Western Economic Diversification Canada
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Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) would like to thank all of the key informants and survey participants who generously gave of their time and knowledge to take part in the Evaluation of the Women’s Enterprise Initiative (WEI). Without their participation and their insights, this report would not have been possible. The evaluators acknowledge the work done by Ference Weicker & Company Ltd. (the consultants) in collecting key informant and survey data.


Although women entrepreneurs have played an increasingly important role in Canada’s economy over the past three decades, they continue to encounter significant financial and service barriers when growing their businesses. In response to identified gaps faced by female entrepreneurs, WD established the WEI in 1995 to support the development and growth of female-led businesses and, ultimately, economic equality between men and women.

The initiative established not-for-profit WEI organizations in each of the four western provinces. Each organization is led by its own board of directors. The organizations are incorporated and receive annual non-repayable contributions from WD to offset general operating costs and engage in two broad categories of activities:

1) Services: Deliver business, advisory, training and information services to women who are interested in starting or expanding a business. The businesses must be owned and controlled by women; and

2) Loans: Provide loans of up to $150,000 to women starting, or already leading, their own businesses. Loans are approved by the board of directors of the organizations or their delegates.

The organizations are members of, and partner with other members of, the department’s Western Canada Business Service Network. Through partnerships with Network members as well as other associations, each organization offers resources tailored to the particular needs of women in its region. Offices are located in Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg.

The most recent five-year funding agreement expired March 31, 2010, and the funding agreements have been renewed on an annual basis since then. The department’s A-base funding supports WEI organizations. Approved operating funding per organization, from program inception to March 31, 2013, is summarized below.

 Year  Annual Operating Funding
per Organization
Total Operating Fund,
All Organizations, 1995–2013
1995–00 $850,000 $17,000,000
2000–05 $875,000 $17,500,000
2005–10 $975,000 $19,500,000
2010–11 $975,000 $3,900,000
2011–12 $975,000 $3,900,000
2012–13 $975,000 $3,900,000
Total $16,425,000 $65,700,000

Between the program’s inception and March 31, 2012, WD has supplied WEI organizations with over $17.4 million in loan funds to provide conditionally repayable loans to female entrepreneurs. Loan funds per organization are outlined below.

Province Loan Fund Provided to organization
British Columbia $4,209,140
Alberta $5,000,000
Saskatchewan $5,000,000
Manitoba $3,278,756
Total $17,487,896

The value of the loan funds had grown to over $20.1 million by March 31, 2012.

Until 2009, the operating funding for the WEI was under the Western Diversification Program authority while the loan funding was provided under the WEI program authority. To facilitate evaluation, the operating and loan funding were consolidated under the WEI program authority in 2009. Currently, the WEI organizations are accountable to government through terms that have been set out in their contribution agreements with WD. Full eligibility and governance information is outlined in the Terms and Conditions of the WEI.3

Evaluation Context

The WEI Performance Measurement Framework formed the basis for the evaluation that spanned fiscal years 2008–09 to 2012–13. The WEI has undergone two evaluations in 1998 and 2004, two impact assessments in 2002 and 2008, and an audit in 2008. There were also two evaluations of the Western Diversification Program, in 2003 and 2008, which included the operating component of the WEI. The 2008 impact assessment confirmed that the program was achieving its intended outcomes and the 2008 audit results concluded that there was an appropriate level of oversight for the program. The fact that the program has been well-studied and has undergone no major changes within the past five years suggests the evaluation is low risk and the design, methods and evidence were calibrated accordingly.

Evaluation Scope and Objectives

The evaluation of WEI is guided by the 2009 Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) on Evaluation and the Standard on Evaluation for the Government of Canada. As required by the TBS Policy on Evaluation, all direct program spending must be evaluated every five years. The evaluation of the WEI Program was identified in the Department of Western Economic Diversification 2011–16 multi-year departmental evaluation plan.

The objective of the evaluation is to report to Senior Management and TBS on the relevance and performance of the WEI as identified in the 2009 TBS Policy on Evaluation. The evaluation also assessed the extent to which the WEI strengthened women-led small or medium-sized enterprises and contributed to developing and diversifying the western Canadian economy.

Evaluation Issues
  • Is there a continued need for the WEI?
  • Is the WEI aligned to departmental and federal government priorities?
  • Is the WEI consistent with federal roles and responsibilities?
Achievement of Intended Outcomes

To what extent has the program achieved intended outputs in terms of provision of business loans and delivery of business services?

To what extent has the program achieved intended outcomes of:

  • Increasing small/medium enterprise competitiveness and productivity
  • Increasing investment to targeted western Canadian firms
  • Strengthening women owned and controlled small/medium sized enterprises in Western Canada with improved capacity to remain competitive in the global marketplace
  • Increasing self-employment and business development among women
  • Establishing and growing women-owned and controlled businesses
  • Greater economic equality between men and women
  • Developing and diversifying the western Canadian economy

Success Factors
What factors facilitated or impeded the achievement of program outcomes?

Unexpected Outcomes
Were there unintended positive and/or negative outcomes from the department’s involvement in innovation?

Demonstration of Efficiency and Economy
  • Is the WEI achieving its intended outcomes in the most economical manner?
  • Is the WEI undertaking activities and delivering products in the most efficient manner?


[3] Terms and Conditions for the WEI Contribution Program: http://www.wd.gc.ca/eng/11984.asp.