International experts discuss gender-smart financing to empower women in the MENA region
The UfM and UNIDO join forces for the Women Business Forum, a two-day hybrid event in Barcelona and livestreamed online
20 July 2022, Barcelona. The MENA region has the world’s largest entrepreneurial disparity between men and women – 5% of women-led business compared to a global average of 23%-26% – and one of the weakest female labour participation rates. Under the title “Gender-smart financing to unlock Women’s entrepreneurial potential in the MENA region”, the Women Business Forum 2022 kicked off in Barcelona, jointly co-organised by the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and supported by the Governments of Italy and Sweden.
Seeking to explore ways to empower women as entrepreneurs, traders, workers, and professionals, as well as identify financial inequalities that remain gender-based, the event also looked into successful models and best practices of women-led businesses.
“When it comes to their financial capabilities, women do not enjoy equal opportunities to innovate, upscale and grow, or else create wealth through equity funding. Despite all this, data confirms that when funded, women entrepreneurs perform equally well as their male counterparts. Sometimes, at times even better,” said John Paul Grech, Deputy Secretary General of UfM.
Studies highlight that women in the region face some of the highest levels of discrimination in accessing productive and financial resources. As the venture capital industry is 92% male, gender bias seems to play a role in men funding other men, overlooking the female entrepreneurs who are also seeking business funding.
“Studies show that investing in women entrepreneurs also makes sense from a business perspective: Once women-led start-ups and enterprises dispose of reasonable financial means, their return on investment exceeds average,” said Cecilia Ugaz Estrada, Director for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women Office at UNIDO. She added that the theme of this Forum – gender-smart financing – is “crucial to leveraging the full potential of women entrepreneurs”.
The financing challenges as well as other pervasive issues hampering female entrepreneurship development in the MENA region are at the core of the White Paper produced by UNIDO, within the framework of the PWE II UfM-labelled project.
« Projects like the PWE have proven to have an impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem and should be replicated and scaled up by the donors’ community. I would like to highlight the originality and sustainability of this project, thanks to its focus on dynamic Women Business Associations in the 7 target countries, » said Fabio Cassese, General Director of the Italian International Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, in his welcoming statement to the Forum.
The White Paper, presented in the framework of the Forum, highlights the relevant knowledge accumulated by UNIDO over the years, identifying the lessons learned, and good practices carried out, including on access to finance.
Based on 6 years’ experience of dialogue with women entrepreneurs, national women business organisations, international leading organisations and business support schemes from the Euro-Mediterranean region, the UfM Women Business Forum is a regional platform taking place every year that offers women-owned and women-led businesses a unique opportunity to grow their business to the next level by learning from successful and innovative business models, and by building business connections with diverse and high-level international business leaders, policymakers and experts from the world’s leading companies.