Female Entrepreneurship Benefits the MEA Region

Aviva Steinberger is the Director of Innovation Diplomacy at Start-Up Nation Central, leveraging the power of innovation to build resilient, long-term regional ties and capitalize on collaborative business potential.

Over the past 10 years, more and more women in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region are starting their own businesses, many in the technology and innovation sectors, and securing their futures. According to the International Finance Corporation, since the tech industry is still relatively new in the Arab world, there is no legacy of it being male-dominated and as a result is open to female entrepreneurship. As a result, one in every three tech firms in the Middle East is led by women, much higher than in Silicon Valley. 

The fifth-annual Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs report shows that more women are starting businesses in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, and Lebanon than ever before. The report found that 87% of Saudi Arabia’s female business owners started companies to raise their financial independence. Entrepreneurship is particularly attractive for women in this region who have grown up with technology and social media. They have ideas and ambitions to start up and grow their companies. 

The catalyst for female entrepreneurship is often tied to societal pressures on women to stay at home, the gender gap, and structural disadvantages in fund-raising and investments.

An additional benefit is that according to the World Bank, female-owned businesses hire more women (25%) than their male counterparts do (22%). Female-owned firms also employ a higher percentage of women in managerial roles, helping women to climb up the ladder, compared to those who are only hired for lower, unskilled positions. To top it off, women-led businesses are hiring more workers in general. In Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, firms run by women are growing their workforces at higher rates than those run by men.

Last week in Marrakesh, we at Start-Up Nation Central, our partner in Morocco, CPR, and with the support of many partners in Morocco, brought together nearly 100 female business leaders from across four continents to forge new collaborations. At the Connect to Innovate event, we explored the role of innovation in empowering women to generate prosperity in the region. The women hailed from Bahrain, Benin, the Central African Republic, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. 

Aviva Steinberger, Director of Innovation Diplomacy at Start-Up Nation Central, addresses attendees at the “Women Connect to Innovate” conference in Morocco on May 4, 2023.

Together, we discussed the shared challenges facing the Middle East and Africa and how they are defined not just by geography, culture, or religion, but also by how these impact women’s access to financial security, education, and the basic infrastructure that enable leadership opportunities. Each female leader represents a network of women in their own countries with whom they can share takeaways in order to expand and share a passion for scripting the future of the region. 

By bringing together prominent women in business, innovation, and technology from the region, we are creating a cohort of women who will help propel our region forward. Inspired by His Majesty King Mohammed VI’s active role and vision of women’s roles in economic development, Morocco sits at the crossroads of connecting the Middle East and Africa and is therefore a pivotal player in helping to further female entrepreneurship in the region. 

This gathering fostered dialogue and connected female business leaders from across the region. Growing female talent in the workforce is an important goal for Morocco and it is wonderful to convene this impressive group of women. The groundwork for new collaborations has been laid, and we will harness the power of bringing women together to share their stories and journeys to success, and we look forward to seeing it progress.

First published in Morocco World News May 2023

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