A new report from IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, reveals that women-run companies in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) make up a third of all small and medium businesses.
IFC signed an agreement with the government of Switzerland to boost access to financial services for women in MENA, to help close the economic gender gap and support growth and jobs.
According to a press statement, the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) will provide up to $5m to support the IFC Advisory’s Women Banking Champions initiative in Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia.
Women own over 300,000 small and medium-sized enterprises in the region, which is about a third of the estimated 1 million total. When it comes to growing their businesses, however, women-run businesses in MENA often struggle to secure funding.
The average female-owned SME in the region needs an extra $270,000 in credit.
As a result, women in the labor force are fewer in number than anywhere else in the world.
Bridging this gender gap can help MENA nations grow their economies and tap into a highly educated workforce, says Head of Economic Cooperation and Development at SECO Raymund Furrer.
IFC’s vice president of blended finance and partnerships, Nena Stoiljkovic, said that the IFC has built a strong track record in providing investment and advisory services to financial institutions around the world to include women as a customer segment. The MENA region is underserved in this respect.
“Our partnership with SECO is instrumental in helping to unleash the potential of women entrepreneurs and set off a wave of innovation and job creation,” says Stoiljkovic. “It is also pivotal to highlight the fact that lending to women makes good business sense, and the programme will help lenders tailor their products and services for female borrowers.”
The partnership will also provide customised training for women in business planning, management, and financial literacy. It will offer networking and mentoring opportunities for female founders across MENA.
In the fiscal year 2017, IFC delivered $19.3bn in long-term financing for developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to help end poverty and boost shared prosperity; something the group aims to replicate in the Arab world.