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DUBAI: Women-led startups in the Middle East and North Africa are getting a boost with a new initiative to provide them with the guidance, funding and mentorship they need to grow.

She Wins Arabia is a collaboration between the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) to support incubators, accelerators and venture capital funds through capacity building and training.

The initiative, which is part of IFC’s broader commitment to closing economic gaps between women and men in the MENA region, will work directly with startups and regional women-led businesses to help them develop their business plans and refine their presentations to potential investors.

“Founders, men and women, face several challenges around the world, all of which center around access to capital, markets and talent,” said Miriam Kiwan, head of strategic partnerships at ADGM.

She cited a lack of awareness in the MENA region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem of the gendered challenges faced by women-led startups.

“Perhaps the most difficult issue is access to finance, which is due to limited access to financial services and bank loans, an extremely low level of representation of women in the financing ecosystem and the persistence gender biases related to female founders and minorities,” she says.

Sofana Dahlan, CEO of a design-related startup incubator. (AFP/Getty Images)

A recent OECD report found that female business founders receive 23% less funding than male founders, despite having a 35% higher return on investment and generating on average 12% more revenue than men. founding men.

In a region where only 6% of private equity and venture capital goes to women-led businesses, according to the IFC, initiatives such as She Wins Arabia can play an important role in empowering women entrepreneurs.

Additionally, many incubators and venture capital funds are yet to adapt their workspaces, products and services to women entrepreneurs. “We need to focus on developing regional programs to improve the number of female fund managers through mentoring, venture capital programs and angel investor programs,” Kiwan told Arab News.

“We need to reduce unconscious bias and create an egalitarian startup ecosystem through capacity building and engagement of diverse ecosystem players, including incubators, accelerators, and investors.”

Kiwan says building the required capacity and skills within women-led startups is crucial to facilitating their access to market, through inclusive sourcing policies, and ensuring their success.

Miriam Kiwan (L), head of strategic partnerships at Abu Dhabi Global Market, and Sammar Essmat (R), gender lead for the Middle East, Central Asia and Turkey at IFC. (Provided)

“As an enabler of the diversity-focused technology ecosystem, it is important for ADGM to support initiatives such as She Wins Arabia to advance gender parity in its ecosystem and improve gender-neutral investment in the region,” she said.

Supported by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative and the Government of the Netherlands, the project will be implemented in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, West Bank and Gaza, as well as in Yemen.

It will conclude with a competition to enable women-led startups to access support and funding across the region, and to network with funds, incubators and accelerators.

“Women founders play an important role in contributing to economic growth, wealth creation and job creation,” Kiwan said, citing a recent Boston Consulting Group report that found support for women entrepreneurs can increase. the global gross domestic product (GDP) by approximately 3 to 6. percent and boost the global economy by $5 trillion.

More generally, she said: “Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and they have enormous potential to impact regional economic development, help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals over the the next decade and contribute to the fourth industrial revolution by reshaping our social fabric. .”

Echoing Kiwan’s view on empowering women entrepreneurs, Sammar Essmat, gender lead for the Middle East, Central Asia and Turkey at IFC, says women have enormous potential to add to the economies of the region.

The Saudi government, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is implementing a series of ongoing reforms to both diversify the Saudi economy and liberalize its society, including the empowerment of women. (AFP/Getty Images)

“A 2015 study (McKinsey) found that MENA economies lose an estimated $2.7 trillion in additional GDP due to gender gaps. It is the price of a missed opportunity and together with our partners we are working to eliminate it,” she told Arab News.

As a leading tech hub, ADGM seeks to provide a progressive ecosystem that supports innovation and entrepreneurs regardless of gender, with 30% of their tech startups across different sectors led by women.

“Closing the gender gap in entrepreneurship is an important part of taking advantage of this opportunity. In fact, it is estimated that the GDP of MENA countries will increase by 30-40% if women are better integrated into the economy,” Essmat said.

Fortunately, the MENA entrepreneurship ecosystem has improved and is slowly becoming a hub for founders. In regional universities, girls far outperform their male peers. In the United Arab Emirates alone, women make up around 70% of university graduates, although this figure drops after women reach mid-career due, among other things, to organizational cultures and the gender pay gap. sexes.

“Entrepreneurship provides women with better opportunities and alternatives to employment, if some of these challenges are removed,” Kiwan said. “We have collaborated with key regional and international entities to advance our gender equality agenda and ensure equal opportunities for women entrepreneurs.”

In a region where only 6% of private equity and venture capital goes to women-led businesses, according to the IFC, initiatives such as She Wins Arabia can play an important role in empowering women entrepreneurs. (Provided)

IFC’s approach to advancing gender equality in the region also focuses on improving access to finance, skills and digital technologies for women entrepreneurs, creating more jobs and for women, and working with the World Bank to remove legal barriers to women’s economic participation.

Many progressive reforms have been introduced in Saudi Arabia since it ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2001. The announcement of the Vision 2030 reform plan in 2016 gave a new impetus to the empowerment of women.

Along with changes to the laws and regulations governing their lives, Saudi women have been allowed access to new areas such as commercial aviation, state security, economy, tourism and entertainment. Beyond Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the importance of gender equality – fair or just representation of men and women – is also recognized in Arab countries whose leaders and governments have come to consider it as an economic and strategic imperative.

“Dedicated support and mentorship for female-led startups, including those that actually receive funding being a minority for the region, is a great initiative to help encourage more women to enter the entrepreneurial space,” said Dana Al-Jawder, CTO of MAGNiTT. , a leading venture capital data platform for startups in the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan and Turkey.

“The best catalyst for improved growth in this segment is other success stories from great leaders, like those like Mona Ataya, founder and CEO of Mumzworld.com, and Nadine Mezher, co-founder of Sarwa, the first investment in the fastest growing personal finance platform and app for young professionals in the region.