ADGM and IFC unveil initiative to help women-led start-ups in Mena

The programme will cover Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, the UAE, the West Bank and Gaza, and Yemen

The ADGM and the IFC will support women-led start-ups in coming up with and refining their business plans and pitches. Getty

The Abu Dhabi Global Market and the World Bank's International Finance Corporation launched an initiative to support women-led start-ups across the Mena region.

The She Wins Arabia initiative provides advice, funding and mentorship to women-led businesses.

The entities will also provide opportunities to the start-ups to pitch their business plans to a panel of judges to secure financing and avail mentorship opportunities from potential investors, the IFC and ADGM said on Wednesday.

The start-ups will receive direct support from the IFC and the ADGM in building their business plans and in refining their business pitches.

“The UAE has made significant strides in the field of women empowerment and increased women’s presence in leadership positions and corporate boards of directors,” said Mohamed Al Hussaini, the UAE’s Minister of State for Financial Affairs.

“[The] IFC’s co-operation with the country to develop studies that support gender balance is another testament to the country’s constant efforts in this field, especially with the Cabinet’s direction to support small enterprises headed by Emirati women through microfinance, and empowering their transformation and integration within the SMEs sector while engaging them in e-commerce platforms."

Mena start-ups secured $1.03 billion in funding last year, up 13 per cent compared with 2019, according to data platform Magnitt. But only a fraction of it goes to women-led companies.

Six per cent of private equity and venture capital flows to female-led companies in the region, according to a report by the IFC and Oliver Wyman.

A 2019 report by Arabnet and The Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development showed that only 14 per cent of investment deals in the Mena region went to women-led start-ups.

Female-led start-ups in the UAE fared better comparatively. Total funding that went to women-led start-ups in the Mena region was double than that of the US in 2019, according to Magnitt.

But about 31 per cent of UAE women entrepreneurs suspect they face investor bias due to their gender, leading them to secure 5 per cent less capital than their male counterparts, the research revealed.

The Mena region is "brimming with talented women entrepreneurs whose ideas could help reshape the economies of the region”, said IFC managing director Makhtar Diop.

“Levelling the playing field and making the start-up space more inclusive is crucial for ensuring its growth and spurring economic development.”

She Wins Arabia, which is supported by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (WeFi) and the government of the Netherlands, will cover Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, the UAE, the West Bank and Gaza, and Yemen.

The initiative will also have a competition that will give women-led start-ups access to support and finance across the region, and network with funds, incubators and accelerators.

The initiative is part of IFC's efforts to close economic gaps between women and men in Mena region, the organisation said.

The region has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world, at 20 per cent, but many countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been introducing various reforms to increase women's participation in the workforce.

Earlier this year, the UAE made it mandatory for all listed companies to have at least one female director on their boards.

The Emirates already has the highest level of women participating in the workforce – at 57.5 per cent in 2020 – of any country in the Mena region, the World Bank said in a blog post earlier this year.

On average, about 71 per cent of female adults in the GCC had an account at a financial institution in 2017, up from 65 per cent in 2014, according to the International Monetary Fund. Although this rate remains lower than for male adults (86 per cent in 2017), the gender gap has been narrowing in Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE since 2014.

The share of female adults who are borrowing from financial institutions was around 11 per cent in 2017 on average, with 15 per cent in Kuwait and UAE – slightly higher than rates recorded in advanced economies.

Updated: December 15th 2021, 11:51 AM