Export Development Canada (EDC) has doubled the funds available under a programme designed to help Canadian women entrepreneurs engage in exporting.

The Women in Trade Investments Programme, launched last year, provides equity capital through direct investment in women-owned and led businesses that the Canadian export credit agency considers strong candidates for significant export growth. The programme also invests in Canadian venture capital funds that demonstrate a commitment to gender diversity on both sides of the entrepreneur/investor table, while women entrepreneurs who are making plans to export, or are already exporting, can access connection and export-related tools including financing, knowledge and risk-mitigation.

The programme’s initial aim was to facilitate CA$250mn in women-led trade by 2023. However, the EDC has now boosted this target to CA$2bn, increasing support available to CA$100mn, up from CA$50mn previously.

There are currently around 12,700 Canadian women-owned exporting companies, according to EDC research, which shows that the proportion of women-owned exporting SMEs has doubled from 2011 to 2017. The data also shows that women-owned enterprises are particularly canny exporters, racking up a 250% increase in the proportion of their revenues derived from international business since 2011 – more than 125% greater than the average increase for all SMEs over the same period.

But women-led companies still lag behind their male-owned counterparts when it comes to trade. Globally, just one in five exporting companies is owned by a woman, according to IFC research, with access to finance seen as a major barrier.

In Canada, just 11% of women-owned businesses carry out export activity. Tackling this, EDC officials say, could add as much as CA$150bn in incremental GDP by 2026, and so the export credit agency now aims to reach 1,000 unique customers with its programme by 2023, up from 381 since 2018.

“We need to encourage women to take bold steps internationally,” says Mairead Lavery, who was appointed president and chief executive of EDC at the start of last year. “With our new targets and financial support EDC will work alongside women entrepreneurs who are breaking down barriers and growing internationally.”

“Our government will always support women entrepreneurs and business owners because not only is it the right thing to do – it is the smart thing to do,” says Mary Ng, minister of small business, export promotion and international trade.

EDC is part of a growing group of financial institutions that are applying a gender lens to trade finance. Last year, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) partnered with the Goldman Sachs Foundation to launch what it called the first gender-focused trade finance programme, aimed at encouraging IFC’s Global Trade Finance Programme (GTFP) participating banks to increase trade finance for women importers and exporters.

Speaking to GTR at the time, Jessica Schnabel, global head of the IFC’s Banking on Women business, outlined the clear business case for focussing on female exporters: “Here is the one thing I would say to commercial banks: there is an abundance of evidence that doing business with women customers is not only advantageous but profitable for them. The second thing we know is that women customers tend to be quite loyal to their financial institutions when they find value. That means that there is a significant first-mover advantage for financial institutions. If they can attract female customers and serve them well, they will grow market share. There is a real opportunity here and this is the right time. If they miss the boat, some other financial institution is going to take it.”