Women entrepreneurs can fuel economic growth in MENA
Visa Empowers Women in Business With ‘She’s Next’ Event and Grant Program
The world’s largest entrepreneurial disparity between men and women exists in the MENA region, where less than 5% of businesses are women-led (compared to a global average of 23% to 26%). According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), women in the MENA face some of the highest levels of discrimination in accessing productive and financial resources.
Turning the spotlight on the challenges that women in business face, Visa partnered with Société Générale Maroc, USAID Egypt, Commercial International Bank (CIB) Egypt, First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB), Dubai Business Women Council (DBWC) and Al-Rajhi Bank for She’s Next: Spotlighting Women Entrepreneurs in the Middle East.
Held on September 26, 2022, in partnership with Forbes Middle East, the virtual event brought together powerful business leaders and entrepreneurs from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco to discuss barriers to success within different sectors, which often hinder women’s advancement in the ecosystem. In addition, the discussion offered insights to inspire women entrepreneurs and small business owners. Visa also hosted the winners of the She’s Next Grant at the virtual event.
Designed to help women entrepreneurs and small business owners secure the funding they need to survive and thrive, the grant awarded 19 winners across all four market a $10,000 prize fund and 1-year IFundWomen (IFW) mentorship program, which includes coaching and peer-to-peer connection opportunities.
She’s Next kicked off with a keynote by Ambareen Musa, Founder & CEO of Souqalmal, titled ‘Seven Lessons on Success from a Woman Entrepreneur in the Middle East’, where she urged women to focus on their own definition of success, rather than striving to achieve what others believed it should be. She also advised women to have the right mindset, do what they love, ask for help when needed, refuse to take no for an answer, practice integrity and always put themselves first so that they are able to succeed in today’s competitive landscape.
In the fireside chat with Senior Vice President & Group Country Manager – GCC at Visa, Dr. Saeeda Jaffar, Entrepreneur Karen Wazen, CEO and Founder of Mumzworld Mona Ataya, and Head of Strategy and Strategic Partnerships at Careem Pay Madiha Sattar spoke about the roadmap to greatness with the aim of helping women develop core strategies for their businesses. Sharing stories of their earlier struggles within their respective sectors, the interviewees highlighted the importance of resilience, positivity, maintaining a work-life balance and having the courage to fulfil one’s purpose.
During the chat, Wazen, Ataya and Sattar also stressed the importance of ethics – and promoting a culture of fairness – when conducting business. The businesswomen focused on the cruciality of hiring the right people and ensuring that their teams are always motivated, which would in turn enable them to shine and excel. The interviewees also underlined empowering other women as a key element of success and advancement.
In ‘Are There Certain Traits That Women Need to Have to Be Successful?’, Visa's Senior Vice President & Group Country Manager – North Africa, Levant & Pakistan, Leila Serhan was joined by Azza Fahmy, Chairwoman & Creative Director at Azza Fahmy Jewellery, Asmae Hajjami, Managing Director at Société Générale Maroc, Hany El-Dieb, Head of Business Banking Segments, Products & Credit Relations Management at CIB and Mirna Arif, General Manager-Egypt at Microsoft. During the session, panelists advised women to pursue their passion and trust in their teams’ abilities as much as they do their own.
Panelists also addressed the gaps between ambition and reality, presenting real-world strategies which their respective organizations have undertaken to promote inclusion. Calling attention to the underutilized potential of female business owners, especially in underserved communities in the region, they highlighted mentorship, training, and financial services provision as the pillars of capacity-building to ensure that women-led businesses can make impactful contributions within their countries’ economies.
The event concluded with two fireside chats; the first, hosted by Forbes Middle East Senior Producer and Presenter Ramia Farrag, was titled ‘The Rising Phoenix – Tackling Cyberbullies in a Connected and Reactive Digital World’. The discussion with Emirates Skating Club CEO and Co-Founder Zahra Lari centered around the dangers of cyberbullying, and the importance of family support in tackling the challenge. Five-time Emirati National Champion Lari also spoke about her personal experience competing on the international stage as the world’s first hijabi figure skater.
The final session, titled ‘Enabling Access to Peer Networks and Capital’, saw Nadine Halabi, Business Development Manager at DBWC, Sara Al Binali, Group Head of Corporate and Commercial Banking at First Abu Dhabi Bank, Leslie Reed, Mission Director at USAID-Egypt and Elisa Freiha, Founder and CEO of Womena, address how robust networks build the social capital which can lead to greater collaboration and credibility, funding, and emotional support for female entrepreneurs.
Panelists emphasized the power of accelerator and incubator programs in helping scale businesses, in addition to the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion initiatives and best-practice forums. The panel also underscored raising awareness of the valuable role of women in business, and how investing in women can unlock untapped potential for a better future.
Click here to watch a replay of the She’s Next: Spotlighting Women Entrepreneurs in the Middle East event.