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Women entrepreneurs can boost Middle East economies


Last week, TiE held its Women Global Competition in person in the UAE. The global initiative is dedicated to empower women entrepreneurs from across the world. More than 2000 startups submitted their pitches, of which 26 participated in the grande finale. Three winners – Inochi Care, Ahammune Biosciences and WeavAir all received a cash prize and will receive training mentoring and further access to funding.

Empowering women to pursue entrepreneurship is one of TiE’s key objectives and in this oped, Ashish Panjabi, president of TiE’s Dubai chapter explains how women entreprenuers can boost the region’s economy.

The startup ecosystem in the Middle East and especially in the UAE is a perfect ensemble that rings in the right notes and the well-orchestrated symphony.

The initiatives implemented by the regional governments for diversifying their economies from oil revenues have given rise to a plethora of startups across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. The regional startup ecosystem has grown from strength to strength; last year saw  496 startup investment deals take place across the Mena region, exceeding to $1 billion in total investment, a report by Magnitt found. The report also highlighted that the UAE remained the most active startup ecosystem with 26 per cent of all deals, followed by Egypt (24 per cent), and Saudi Arabia (18 per cent).

The gender gap in startup activity is reasonably consistent across most countries. According to a recent report from the World Economic Forum, in terms of economic participation, it will take another 257 years for the world to close the gender gap and even today there are 72 countries that prevent women from opening bank accounts or obtaining credit. Sadly, inequality exists even in the venture capital space. An experiment by researchers from Harvard, MIT and the Wharton School found more than two-thirds of investors preferred to invest in startups founded by men.

Although the findings appear disheartening, it is relevant to note that the Mena region has made a lot of progress on the gender parity front. It is fair to say empowering women entrepreneurs to flourish across the region has been taken quite seriously in this part of the world.

An analysis by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) shows that if women and men participated equally as entrepreneurs, global gross domestic product (GDP) could rise by approximately 3 per cent to 6 per cent, boosting the global economy by $2.5 trillion to $5 trillion.

The UAE business environment is committed to driving equality in the business world, and hence the UAE government is implementing initiatives to address gender inequality and to empower female entrepreneurs. Some of these initiatives include the rise of Women Entrepreneur Support Groups, Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, Support Through Private Company Partnerships, Business Setup Packages Exclusively for Women. Organisations like TiE (with its local chapter of TiE Dubai) also play an active role in the community life, supporting the rising number of entrepreneurs through mentoring, networking, education, incubating, and funding and a number of initiatives like TiE Women, TiE Hustle among others. These initiatives are aimed at addressing the concerns of entrepreneurs in the region such as access to financing, coaching, networking and professional advancement opportunities, etc.

Encouraging women entrepreneurs to step into the business ecosystem has myriad of benefits that go far beyond boosting the global GDP. If more women had equal access to entrepreneurship opportunities and could start accumulating wealth, the gender wealth gap could also begin to reduce further. Gender diversity, in the startup ecosystem can fuel the growth of women-owned enterprises which can ultimately unleash new ideas, services and products into the markets, redefining the future.

Experts suggest there is compelling evidence, further supported by the recent findings of the Kauffman Fellows Research Centre, that top management teams with more significant gender, international experience and educational diversity have a significant positive impact on business performance.

At TiE Dubai, while interacting with various women entrepreneurs, we have witnessed that they have tremendous untapped potential. Research by the Harvard Business Review also suggests that women outscore men in most leadership skills. Women scored higher than men in critical skills such as team working, innovation and problem-solving. Such research bears testament to the immense potential of women when given a more level playing field, such as mentoring, capacity building and access to credit, as well as their inherent leadership skills critical to success in entrepreneurship.

Initiatives policymakers can implement to tackle gender inequality which is critical for economic growth include:

Unleashing the power of women entrepreneurs will require action from a range of groups, including venture capitalists, nonprofit organisations, and corporations. These efforts will at least start to uncover impediments to their growth.

January 17th 2021, 9:02 pm
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