Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to focus on the role played by microfinance institutions (MFI) in the improvement of women's micro-entrepreneurship in economically developed countries. In the context of Catalan MFIs, the paper aims to study the allocation of resources to business projects led by women; and analyze the main features characterizing both women's personal traits and their business initiatives. Microcredit programs are also compared by gender. Design/methodology/approach: Data were gathered from Catalan MFIs, configuring a sample of 549 instances of business projects funded between 1998 and 2006. Applicants were individual entrepreneurs located in Catalonia, seeking to start up or expand their own business. For the purpose of contrast and generalization, data from a public nationwide program have also been considered. The research methodology of the paper is based on a quantitative approach, using inferential statistics to support the descriptive analysis. Findings: The results of this research indicate that social credit is truly a good source of capital for women; women of very different ages, with different business ideas have been funded by the Catalan microcredit sector. MFIs have also played a significant role in the social integration of immigrant women, thus contributing to alleviate poverty regardless of nationality. Research limitations/implications: Extension to other developed countries is subject to considerations about their financial system, the role played by social entities, the impact of governmental institutions, as well as the special legal requirements of each country. Originality/value: This paper points out that social credit offers female entrepreneurs the opportunity to carry out independent economic activities, despite their lack of financial capital. It also furthers the knowledge of how effectively it contributes to women's entrepreneurship. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.