COVID-19 relief to support Vietnam’s women-led SMEs

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of Vietnam on December 22 signed a 5 million USD grant agreement, funded by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), to support Vietnamese women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (WSMEs) whose access to finance has been weakened because of COVID-19.

Andrew Jeffries, ADB Country Director for Vietnam, said that although the country has managed the COVID-19 pandemic well, supply chain disruptions, economic downturns in export markets, and declines in tourism have slowed the country’s economy.

“To revive and sustain their businesses, support to access critical financing is essential for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), especially WSMEs adversely affected by COVID-19,” he noted.

Economic disruptions caused by COVID-19 fall hardest on SMEs, which have very limited resources to manage economic shocks.

In June 2020, the General Statistics Office (GSO) reported that nearly 30,000 Vietnamese businesses registered to temporarily suspend their operations, a 38 % increase over the first half of 2019.

The grant will finance the COVID-19 Relief for WSMEs Project, aiming to incentivise participating banks in Vietnam to restructure existing loans or extend new loans to at least 500 WSMEs.

Funds will be disbursed on a first-come, first-served basis, so that the banks will be competing for the funds and are incentivised to proactively find eligible WSMEs.

Five banks have volunteered to participate in the grant, including the Asia Commercial Bank, Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam, Saigon-Hanoi Bank, Tien Phong Bank, and Vietnam Prosperity Bank.

The economic gains of the project are likely to come from helping WSMEs to avoid bankruptcies, to preserve employment, and to access credit at a time when banks are reducing lending. The project complements the Government’s financial inclusion strategy, approved in February, which places special emphasis on both women and SMEs.

We-Fi is governed by 14 founding contributing countries and managed by the World Bank. It aims to mobilise more than US$1 billion in commercial and international financial institution finance to improve the business environment for women-owned or led SMEs. In 2019, ADB received US$20.19 million from We-Fi to support WSMEs to access financing and training in Vietnam and the Pacific.