An Overview of Women Entrepreneurship in the Middle East and Africa by Richie Santosdiaz
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An Overview of Women Entrepreneurship in the Middle East and Africa

What does the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region look like with respect to female entrepreneurship – both as a whole and within highly-skilled sectors such as fintech and wider tech?

MEA LEADS THE WORLD IN FEMALE ENTREPRENEURSHIP RATES BUT IT IS SCATTERED

MEA is home to some of the world’s highest and lowest rates of female entrepreneurship. With total entrepreneurial activity (TEA), sub-Saharan Africa leads the world with the highest rates at 27 per cent. In fact, there are seven countries in the world where women had equal or higher levels of entrepreneurship than their male counterparts – three of the seven countries are in MEA and all three MEA ones are in Africa – Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda (the remaining four are Panama, Thailand, Ecuador and Mexico. It is interesting to note at other regions with high TEA rates of female entrepreneurs, in particular Latin America and the Caribbean).

The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is home to some of the world’s highest and lowest rates of female entrepreneurship - column by Richie Santosdiaz for The Fintech Times
The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is home to some of the world’s highest and lowest rates of female entrepreneurship IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

 

MEA, despite having sub-Saharan Africa leading the world, is also home one of the world’s lowest rates of women TEA, where in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) it is at a mere 4 per cent.

Mastercard last year launched its latest edition of its Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) and Israel led the list at number one (Israel, often known as the Startup Nation, was the only country in MEA on the top ten which also included in the following order: The United States, Switzerland, New Zealand, Poland, the UK, Canada, Sweden, Australia and Spain). The report involved an in-depth analysis across 12 indicators and 25 sub-indicators spanning Advancement Outcomes, Knowledge Assets and Financial Access, and Supporting Entrepreneurial Conditions – the index ranked each economy according to its performance over the past year – as stated in its report.

TECH AND FINTECH INNOVATIONS ARE LEADING THE WAY

Unfortunately, the tech sector (as is much of other sectors) is still male dominated – whereby 90% of tech CEOs are male. Interestingly though is that within MEA, in MENA the percentage of female entrepreneurs in tech is at 35%. Even though its TEA rate is really low it is notable that the percentage of female entrepreneurs is relatively high in tech.

MENA also leads in digital footprint with respect to female entrepreneurs. Via Mastercard, women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs) believe there are huge benefits of a cash-free economy to their businesses. This is via the Mastercard MEA SME Confidence Index, which highlighted that 81% of the region’s female entrepreneurs have a digital presence for their businesses, which leads in comparison to 68% of their male counterparts. With regards to the digital footprint of the region’s female entrepreneurs, social media (71%) leads the way, followed by a company website (57%). By looking at MENA specifically, the study found that more female entrepreneurs had a website (at 71%) in comparison to a social media presence (at 55%).

The wider MEA region is seeing a growing list of female entrepreneurs and this includes the wider fintech industry. Middle East-born companies such as Souqalmal.com founder and CEO’s Ambareen Musa), which is an insurtech company, to robo-advisory Sarwa co-founder Nadine Mezher to Rumman’s co-founder Shurouq Qawariq to SolidBlock’s co-CEO and cofounder Yael Tamar – show a growing rise of female entrepreneurs in the fintech and wider tech space.

In Africa, examples of female CEOs and/or cofounders in the fintech space include the likes of Nigeria’s Piggyvest co-founder and COO Odunayo Eweniyi, Pezescha of Kenya’s founder and CEO Hilda Moraa,  Lebo Mokgabudi from South Africa as the founder and CEO of Eaglequest Africa and Lilian Makoi from Tanzania who is the founder of Mipango – to name a few.

DESPITE THAT MORE CAN BE DONE AND INITIATIVES ARE HELPING ALSO CLOSE GAPS

Parts of MEA such as in the Arab World in particular in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, which is undergoing implementation of large economic development and diversification strategies is aiming to boost its youth to work in the private sector such as in sectors like financial services as well as in areas such as in fintech and wider tech - column by Richie Santosdiaz for The Fintech Times
Parts of MEA such as in the Arab World in particular in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, which is undergoing implementation of large economic development and diversification strategies is aiming to boost its youth to work in the private sector such as in sectors like financial services as well as in areas such as in fintech and wider tech IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

 

There is of course more that can be done to further encourage and boost female entrepreneurship not just in MEA but globally. There are notable initiatives happening across the region to help further encourage, foster and inspire future female entrepreneurs, such as within the fintech and wider tech ecosystem.

For example, in Dubai’s Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC)’s DIFC FinTech Hive has a programme called AccelerateHer, which is a female-focused career mentorship accelerator aiming to provide young aspiring executives with the necessary tools and experience to help broaden their knowledge and reach in the industry and play a more active role in shaping the future of the financial landscape as a whole. The programme has enabled nearly 50 females, with 104 mentorship pairings and presented around 80 workshops thus far.

Also, Visa announced it is expanding its global She’s Next initiative to empower women entrepreneurs on the African continent. The initiative comprises a series of programmes that will provide women entrepreneurs access to insights via research and engagement with small businesses, private and public sector communities and educational resources. She’s Next will also bring networking opportunities in partnership with She Leads Africa. She Leads Africa is a community of over 700 0000 women entrepreneurs, and lastly financial support and solutions to enable digital capability.

Similarly, Mastercard earlier this year announced its 2014 founded initiative, Girls4Tech, which is the company’s signature science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program, officially reached its initial goal of educating one million girls worldwide. Girls4Tech has a new and inspiring ambition to reach five million girls by 2025. In MEA, Mastercard planned to roll out the signature program to new markets, which includes countries such as Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

As a whole, in parts of MEA such as in the Arab World in particular in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, which is undergoing implementation of large economic development and diversification strategies (such as Saudi Vision 2030, Bahrain Vision 2030, Qatar National Vision 2030, Kuwait 2035, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Vision 2021 or Oman Vision 2040 for instance) is aiming to boost its youth to work in the private sector such as in sectors like financial services as well as in areas such as in fintech and wider tech. There have been initiatives launched to help promote young Arab females and males to get in the space across the region. Entrepreneurship and innovation will play a large part in the region’s future economies. To note, parts of Africa such as in Mauritius, Rwanda, Egypt – to name a few – also have similar economic development diversification strategies.

The growing fintech and wider knowledge-driven ecosystem in the MEA region is evident. With regards to female entrepreneurs, they are playing key roles in that development and hopefully that will continue to be the case.

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