Women's World Banking: The Early Years

21 Pages Posted: 30 May 2017

See all articles by Andrea Larson

Andrea Larson

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Jeanne Mockard

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business


This case serves multiple teaching purposes. It can be used effectively in an entrepreneurship course or for a discussion of entrepreneurship in the context of nonprofit organizations. Women's World Banking (WWB) is a unique worldwide financial institution that serves as an international model for the delivery of credit and management expertise to microbusinesses in less-developed economies. WWB represents the breakthrough innovation in market creation, product development, and new organizational forms discussed by Joseph Schumpeter (an economist who studied entrepreneurship). The organization is a network that operates with autonomous affiliates connected in a global web. The case focuses on the creation of the organization and its founding entrepreneur. It is a useful tool for discussing the characteristics of entrepreneurial founders, innovation, and growth challenges in the early years. It can be used effectively with the Harvard Business School case on Women's World Banking to discuss leadership succession and further challenges of rapid growth.




It was January 1990. Michaela Walsh had to make a major decision, whether to end her tenure as President of Women's World Banking (WWB) or to stay on for a few more years. She had repeatedly talked with members of the board of directors about leaving in the fall of 1990, but no one seemed to believe her. On the one hand, she had accomplished her goalCto establish an internationally respected and innovative financial institution. In many ways, Walsh's vision for WWB had been realized: the organization had grown to 44 affiliates in 35 countries through which $ 11.6 million had flowed to entrepreneurs in less economically developed areas around the world who otherwise might never have started or built their own businesses. On the other hand, was WWB on sufficiently stable foundations? Who should the successor be? Walsh knew the organization's future depended on its capacity to strengthen and expand its management and services. Walsh's thoughts shifted to plans for her next innovative project, the creation of a venture-capital fund. The excitement of this new challenge was as compelling as the demands of WWB in its early years had once been. She knew she had to make a decision because discussion of a successor would need to take place at the upcoming board meeting in April.


The seeds for WWB were planted in 1975 at the United Nations International Women's Year Conference in Mexico City. The conference, which launched the United Nations Decade for Women stressed the high cost of traditional cultural practices and legal and financial requirements that undermined women's active participation in the economic mainstream. Walsh attended the conference as an observer at the request of her employer at the time, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. A group of fifteen delegates—women from diverse cultures—met to discuss obstacles to women's participation in business and agreed that access to credit and business training were major hurdles all over the world. This group resolved to create a vehicle to support women who had entrepreneurial qualities but who lacked the capital and management skills to build viable businesses. These delegates became the nucleus for Women's World Banking.


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Keywords: international joint venture, entrepreneurship, growth management, innovation management, leadership, African-American protagonist, nonprofit organizations, nontraditional business, women in business

Suggested Citation

Larson, Andrea and Mockard, Jeanne, Women's World Banking: The Early Years. Darden Case No. UVA-ENT-0025, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2974243

Andrea Larson (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.darden.virginia.edu/faculty/larson.htm

Jeanne Mockard

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

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