Arab Women entrepreneurs on the rise: Follow the United Arab Emirates Example
As I started working on women entrepreneurship in 2011, I was fortunate to work with formidable Arab women entrepreneurs across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It was thanks to these women who I met between Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Lebanon, and Egypt that I was able to bring different partners together and launch the first MENA women entrepreneur investment program. I did that as the World Bank resilience regional coordinator. The program was challenged in Washington as it moved away from the traditional analytical and lending work that the World Bank prioritized. However, by 2014 it had become a multi-million-dollar women focused investment program and an institutional example of how Public Private Partnership (PPP) can empower women entrepreneurs, create jobs, and enable economic resilience.
The shift of power
Women leaders are emerging globally as force multiplier across countries and sectors. Women inclusive businesses are outperforming the markets, creating new business models, and embracing sustainability to unlock new shareholder and societal value. MENA is one of the region’s where driven women are taking risks to transform their economies. These changes are particularly evident in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, the UAE, and Qatar, when public sector reforms have been promoted for decades. Saudi Arabia is also following suit, with more women in leadership positions across capital markets, politics, and entrepreneurship. This is thanks to a large extent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) Vision 2030 which aims to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil and gas.
Where are we now?
Studies show that investing in women entrepreneurs pays off both societally and financially. When women have access to financing, their enterprises tend to outperform the markets. In some MENA countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, the International Financial Corporation (the private sector branch of the World Bank) has partnered with local Banks and VC to design financial services and banking products for smaller enterprises. As a result, in Lebanon, the number of loans to women-owned small and medium enterprises increased by 55 percent. Bank’s business saving accounts also increased by 17 percent.