IFC looks to ramp up private sector support while boosting women’s labour force participation

Tuesday, 18 April 2017 00:19 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

International Finance Corporation (IFC) Advisory Solutions Director Mary Porter Peschka recently visited Sri Lanka to meet with IFC clients, partners and representatives of the private sector to support companies in their strategy and growth as well as to launch the Women in Work program.

The four-year program will support women entrepreneurs and equip businesses with strategies to create more private-sector employment and business opportunities as well as support increased access to finance, for women.

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. Working with 2,000 businesses worldwide, it uses its six decades of experience to create opportunity where it’s needed most. In FY16, IFC’s long-term investments in developing countries rose to nearly $19 billion. It has also had a significant role in Sri Lanka since 1956, investing over $1 billion in various sectors.

Peschka joined IFC in 2004, and has previously served as Regional Head of Advisory Services in Latin America and the Caribbean and Head of Sustainable Business Advisory in the Middle East and North Africa. Prior to joining IFC, Mary held various positions in the public and private sectors, including Market Access International, St. Genevieve Group, and the US Agency for International Development.

Following are excerpts of Daily FT’s exclusive interview with Peschka:

11Mary Porter Peschka, IFC Director of Advisory Solutions


"IFC believes in Sri Lanka’s tremendous potential, and we want to be a part of that growth story. We’re looking forward to ramping up our program in the country, working with the private sector and Government across a number of sectors including tourism, manufacturing, agribusiness, and infrastructure, to name just a few. The new Women in Work program will also allow us to promote gender-smart solutions across diverse industries in Sri Lanka"



By Malik Gunatilleke

Q: Tell us a bit about what IFC does globally?

A: As a member of the World Bank Group, IFC is the largest global development institution focused exclusively on the private sector in developing countries. We use our capital, expertise, and influence to help end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity.

This year, IFC commemorated six decades of our work with private sector clients in the world’s most challenging markets. Established in 1956, IFC is owned by 184 member countries, a group that collectively determines our policies. We work with hundreds of financial institutions, and more than 2,000 private sector clients to help create markets and opportunities.

In FY16, IFC invested nearly $ 19 billion globally, including nearly $ 8 billion mobilised from other investors. Our comprehensive approach helped businesses innovate, build internationally competitive industrial sectors, and create better jobs.

Q: What is the nature of your role within the organisation?

A: It takes more than just finance to achieve sustainable private sector development. Advice is a critical part of IFC’s work as a comprehensive solutions provider. As the Director for Advisory Solutions, I am responsible for IFC’s work in the advisory space globally.

Going beyond investments, IFC provides technical and financing knowledge, expertise, and tools to the private sector, to financial institutions, and governments. We do this in order to help:


  • Create markets in fragile and conflict-affected areas and in the poorest countries eligible to borrow from the World Bank’s International Development Association, or IDA
  • Unlock financing opportunities; and
  • Strengthen clients’ performance and development impact
  • We work with a number of different partners:
  • We work with companies; for instance, we help small and medium enterprises (SME) address critical skill gaps and we work with larger companies to improve the performance of SMEs in their supply and distribution networks. We also work with larger companies to further improve their talent management.
  • We work with financial institutions and funds to help clients strengthen risk management and diversify product offerings. We also promote universal access to finance, strengthen capital markets, and establish credit bureaus and collateral registries; and help develop the private equity industry in frontier markets, provide advice to fund managers and SMEs in which the funds invest. Working with the World Bank, we also help promote sound regulation in the markets where the funds are located.
  • nAnd finally, we work with governments – to help governments design and implement public-private partnerships in infrastructure and basic public services; and to improve the business environment – through reforms that promote investment, spur growth, and create jobs.

In Sri Lanka, we began providing advisory services in 2006. Today, the program has grown as a result of partnerships with key private sector players. We’ve focused on increasing access to financing and markets for small business; strengthening business skills and management practices of small businesses; and improving the country’s investment climate, with a special focus on the post-conflict regions.

Q: What were the objectives of your visit to Sri Lanka and what were some of the key observations you made during your stay?

A: This is my fourth visit here, and each time, Sri Lanka continues to impress me.

Over the last few days, I met with some of IFC’s clients and partners, as well as other representatives from the private sector here. The idea was to identify more opportunities where we can support companies in their strategy and growth. I am impressed to see that these firms are diversifying, helping their staff do more through training initiatives, and growing sustainably.

Another key reason for my visit was to launch the Women in Work program, in partnership with the Government of Australia. The four-year program will support women entrepreneurs and equip Sri Lankan businesses with strategies and tools to create more and better private-sector employment and business opportunities, and support increased access to finance, for women.

Overall, I’ve seen that the private sector here is well poised for growth. There is tremendous potential and optimism, and I am keen that IFC continues to play its role in supporting the growth of Sri Lanka’s private sector.

Q: What recommendations do you have to increase gender participation in economic activities?

A: The World Economic Forum recently estimated that it could take 170 years to close the global gender gap – we just cannot afford to wait that long for the gap to be narrowed.

The challenge is indeed a tough one. Globally, women’s labour force participation has stagnated and fallen from 57% in 1990 to 55% in 2013. Women remain half as likely as men to have full-time wage jobs. The credit gap for formal women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises is estimated at about $ 300 billion globally.

We know that society cannot develop sustainably without ensuring equal distribution of opportunities, resources, and choices for both men and women, and it is imperative that they have equal power to shape their lives, and contribute to their families, communities and countries.

IFC’s commitment to advancing gender equality is anchored in a strong business case and in global private sector client demand for what we call ‘gender-smart solutions’. Gender-smart, because we offer solutions that close gaps between women and men in the labour force and thereby drive gains in productivity, competitiveness, and innovation.

Q: What is IFC’s impact in terms of gender space globally and in Sri Lanka?

A: In response to the global urgency to do more to increase women’s labour force participation, a big part of IFC’s work globally is in reducing the gap between women and men as entrepreneurs, employees, corporate leaders, suppliers, consumers, and community stakeholders. Here are just a few examples of how IFC has had an impact thus far. Some of the initiatives we hope to bring and further scale in Sri Lanka in partnership with private sector companies.


  • Access to finance: IFC works with financial institutions to reach the women’s market. Increasing access to SME finance through its Banking on Women initiative. IFC has built a committed investment portfolio of $ 1.4 billion since its inception in 2010. In addition, IFC and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program have established the Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility, with the goal of raising $ 600 million to fund 100,000 women-owned businesses worldwide. Last month, IFC also issued a $ 500 million global benchmark bond, launching an innovative Social Bond Program to expand financing for projects that benefit women-owned enterprises and low-income communities in emerging markets.


  • Women’s employment: In 2016, we successfully concluded a two-year IFC-led SheWorks global private sector partnership that advanced employment opportunities and improved working conditions for more than 300,000 women. The resulting SheWorks knowledge report consolidates the knowledge, best practices, and lessons learned during the two-year SheWorks partnership so that other companies committed to investing in women’s employment can benefit as well.
  • nPartnerships: IFC was the first development-finance institution to support the Global Banking Alliance for Women, bringing together 44 financial institution members committed to reaching and extending the women’s market for finance in 135 countries.
  • Analysis and research: In an effort to better understand the barriers that women face in accessing insurance, IFC, AXA Group, and Accenture partnered to find out what the insurance industry is losing by not focusing on the women’s market, what women want from insurance products, and what could be done differently to reach women with services that are tailored to their individual, family, and business needs. The result is the SheforShield report, launched in September 2016.
  • Business skills and leadership training for women entrepreneurs: IFC has developed a non-financial service solution and has partnered with several clients in strengthening women entrepreneurs’ confidence, capacity and capital access. IFC has developed a new master-content program that can be customised to the needs of our clients, women entrepreneurs, and the local business context.
  • Board diversity: IFC promotes diversity on boards and, through its programs on corporate governance, supports training for women executives and boards.

Our commitment to advancing gender equality is anchored in a strong business case and in global client demand for gender-smart solutions, which has significantly grown over the years. 

Our advice has helped companies better attract and retain female talent resulting in lower turnover and absenteeism rates for both women and men. Meanwhile, by working with commercial banks, we have been able to increase their reach to the women’s market and further diversify and strengthen their portfolio.

Q: Tell us about IFC’s upcoming program to enhance women’s labour participation in Sri Lanka.

A: We are very encouraged that the Government of Sri Lanka has identified women, together with youth, as the two groups whose labour force participation rates must increase in order to grow the workforce and economy itself. Research suggests that raising the rate of women’s labour force participation by 15 percentage points over current rates will add more than one million workers to the labour market each year.

I’m excited about this joint DFAT-IFC Women in Work program, and am so glad I could be a part of the launch with the Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. The Women in Work program includes the following three components:


  • Enhancing women’s quality employment in the private sector by working with large companies to demonstrate the business case for investing in women as employees and to improve their ability to recruit, retain and promote women and men equally.
  • Increasing access to financial and non-financial services for women and women-owned MSMEs through partnerships with both public and private financial sector stakeholders. These will be complemented by interventions to facilitate the uptake of responsible financial practices, improve supervision/regulation for unregulated sectors and provide targeted financial education with a special focus on women.
  • Strengthening linkages with women in selected private sector supply chains by working with large companies that depend on supply chains to demonstrate the business case for investing in women in those supply chains.

It is heartening to see that some of the best gender practices are to be found right here in Sri Lanka’s private sector. Each time I meet IFC clients and other companies in Sri Lanka I take back lessons to our global teams.

Just this week I met a local garment company that is training women as mechanics, a typically male role, promoting them, providing them with better salaries and greater prospects for further progression. Another company in the tourism sector is already looking for ways to employ more women in the traditionally male-dominated sector.

In both the agribusiness and garment industries, we learned about innovative ways in which companies are implementing employer-supported childcare solutions.

The Women in Work program will support, grow and complement the efforts of leading companies in Sri Lanka to help scale and act as a catalyst.

It is a unique opportunity for all of us to make sure that girls and boys born today have a chance to see a more gender equal world in their lifetime.

Q: What are the specific sectors that IFC is targeting in Sri Lanka?

A: IFC believes in Sri Lanka’s tremendous potential, and we want to be a part of that growth story. We’re looking forward to ramping up our program in the country, working with the private sector and Government across a number of sectors including tourism, manufacturing, agribusiness, and infrastructure, to name just a few. The new Women in Work program will also allow us to promote gender-smart solutions across diverse industries in Sri Lanka.