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FEM-START at the RVO's Women Leadership Programme!

On Monday 18th of September, FEM-START had the pleasure of giving a presentation to the wonderful MENA delegation for the Women Leadership Programme! The programme is made possible by the Netherlands’ RVO and truly represents an important step in the right direction to bridge the gender gap!

the RVO’s programme 

The Women Leadership Programme is an initiative of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Enterprise Agency (RVO) aimed at women leaders in the MENA region. The RVO helps entrepreneurs and organisations to invest, develop and expand their businesses and projects both in the Netherlands and abroad. Through the initiatives of both RVO and the  Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the MENA-Netherlands partnership sheds light on the importance of strengthening female entrepreneurs and their position through funding and networks. 

Through this 10-day programme, seven female participants (Jordan, Palestine, Morocco, Libya, and Egypt) had the experience of discovering the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the Netherlands! Coming from diverse backgrounds, Haya Al-Dajah is a news anchor and journalist from Jordan; Leen Abubaker is a program manager, flow accelerator and co-founder of Sawaed19 in Palestine; Nour AlSaqqa is a community care coordinator at Gaza Sky Geeks in Palestine; Ariha Choukri is a coordinating manager in water and sustainable horticulture at Centre D’excellence Horticole in Agadir, Morocco;  Nora Elbarbi is executive director at LDC organisation in Libya; Aziza Elgafaz is responsible for organising youth leadership programs, communications and public relations at Atwar, Libya; Radwa Elhassany is a multidisciplinary designer that raises awareness on hidden disabilities in Egypt; Rouaa Hussein is a project officer at Elbarlament and works with many local ministries and high-ranking UN officers on the women, peace and security agenda in Iraq! In other terms, seven women champions in their own countries!

An impressive and diverse background that brought many interesting insights in the Female entrepreneurship session! Several participants have shown interest in starting their own ventures or scaling their existing businesses and initiatives to develop female entrepreneurship in their respective countries and the MENA region overall!

Mr Tjerk Opmeer (director international RVO), Dr. Josette Dijkhuizen (Women4Women), Lieke van der Veen (Elfin and FEM-START friend) and Tyana Barry (FEM-START) were all present for the female entrepreneurship session to give their insights on the current state of entrepreneurship for women, gaps and opportunities as well as how to develop the sector in the MENA region and the Netherlands who scores an impressive low score in bridging the funding gap (99.4% of VC go to men and only 0.6% to women!). 

Female entrepreneurship in MENA

Entrepreneurship in MENA has been on the rise in the past couple of years. The region’s startup ecosystem has also grown considerably. By 2022 entrepreneurs raised nearly 4 billion USD, a stark difference from 232 million USD in 2015! However, women-led enterprises represent less than 5% compared to a 26% average (at the time of writing, the women-led enterprises represent 39% in the Netherlands) by March 2023 estimates. Similarly in the Netherlands, women self-fund in the early stages of implementing their businesses due to the lack of access to capital. This is a global issue that is not limited to a specific region in the world. However, the MENA region represents an interesting case study that should be further explored, as lack of data is evidently an obstacle to proper evaluation. 

Women contribute to a large portion of national and human development in the MENA region. Their lives are often multifaceted, balancing family lives and full-time jobs. Hence, understanding their status in the region and the link to the existing gender gap. Explanatory factors in gender imbalance lay in the unemployment rate, the gap in ownership and cultural history. The rate of women unemployed in the MENA region was at 15.5% and 40% in terms of ownership in 2022. Those shocking numbers affect the rate of female entrepreneurs in this region. Difficulties in entrepreneurship represent access to capital, investments, technology and networks. While these are very prevalent in all parts of the world, it is even more so in the MENA region as it has only recently picked up traction in catching up to other countries where women had more significant leadership roles. This also means in the next few years, the role of female entrepreneurs in MENA will skyrocket and meeting this delegation is proof they can very well contribute to economic development positively and innovate any sector!

The role of women in economic development and societies across the MENA region calls for further documentation and research on female entrepreneurship. It will require significant cultural changes, increased funding opportunities, and better access to capital to eliminate obstacles for female entrepreneurs in the MENA region (Mounzer, 2022). However, the MENA region has many opportunities for female entrepreneurs and has made very conscious efforts to partner with many organisations and external governmental networks to develop those opportunities (as the RVO in the Netherlands!). Increasing internal networks, fostering partnerships and female investors positions, which will therefore mean better access to capital, are the next steps!



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