Microfinance has become standardized within global development policy, disproportionately impacting the lives of women of the global South and, increasingly, in the global North with the dismantling of the welfare state. Poverty finance policies employ an entrepreneurial model to facilitate women’s labor market participation whereby borrowers are extended microcredit, or small loans, to invest in their microbusinesses. Global poverty finance is, however, deeply gendered and racialized in ideology and practice. This paper explores the ways that entrepreneurialism, as a cultural formation, privatizes women’s labor into normative gendered, feminine, and domestic labor sectors alongside the expansion of markets and neoliberal restructuring of economies. This paper argues that entrepreneurialism, and its narrative and visual rhetoric galvanized by poverty finance brokers, uphold a gender- and racially segregated micro labor force based upon a false dichotomy of “noble” racialized mothers of the global South as respectable entrepreneurial subjects. As the neoliberal capitalist logics of global poverty finance rearticulate the burden of impoverishment onto the poor, this encumbers the microentrepreneur to ‘rise above’ her class and socioeconomic conditions. In the global North, however, mothers of color largely define the margins of entrepreneurialism, and are often decried as recipient subjects. Entrepreneurial policies and practices re-create the politics of austerity and anti-welfare sentiment that have long undervalued the kincare, social reproductive labor, and mother work of women. This paper, lastly, argues for focus to the creation of feminist economic policies addressing the structural conditions of racial capitalism and its colonial and imperial legacies.

Note on the Author

Heather Montes Ireland is an assistant professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies and affiliate faculty in the Critical Ethnic Studies Program at DePaul University, Chicago, USA. She is currently working on a monograph that examines how cultural constructions of entrepreneurialism shape public policy with repercussions for low-income mothers of color. Email: hirelan1@depaul.edu ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9834-2321