Western Economic Diversification Canada
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Performance: Demonstration of Efficiency and Economy

Economy

Departmental representatives and WEI staff and board members were asked for their opinions on program economy. Most representatives indicated that the WEI is realizing outcomes at the least possible cost and producing good value for public money.

The department’s costs to undertake program management, monitoring and performance measurement activities are minimal. Departmental program staff conservatively estimated one full time equivalent department job is dedicated to the WEI activities.

The 2008 Audit of the Women’s Enterprise Initiative (WEI) found that the departmental processes are generally well organized and coordinated, the department demonstrates an appropriate level of due diligence in administration of the program, and the department monitors performance and financial reporting of the WEI organizations.

Each WEI organization used an average of 11 staff members, 178 volunteers and 315 partners in undertaking its activities.

Design of the Programming

The departmental respondents and WEI organization key informants were asked questions about program design and operations. They indicated that the WEI was appropriately designed, well structured and delivered. The WEI business model has been recognized internationally. Most clients believe that the program is designed appropriately, well-delivered and that good value is obtained with respect to the use of public funds.

Need for Additional Funding

At least half of key informants noted that the operational funding is not adequate to support future development of programming and needs for services. They suggested that WEI organizations should periodically reassess the needs of women entrepreneurs and gaps in services and customize their programming to evolving needs. There is a need for more funding to support in person delivery, provide loans and reach more people. The operating fund has not kept pace with the economy, impeding service delivery and technology upgrading, as well as contributing to high staff turnover within the WEI organizations.

Need for Supplemental Funding

The WEI organizations received supplemental funding to undertake four projects that were outside the scope of their usual activities. Two of the projects had significant non-Departmental funding and would have proceeded to some extent without Departmental funding. As part of the Access to Supply Chains Project, the WEConnect component has helped meet specific needs, particularly in Alberta and British Columbia, for programming required by successful women entrepreneurs ready to expand their business beyond local markets. However, it does not meet an on-going need for resources. The survey clients who had participated in the WEConnect component noted that the program had not yet had an impact on their business but might in the future; the clients noted that the connections made through the program had the potential to expand their market base and the confidence they gained from talking with other successful women would be helpful in further developing their business.

Efficiency

Most departmental representatives and WEI staff and board members indicated that the WEI is delivered in an efficient manner. The limited budget resulted in very lean and efficient operations. An extensive examination of efficiency would require more detailed costing information than is currently available.

Based on an examination of the performance data and perceptions of key informants and clients, the organizations are efficient in their programs and services to women entrepreneurs. The department reviews annual reports to determine whether the organizations are performing up to expectations and achieving their minimum performance standards. If an organization has not realized its minimum performance standards in a particular year, the department follows up with the organization to investigate reasons for the shortfall and determine appropriate action. The organizations rarely fell short of their minimum performance standards during the study period. In fact, only one organization fell short of its loan targets for one year. The outputs for the organizations, summarized in Tables 4.1 and 4.2, showed regions largely maintained their service and loan outputs over time. In terms of the department’s efficiency, at most one full time equivalent position supported the four WEI organizations that received total annual funding of $3,900,000.

The Initiative supported one job per $10,737 of loans and 5.3 jobs per loan

Tables 4.1 and 4.2 summarize the service outputs and lending performance attained by the WEI organizations for their annual funding of $3,900,000. Between 2008–12:

  • The WEI organizations delivered, on average, a total of 5,983 business advisory services, 38,501 information services and approved 114 loans. More detailed costing information would be required to determine the precise cost to deliver loans or services.
     
  • Disbursed loan amounts totaled $25,593,466. The average value of a loan approved per WEI organization ranged from $48,916 (British Columbia) to $60,109 (Alberta) and averaged $56,497.
     
  • There were 453 loans totaling $25.6 million that created 2,384 jobs. This is equivalent to one job per $10,737 of loans disbursed and 5.3 jobs per loan, which compares favourably with the Canada Small Business Financing Program that created 2.5 jobs per loan.31 This also compares favourably with the department’s Community Futures Program which averaged one job per $13,688 of loans disbursed and 3.6 jobs per loan over the last five years (2008-12)32.

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Cost-Effectiveness

When clients were asked how likely it is that they would have developed their business to the extent that they did in the absence of the program, average probabilities were 66 percent (non-loan clients) and 34 percent (loan clients). On an aggregate basis, the clients estimated that 44 percent of their current revenues would not have been generated in the absence of the support provided by the program. Costs to the department are low: one full time equivalent position comprises a very small proportion of the allocated annual funding.

Every dollar in loans disbursed leveraged $1.03 of non-departmental funding

Between April 2008 and April 2012, WEI organizations reported a total of $26.5 million leveraged, at the time of the loan, from non-departmental funding sources. The sum of the loan amounts disbursed by the WEI was $25.6 million. Therefore, every dollar in loans disbursed by the WEI organizations was matched by $1.03 of non-departmental funding at the time of the loan. This compares favourably with, for example, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s’s Women in Business Initiative that reported leveraging of $0.39.33

Clients may leverage additional funding as time goes on. According to the loan clients surveyed, the loans they received (which averaged $61,378) represent about 26 percent of the $239,685 average total investment in these businesses. This means that $2.90 has been invested in the businesses for every $1.00 provided in WEI loans. Based on the reported revenue levels, the average revenue is equal to $2.97 for every $1.00 invested in the business or $11.60 for every $1.00 in WEI loan funds received.

Best Practices, Lessons Learned and Possible Improvements

The WEI is recognized as a “best practice” in providing research-based, cost-effective, “one-stop” support services to women entrepreneurs;34 the first four of the following five lessons are highlighted in “Best Practices for Women Entrepreneurs in Canada”.

1) Support programs are often best managed by other female entrepreneurs.

The report noted that the WEI organizations “are run for women entrepreneurs by women entrepreneurs and that they operate their services in a highly cost-effective manner due to their non-profit nature. Both these factors have contributed to their overall success.

Focus groups participants felt that engaging successful women entrepreneurs as mentors to work one-on-one with other women and promote the program’s services was an effective approach with regards to promotion and outreach strategies. More and more women are considering entrepreneurship, so promotional services for core programming and particular projects are crucial for success. For example, adequate resources to promote projects has contributed to the success of WEConnect, particularly in some regions such as Alberta and British Columbia.

2) Utilize existing resources and allow organizations the flexibility to tailor services to their particular regional needs.

The report stated that the WEIhas been so successful in Western Canada that women entrepreneurs across the country have specifically asked the federal government to establish programs across the rest of the country following a similar model, i.e., one that builds upon existing programs and resources and which has the autonomy to tailor services to the needs of the individual communities.35 Much of the international literature also acknowledges the importance of research and needs-based programming that targets services to the needs to women entrepreneurs.

In this evaluation, key informants suggested research-related improvements to the WEI including:

  • Conducting research to better understand the markets served. The WEI organizations in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are engaging with academics to make better use of their research and share information regarding emerging needs, markets, trends and resources for their clients.
  • Setting priorities for services that are responsive to regional needs. The WEI organizations in different regions serve clients with different needs, capacities and different market focus. The organizations should ensure that their services are responsive to the needs of the clients they serve and that funding is reallocated appropriately to develop needed services. In Manitoba, for example, Aboriginal women entrepreneurs are a major area of growth. In Alberta's strong economy, many successful and long-standing businesses desire to expand nationally or internationally. The level of regional participation in WEConnect may reflect those differences in needs, or interest in types of assistance the WEI has to offer (e.g., uptake of the program in Alberta and British Columbia was significantly higher than for clients in Saskatchewan and Manitoba).

Clients also had some service-related suggestions. There could be more outreach and promotion of services to increase diversity of businesses served and reach under-served segments of the target group (e.g., younger women, Aboriginal women). Also, ensure that services are responsive to the needs of all women entrepreneurs who are requiring assistance. For example, hiring more experienced business advisors who can work with growing businesses and those focusing on international trade while keeping the fees for seminars and training activities low for those that are starting up. WEConnect clients felt that their expectations could be better managed: getting certified or participating in the conferences and making initial contacts will not necessarily translate into increased export sales; they must stay engaged, continue to follow up with the contacts and make new connections. WEI organizations can continue to communicate with WEConnect participants and inform them of opportunities to network related to their field.

The focus groups reiterated the importance of conducting research to identify service needs and gaps, which may vary by region or area (e.g., urban/rural). Focus group participants noted a need to increase financial support to riskier business in British Columbia, while in Alberta, the WEI organization is trying to move away from lending programs and focus on growth, expansion and linking business to markets. Rural women entrepreneurs may benefit from different services (more start-ups, increased need for training, etc.) than their urban counterparts. Manitoba and Saskatchewan noted a strong need to promote programs and services for women, particularly those in rural areas. The environment in which the program operates has changed (e.g., new support organizations and networks for women have been created, women are more likely to be approved for funding by other sources of funding, they have more education and increased number of immigrant entrepreneurs in some regions,). This suggests that the program, with its limited resources, should identify service gaps and focus its programming accordingly. Through research, the program can better understand issues affecting female entrepreneurs, including the type of businesses women entrepreneurs are starting or trying to grow, the objectives of starting the business (e.g., for immigrants and rural women entrepreneurs), status of the business, the availability of funds and other supports.

3) Women entrepreneurs prefer support services operated and developed by other female entrepreneurs.

The fact that women entrepreneurs prefer support services operated by other female entrepreneurs is supported in the international literature as a means to maximize the relevance of the programming and provide role models.36

4) Joint public-non-profit sector initiatives require sustainable core funding to operate effectively.

Best Practices for Women Entrepreneurs in Canada” highlights the importance of sustainable support, which is also identified as a best practice in the international literature.

In this evaluation, key informants had the following suggestions for improving the funding aspects of the program:

  • Shift to longer-term contracts with WEI organizations to facilitate better planning. Six key informants (including four WEI staff and two others) observed that the department has changed its contracting agreements with the WEI organizations from five year to only one year. This has affected planning and sustainability of services of the WEI organizations.
  • Ensure the flexibility of operating funding to allow for reallocation of resources. Five key informants (including three WEI staff and two others) suggested that more flexibility in the operating budgets would allow the organizations to focus their services on meeting their regional priorities.
  • Increase funding. Seven key informants (including four WEI staff and three others) noted a need for additional resources (department funding has remained the same since 2005) to ensure the consistency in staff and services, develop more programming and update technology.

Clients suggested improvements to funding and service access. They suggested that services should be more flexible by raising the limit on the amount of loans issued, easing the application requirements for loans, delivering more services online or making them otherwise more accessible to all clients (e.g., offering training and seminars at different times and locations).

The focus group participants indicated that WEI organizations have become more risk averse in issuing loans to businesses that are higher risk. The WEI organizations’ processes of approving loans is perceived to be very similar to other lenders, which creates a gap for financing of women entrepreneurs who cannot obtain loans from other sources. In terms of core funding, the focus group participants felt that core funding could be more flexible. The needs for financing, education, training and other core services still exits, to various degrees across the region; however, different economic environments, increased availability of organizations and services, types of women-owned businesses and limited funding available to WEI organizations may require them to focus their services to better respond to the needs of women entrepreneurs. To do this, more flexibility in the operating budget, including changing the performance measurements attached to the WD funding, will help organizations tailor the funding towards activities that are best suited for the needs of their regions.

5) Well-managed organizations and networking/partnerships with other programs and services create opportunities and reduce duplication.

Key informants suggested the following improvements related to collaboration and partnerships:

  • Increase efforts to leverage funding from other government departments or potential funders. Some key informants recommended that the WEI organizations should apply for funding from other government departments (e.g., Status of Women).
  • Partner with other organizations to share resources and expand the reach of services, particularly in more rural and remote regions where the WEI has very little reach.

The focus group participants also emphasized the importance of collaboration with organizations that provide similar services to create opportunities to leverage resources and to reach-out to underserved groups. In terms of maximizing the impact of services, an integrated approach or continued care is identified as most effective. Providing care to clients in developing their business plans and business ideas, providing loans and offering loan-care (e.g., training and networking) is viewed as the most effective approach in helping women achieve their goals. This approach also contributes to building the capacity of communities to grow and expand into new markets. To leverage resources and increase outreach to rural communities, WEI organizations should increase efforts to collaborate, develop referrals and better coordinate programming to avoid duplication and ensure that services are available to all women.

In terms of leveraging, the focus group participants indicated the department is generally the sole funder for all services, limiting the flexibility of services and programming. In Manitoba, there has been some effort to leverage funding from other sources including other federal departments (Status of Women) and the private sector (charging a fee for services). Other regions leveraged resources through partnerships with organizations that provide similar services to deliver training, seminars or other services. However, coordinated efforts to leverage funding from other sources (industries, other federal government) have been minimal. The department provides funding for operational and core services of WEI organizations. The challenge for the organizations is that departmental core funding is attached to certain performance measurements (e.g., number of clients served and number and value of loans issued) which limit the flexibility of the funding and the ability to develop programs that are more responsive to the needs of the women entrepreneurs. For example, there was a high demand for WEConnect in Alberta, where the need for increasing access to supply chains is high, and resources were available to promote the project. However, the organization was not able to continue the Initiative because the one time funding was not renewed and the WEI organizations’ operating budgets was not sufficient to do other programming apart from providing core services. Three key informants (including representatives from WD and other sources of assistance) observed that WEI organizations should increase efforts to leverage funding from other government departments, including the federal and provincial government, and the private sector. Focus group participants indicated there is a need to work with industry associations and sectors to identify the areas where the private sector would support programming for women entrepreneurs.

 


[31] Industry Canada. “Canada Small Business Financing Act. Annual Report 2010-2011”. Accessed at: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/csbfp-pfpec.nsf/eng/la03089.html Accessed September 21, 2012.

[32] Note: only jobs created through lending activity were included to enable direct comparison to the WEI which reports on jobs created through lending activity. The numbers are from the department's document: "Community Futures Results Report 2012-2013".

[33] Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. 2010. "Evaluation of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency's Entrepreneurship and Business Skills Development Program Sub-activity". This evaluation included several initiatives that support business skills development including the Women in Business Initiative.

[34] Foundation of Canadian Women Entrepreneurs, "Best Practices for Women Entrepreneurs in Canada", May 2004.

[35] Foundation of Canadian Women Entrepreneurs, "Best Practices for Women Entrepreneurs in Canada", May 2004.

[36] Austrian Institute for Small Business Research, "Good Practices in the Promotion of Female Entrepreneurship", 2002.