The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is generally an up and coming region with respect to its wider economic development. Specifically, the region has seen a growth and importance in fintech, producing its own unique innovations, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the space. As The Fintech Times in September celebrates the Women in Fintech we take a moment to hear more from some of the leading female leaders in both the Middle East and Africa. One of them is Shurouq Qawariq, who is from and lives in Palestine and is an expert in fintech and specifically in wealth management products.
Shurouq Qawariq is the founder of Rumman, a personalised micro-savings and investment app. Rumman aims to open the world of saving and investment to those traditionally unable to afford it. Shurouq has extensive research experience in the financial technology field. She recently completed a 2 year-long study on the topic of financial technology and digital currencies in relation to civic space development in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Additionally, she conducted a research on individual philanthropy and crowdfunding in the Arts and Culture sector in the MENA region with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture.
Shurouq has been involved with two MENA based startups prior to Rumman. In 2014, she cofounded Indiepush.com, an online music platform that empowers independent artists from the MENA region in terms of distribution, discovery and income generation. In 2013, she was one of the first employees of PinchPoint, Palestine’s first gaming studio.
Shurouq holds a Bachelor’s in Human Development and Social Relations from Earlham College, Indiana, USA, a Master’s in Business Administration, and an MSc. in Finance from Queen Mary University of London, where she wrote a research in the field of behavioural finance specifically about the nature of price bubbles in the Middle Eastern stock markets.
Describe your career journey
I started my career in development work, where I first worked in Olive Oil Sector Export Promotion projects at Palestine Trade Center, a non-profit aiming to empower the private sector in Palestine; and then moved to serve at the United Nations in Advocacy and Communication. It was there I realised that I want to be part of a world that is more dynamic – the business world. I did an MBA as a career shift, with a focus on finance. That was in 2013, inspired by my secret nerdy love for Mathematics
It was a chance or fate that upon finishing my MBA, a couple of musician friends were thinking to move to the business side of the music industry, and we started indiepush.com. After a few years we decided to pivot into an industry show – in collaboration with a fine group of music industry leaders in London– and created Palestine’s Music Expo.
During that time I decided to become more specialised in finance and moved on to London to obtain an MSc in Finance from Queen Mary University of London. Upon graduating, I started Rumman with three of my good friends in 2017. Parallel to Rumman, I have been conducting commissioned region wide research on the intersection between financial technology, philanthropy and civic spaces.
As a recognised thought leader and a female, what difficulties have you faced in your career?
This question finds me perplexed often. Sure, there are certain dynamics that are often frustrating for women in the working sphere – in fintech specifically, where often there are only 2 women out of 20 people in any room I’ve been in events/meetings for. You are not heard as easily and perhaps not even believed-in as often as men. But I like to always remember that being a female has affected my molding way before the career began, and that molding has many affects about how I perceive, analyse and tackle my business environment.
Being female and Palestinian comes with daily struggles – political, societal, economic and physical boundaries. Being a female intensifies these forces. Being a Palestinian woman translates to immense isolation from the world, and having a government with no authority over borders. Therefore, needed connections with the world are hard to forge, and takes triple effort to establish yourself region wide.
What are the future trends and predictions you see happening in the region?
Solutions catered to post-disaster and post-conflict solutions will be a major sect where innovations/startups are needed in the next 10-15 years in the region. Fintech Regulatory system will not be reformed as quickly as the governments in the region are claiming in all their “fintech support” programs. I assume change that will lead to an enabling environment for fintech will need 8-15 years.
Frog leaping in fintech – I think some people will be using government issued crypto or digital currencies before they use a credit card. While mobile money received intense resistance in the region, it will be a major player soon in the markets.
If all the tech-talent in the region keeps immigrating as expats to Europe and the States, the region’s entrepreneurship scene will remain in slow growth for a long period of time.
What advice and recommendations do you want to give future female entrepreneurs and thought leaders who are based in the Middle East & Africa (MEA) region?
It’s important to be optimistic to the point of delusion to be able to actually create and succeed in a region with an avalanche of challenges. Following global trends in entrepreneurship is often futile – we have to look closely at our surroundings and really assess what kind of problems needs to be solved, and create an innovation solution that is truly close to our communities, rather than copy solutions out there and hope they will gain the same success.
The region is extremely diverse – don’t assume that MENA population are in any way homogenous in economic development and user behaviours. Adoption of solutions will vary dramatically between countries in MENA.
In fintech specifically, thinking of other startups as competitors is counterproductive. The fintech scene is in no way mature enough to have competitors . All the startups right now are working on opening up the public’s awareness on the opportunity that fintech brings to our lives. The energy required for behavioural change, policy related advocacy and facing financial dinosaurs is an effort that the first wave fintech startups in MENA are collectively taking the burden of. Without regulatory and user behavior changes in our region, no startup will be able to thrive. That’s why collaborate with other startup until the market is mature and well established enough to think like competitors.