The second full day of the World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum (WEIF 2022) on Tuesday, saw women entrepreneurs demanding better opportunities and better access to financing to help ensure a more equitable, sustainable role in business development in the Arab region.
Along with this headline event focused on women, the Forum, taking place in Dubai, also held a ministerial panel on the importance of Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, known as MSMEs, for post-COVID recovery. Discussions also highlighted the power of Africa’s youth generation as crucial to attracting future foreign investment in the continent’s development.
Let Arab women shine
Addressing the panel on uplifting women's entrepreneurship, Farida Al Awadhi, the Chairperson of Emirates Businesswomen Council, said: “Unfortunately, women in Middle East and the Arab countries have been undermined or media has misrepresented them.”
Sonya Janahi, CEO of RA’EDAT Arab Woman Portal, agreed, and added: “Arab women have been unprecedented in many things, but unfortunately, there’s a lack of international knowledge [about what they are doing]. So let us focus on letting Arab women shine, creating opportunities together to work and collaborate, and focus on how to train and develop women so their entrepreneurship journey can also be an investment journey.”
However, all the participants agreed that boosting entrepreneurship and achieving gender parity in the business world required that women have more opportunities and better access to financing, with the aim of putting women entrepreneurs on par with their male counterparts.
Involve women in the conversation
“There are many initiatives to bridge this gap, but we are not there yet,” said Dr. Louiza Chitour, the HealthTech Programme Manager, Plug and Play Abu Dhabi – a CSR initiative that helps female founders globally acquire funding for and thrive in their businesses.
“So, it’s more important for us to be involved in those investment conversations – how to get women to invest, how to educate them – to give them the confidence that they also can be a part of this investment world that’s escaping us.”
Uplifting Women Entreprenuership Panel moderated by Ibukun Awosika, President international Women Entreprenuers Challenge.— THE WEIF (@weifofficial) March 29, 2022
Panel Members include:
*Virtual - Marie-Christine Oghly, President Women Global Business Owners (FCEM)
*Sonya Janahi, CEO, Ra'edat Arab Woman Portal pic.twitter.com/1ZFpxP3tLx
Moderator of the session and the President of the International Women Entrepreneurs Challenge, Ibukun Awosika, pointed out that the challenges of being a woman in the entrepreneurial world are even tougher for African female entrepreneurs.
Speaking later to UN News he said: “There are challenges based on our cultural system, there are challenges common to all men and women entrepreneurs, based on our infrastructure, financial [systems], the perception of a female as opposed to a male, and sometimes the opportunity and the limitation.”
Although there have been significant achievements in the last few decades, women’s socio-economic disadvantage is still reflected in pervasive gender inequalities in earned income, access to productive resources such as credit cards and assets, education, liberty to pursue a profession and access to financing.
Tackling unequal power dynamics
Jessica Neumann, an Investment and Technology Promotion Expert and Gender focal point at the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) said that the agency is in the process of finalizing its gender lens investing and training e-learning course.
“We decided to design [this] virtual e-learning course with free access to really stop focusing on women and trying to fix them because we are beyond the conversation on what women should do to raise funding for the business, and rather raise awareness [about] the [unfair] power dynamics that exist in the finance industry,” she explained.
UNIDO, she continued, had long been focused on gender analysis “and in every project we do, we look at the power dynamics as to where women are excluded, and we take steps and measures to see that they are equally benefitted from our projects. So, this time we are not doing another woman accelerator, we are talking to the men now and trying to make them understand that there is a real business in investing in women.”
Governmental support was seen as crucial in achieving gender parity and having more women helm their own businesses.
As Chairperson of Emirates Businesswomen Council of UAE, Farida Al Awadhi summed up: “Yes. We can do it. But the journey is much faster if governments put in place rules, regulations and policies to support women.”
Ministerial Panel: take small and medium enterprises seriously
Providing government support to the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also echoed among the speakers during the Ministerial level discussion on Tuesday.
Among the panelists were: Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director-General of the African Risk Capacity Cluster (ARC), Dr. Ahmed bin Abdullah Humaid Belhoul Al Falasi; Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises in the United Arab Emirates; and Dr. Abdul Rahim Younes Ali Minister of State, Economy, Development Planning and International Cooperation of Chad.
The Ministerial Panel highlighted the Role of SMEs in developing the world economy, especially at a time of multiple severe global challenges. With the pandemic creating unprecedented disruptions to global economies and labor markets at all levels, supply chains grounding to a halt and lockdowns resulting in the forced closure of many businesses, it is unsurprising that SMEs were the most heavily impacted.
Mr. Diong spoke about the challenges that Africans face in terms of investment, and what needs to be done to support small and medium-sized enterprises on the continent.
He added that when addressing the SME sector in Africa, one thing on which all agreed was that 80 per cent of jobs on the continent are provided by African SMEs. “So, it’s imperative to take the small and medium enterprises seriously.”
The UN official pointed to some of the challenges facing small and medium-sized enterprises in the African continent: First, access to markets, he said, noting that “it is not possible to establish projects in the absence of markets”; second, enabling small and medium enterprises to access finance; and third, providing the necessary resources for capacity-building.
Africa: The continent of future investment
After the session, Dr. Abd al-Rahim Younes on the Minister of State, Economy, Development Planning and International Cooperation of Chad told UN News that Africa is the “continent of future investment” and noted that young people made up more than 60 per cent of over the population. This massive young cohort was now beginning to form companies or to find work in the private sector.
He pointed out that African governments support young people, whether through local, regional or international funding, and stressed that the continent is rich in natural resources such as water, petroleum, minerals and all sources of energy.
“Chad has more than 120 million head of livestock, and more than 25 million hectares of arable land, as well as newly discovered oil fields, in addition to gold in large quantities. We look forward to the future and [the] investment that will come from Arab, European and Asian countries,” he stated.
Economic empowerment of Arab women
The conclusion of the Advancement of Women's Entrepreneurship workshop also saw the graduation of a number of Arab women entrepreneurs from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, who were trained on how to develop, sustain and grow their projects.
This training course, entitled ‘Economic Empowerment of Arab Women’, was conducted virtually online by the UNIDO Investment and Technology Promotion Office.
Held under the aegis of Dubai Exhibition Centre at Dubai Expo 2020, the bi-annual World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum (WEIF 2022), which is co-sponsored by the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)/Investment and Technology Promotion Offices (Bahrain), will continue on Wednesday 30 March.