2021 UfM Women Business Forum: Digital Transformation in the Euro-Mediterranean region
- Celebrating its 6th edition, and informed by 5 years of knowledge and experience, the Women Business Forum is an excellent regional platform that offers women-owned and women-led businesses a unique opportunity to take their business to the next level.
- Women face a persistent gender gap in terms of access to and use of digital technologies – a gap which increased from 19% to 24% between 2013 and 2019 in the Arab Countries.
- Technological changes, including digitalisation, have been accelerated by the COVID-19 health crisis. Now more than ever, we need to ensure that women are not left behind as our societies start to rebuild.
6-7 July 2021. This year’s edition of the Women Business Forum, organized by the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) focused on the digital transformation and how technology can be harnessed to empower women as entrepreneurs, traders, workers and professionals. The COVID pandemic has taken an especially heavy toll on jobs traditionally held by women such as retail, tourism and hospitality. The Women Business Forum, which serves as a regional platform to identify where digital inequalities remain gender biased, brought together over 500 female entrepreneurs, business organisations, international organisations and business support schemes from the Euro-Mediterranean region. The event was also followed live on social media by more than 1000 viewers.
The Forum’s roundtable discussions with high-level international experts concentrated on the root causes of the digital gender divide in the MENA region and how it affects women entrepreneurs who do not have sufficient access to technology. Experts shared their insights, knowledge and good practices regarding education and training initiatives to enhance digital literacy and women’s participation in digital environments, and explored the opportunities digital transformation and technologies offer, their impact on value chains and how they can be used to enhance the competitiveness of women-owned SMEs and women’s bargaining power.
Marisa Farrugia, the Deputy Secretary General for Social and Civil Affairs at the UfM underlined that “the integration of women into labour markets is not only a matter of human rights, but paramount to enhancing the competitiveness of the region for better growth. Women empowerment is a precondition for sustainable societies and strong economies.”
In partnership with CIHEAM and UNIDO, this year’s edition also offered participants training sessions on Digital Transformation for Women-Led SMEs, e-commerce for women entrepreneurs and innovation and digital opportunities for businesses in rural areas.
During the first UfM training session, trainers explained that while many SMEs lag behind when it comes to digital transformation, they are more agile than larger companies and so well-positioned to take advantage of market conditions, which favour smaller challengers that can leverage data, the cloud, advanced disruptive technologies and third-party digital platforms and marketplaces to streamline processes and improve productivity.
In the UNIDO session, the trainers provided the participants with valuable insights on how to boost online businesses and how to use an action plan to effectively drive online sales with digital marketing channels.
The CIHEAM session focused on gender-sensitive innovation and digital opportunities for rural women. Experts provided diverse solutions to make regional entrepreneurial ecosystems more gender-sensitive by adapting training sessions, calls and competitions to the needs and strengths of women, as well as incubator capacity building and networking.
The Forum also featured the first edition of the MENA Business Club. Organized in collaboration with UNIDO, it offered women-owned and women-led businesses in the region the opportunity to take their business to the next level and find business opportunities through speed networking events.
The WBF participants were taken on a virtual site visit to three inspiring women-owned businesses in Tunisia. Viewers and participants witnessed first-hand experience of how digitalisation is giving businesses the edge in the natural cosmetics sector. This session was brought to life thanks to the pilot initiative funded by the Principality of Monaco in Tunisia under the UNIDO, UN Women and FAO joint program labelled by the UfM “Promoting Women’s Empowerment for Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development in the MENA Region” project.