

In particular, this partnership has been very effective at delivering systematic impact beyond individual investments. For example, we have worked together on the Women Entrepreneurship EXPOs in different countries including Georgia, Serbia, Turkey and Moldova. This has been an excellent opportunity for our two organisations to facilitate the creation of networks and business development. The EXPO represents important efforts to create environments where women-led businesses could learn, be inspired and thrive.

Why is women’s entrepreneurship important for women’s economic empowerment and overall socio-economic development?

Women’s entrepreneurship is an incredibly powerful tool to make women independent earners and contributors to the wider economy. Through entrepreneurship, women can generate an income for their household, in a setting and schedule that works for them.

Women represent an increasingly highly educated and dynamic segment yet run only 30% of formal SMEs globally. The problem is that women entrepreneurs are often unable to access the finance that they need. There is a $300 billion gap in financing for formal women-owned businesses, with more than 70 percent of women-owned SMEs having inadequate or no access to financial services.

By effectively promoting women’s entrepreneurship, we can create economies that are more diverse, more innovative and more productive. One study estimates that parity in entrepreneurship between women and men could add $6tn to the global economy – double the size of the United Kingdom’s GDP!

What message would you like to share with women entrepreneurs from Europe and Central Asia who are part of EXPO 2022?

Retain a clear mind about what you want to achieve and go about it gradually, focusing on the series of small steps that you need to take to reach that destination. Tenacity and daring to do things differently are great qualities too! Don’t be afraid to ask for help and rely on your networks and communities. Teamwork leads to success!