The Forum, a Canadian charity that supports women entrepreneurs, has launched the AFIA DEI index, which it calls a first-of-its-kind nationwide initiative to address the ongoing business funding gap for women entrepreneurs.
The Forum calls it Accelerating Financial Inclusion and Access (AFIA) for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). It aims to increase access to business capital for women and gender-diverse entrepreneurs, especially Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) and 2SLGBTQ+ individuals.
Since 2002, the Forum has supported over 14,000 women entrepreneurs.
Created for Canadian funders, including banks, credit unions, development lenders and venture capital firms, the AFIA DEI Index provides a package of research-backed tools, resources and training to benchmark against leading practices and build team capacity.
Funders receive access to an index of leading practices for DEI and reconciliation in business funding, guidance and recommendation for action, and team training on women’s entrepreneurship and inclusive customer service.
The initiative has a particular emphasis on accelerating financial inclusion and access for Black and Indigenous women, other women of colour, and 2SLGBTQ+ individuals.
“Advancing gender equality isn’t just good social policy, it’s good economic policy too,”said Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth. “We know that women from BIPOC communities face additional challenges on their path to economic success and our government is focused on dismantling these barriers.”
The Forum has supported over 14,000 entrepreneurs to date, and has seen that a profound gap still exists in financing women-led businesses, especially in ways that meet their unique needs, said Paulina Cameron, CEO of The Forum.
“Women operate enterprises with 53 percent less capital than men, and less than three percent of venture funding goes to women founders, with negligible amounts going to Indigenous and Black women, or other women of colour,” Cameron said.
“We need to address the personal, societal, and economic costs of undercapitalization. We created the AFIA DEI Index to engage funders across the country in closing the funding gap and together build a new vision for how women entrepreneurs are supported,” Cameron added.
The initiative is funded by the federal ministry Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) and developed by The Forum in collaboration with a working group of funders, diverse entrepreneur groups, women’s enterprise organizations, and DEI and Reconciliation experts with lived experience.
In 2022, the Forum leveraged its community of women entrepreneurs across the country to run three focus groups with BIPOC women entrepreneurs to learn about their experiences in trying to access business funding. Key takeaways included a frequent lack of understanding among funders about BIPOC women entrepreneurs’ businesses, and inherent biases in the approval processes. These insights informed the design of the index.
Two-thirds of participants in the focus group were located in Eastern Canada, with the remainder distributed between Western and Atlantic Canada. Seventy-eight per cent of the participants identified as BIPOC (36 percent as Black, seven percent as Indigenous, 21 percent as East Asian, 15 percent as South or Southeast Asian).
Since 2002, the Forum has supported over 14,000 women entrepreneurs. It collaborates with partners from the financial, accounting, legal, technology and other sectors to meaningfully support women.
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