Women having a conversation in an office

Empowering women-owned businesses in the Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic Government,

5 minute read

The Dominican Republic has shown a pioneering approach to including women in public procurement.


  • encouraging women-owned businesses requires a targeted approach
  • success can be achieved by combining quotas with events and workshops
  • good quality data is essential to monitor gender inclusion

The problem

Once known mainly for its beaches and bananas, the Dominican Republic now has the largest economy in the Caribbean and Central America. Yet until recently women were not sharing the fruits of its success.

In the early 2000s government spending on procurement, an important tool in promoting gender equality, went almost exclusively to men.

For female entrepreneurs, often running small family businesses, public procurement was seen as a closed shop - out of reach and not worth the effort needed to win a contract.

No economy can develop its full potential, unless women and men participate fully.

Kristina Georgieva, Director of the International Monetary Fund

The approach

In 2012 Dr Yokasta Guzmán became the Dominican Republic's first female Director of Public Procurement.

Her office, the DGCP began to launch a range of initiatives aimed at women-owned businesses. These included:

  • encouraging women to register as suppliers on the government database
  • setting a target of 5% of all government contracts to go exclusively to women-owned businesses
  • running events and workshops to familiarise women with with public procurement

To raise awareness ‘procurement fairs’ were held across the country. At these events officials could both find out where women-owned businesses were located and meet women face-to-face to explain the opportunities.

Follow-up events included training on how to use the government’s eProcurement system and workshops on interview techniques and presentations.

To reassure female suppliers that the system was not rigged in favour of men, a raffle system was introduced. Any business that met the selection criteria was entered into a ‘project lottery’ with the winner announced in public.

Statistics on gender inclusion using clear charts and maps, rather than being buried in government reports or spreadsheets.

A procurement fair in Santo Domingo where women suppliers meet government officials

The results

Between 2012 and 2017 the number of women suppliers on the DGCP database grew from 2,000 to 15,000.

As well as traditionally ‘female’ sectors such as agriculture and services, almost every industry was represented from mining to research, engineering and tech.

Women registered from across the island, even in more remote provinces, suggesting that the ‘we come to you’ approach of procurement fairs had worked.

By 2019 a fifth of government contracts, totalling RD$20bn (US$350m) went to women.

As Dr Guzmán put it, ‘women had stopped begging for favours and started claiming their rights.'

A data visualisation showing the amount of government contracts awarded to women, published on the DGCP website

The challenges

As with any policy designed to favour a specific group, there are risks involved. For example companies might employ a token number of women simply to gain preferential status.

The proactive approach taken by the DGCP in seeking out and meeting women at events and workshops made this less of a concern.

By supervising the registration process, government officials were able to verify that women either owned or had majority participation in a business.

Once a women-owned business was added to the database, it was important to track what happened next.

This required painstaking work to add gender markers or ‘tags’ to government data, a process known as ‘disaggregation’.

Once the tags were in place, the DGCP was able to see which women-owned businesses had won contracts, what type of contracts were awarded to them, and for what amount – crucial information for measuring the success of the policy.

Next steps

The Dominican Republic has begun sharing its experience on gender inclusion with neighbouring countries, starting with El Salvador and Costa Rica.

Similar schemes have been launched across Latin America, with both Chile and the city of Buenos Aires introducing certification for women-owned businesses.

As governments react to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, there is a risk of gender inclusion slipping down the agenda.

The challenge will be to ensure that women-owned businesses don’t end up back where they started and can play an equal role in the recovery.