Gender Equality

Accelerating the Growth of Women-Owned Businesses

Through a new model of private-private partnership, the Center is working with the Commonwealth Bank to tap into the potential of women entrepreneurs to transform the Indonesian economy.

Accelerating the Growth of Women-Owned Businesses

By: Alison Eskesen

March 08, 2018

In Indonesia and countries around the world, an unprecedented number of women are entering the world of entrepreneurship. We recently met Irma, a wife and mother who created a fashion and wedding organizer business several years ago. She has been diligently trying to grow it ever since. Her business is helping to fund a better education for her children, ensure access to quality medical care and protect her family from unexpected financial crises.

But Irma’s financial contribution as an entrepreneur is not only important to her family’s well-being. As a small enterprise that is striving to grow and create jobs, Irma’s business is also an important driver in the local economy. In Indonesia, Irma’s leadership and success as a business owner are invisible. As an unregistered business, Irma is unable to access formal financial services and government support programs – valuable tools that can help small businesses grow, but are often out-of-reach for entrepreneurs like Irma.

To help Irma and entrepreneurs like her, the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and Commonwealth Bank in Indonesia are working together to empower women business owners to grow. Together we have launched a skills-building program for small businesses, which will strengthen their operations, grow their profitability, and, in turn, encourage them to become legally recognized enterprises. In our first masterclass, we brought together 95 women entrepreneurs to learn business planning, marketing, and trend analysis. This is the first of a series of ten masterclasses we will host throughout Indonesia in 2018. To achieve broader reach across the country, we will re-launch the Women Investment Series (WISE) app with new tailored learning tools for women business leaders, who are unable to attend a masterclass in person. By using technology, we aim to reach up to 5 million Indonesian entrepreneurs to grow their companies.

“At Commonwealth Bank, we believe that by enhancing awareness of and access to financial services, particularly through digital channels, Indonesians will be better equipped to secure their financial well-being, hence, advancing the overall Indonesian economy,” says Lauren Sulistiawati, President of Commonwealth Bank in Indonesia. “We are particularly focused on Indonesian women as they increasingly have greater financial influence in their personal lives and within the broader local community.”

According to the 2018 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, Indonesia ranks behind its neighbors – Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, China, and the Philippines – in knowledge assets and financial access for women business owners. Among all countries ranked, Indonesia is 13th in women entrepreneurs’ knowledge assets and financial access, which measures a combination of business savings and borrowing, women’s financial inclusion, and supportive services available to small businesses. While there has been no change in ranking from 2017, women still need significant support to address the gender imbalance in business ownership as there are only 15.8 women for every 100 business owners.

Our private sector-led collaboration with Commonwealth Bank is a new model of doing well and doing good that combines our philanthropic dollars and our industry expertise. Together we are building the evidence base for how to unlock the full productivity of women entrepreneurs and accelerate their success. We see the entrepreneurial grit of women, such as Irma, as an excellent indicator of the untapped potential among women business owners to transform the Indonesian economy. If we can connect more women business owners to the networks that drive the modern economy, such as e-commerce, financial services, and technology, their productivity will increase. Expanded productivity will lead to greater business success, job creation, and ultimately, shared prosperity across Indonesia.

“At Mastercard, we believe in opening the doors to inclusion – within our own company and also for micro and small businesses that are striving to grow,” says Safdar Kahn, Division President of Mastercard. “We are proud to partner with Commonwealth Bank in Indonesia to support women entrepreneurs.”

As we reflect on International Women’s Day, we encourage other private sector companies to join us in helping to unleash the invisible power of women entrepreneurs in Indonesia and beyond.


Alison Eskesen

Alison is a seasoned international development executive having worked for 17 years at the intersection of development and finance.  In more than 30 countries, she has built a track record of measurable results by cultivating strategic partnerships among governments, private banks, foundations and impact investors.  Most recently, Alison was with Grow Asia, a multi-stakeholder partnership catalyzed by the World Economic Forum and ASEAN Secretariat.