Mastercard has revealed the fifth-annual Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) exploring the progress of women entrepreneurs in 65 economies around the world, representing 82.4% of the global female labor force. Across the entrepreneurial landscape, women are one of the global economy’s most valuable assets. However, whilst they make up half of the world’s population, women own only a fifth of its exporting companies and 80% of women-owned businesses with credit needs are either unserved or underserved. Furthermore, the contribution of women to the wider economy is significantly underrepresented in reports and indices on startups and economic conditions.
Although work remains across the Middle East and North Africa in encouraging and supporting women entrepreneurs, some progress has been recorded. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria and Lebanon are among the economies that have received a higher ranking in the latest report (MIWE 2021) compared to MIWE 2020. Out of the 65 economies studied, only a dozen around the world recorded an increase in the indicator “Women’s Entrepreneurial Activity Rate” – with Algeria, Bulgaria, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia among these.
“It’s crucial that we focus on sustainable, inclusive growth in order to boost economic recovery across Middle East and North Africa – and that can only happen if we empower women entrepreneurs and support women-owned businesses. We must double our efforts in this part of the world to ensure we can reap the potential of women’s participation, The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs helps us to identify both the challenges and opportunities, as well as the progress and improvements, to guide all stakeholders on the necessary future support needed. The digital economy remains a key opportunity, and by connecting women entrepreneurs to digital tools, training and insights, we can collectively ensure that they are part of building and benefiting from future prosperity,” said Khalid Elgibali, Division President – Middle East and North Africa, Mastercard.
Women’s employment rose in 14 of the economies assessed by the latest MIWE edition, but data from the International Labour Organization shows women’s employment declining 5% compared to 3.9% for men worldwide in 2020. Despite global efforts over the last two years to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on women. This threatens to roll back decades of progress towards attaining gender parity in the workplace and in business, adding another 36 years to the estimated time it will take to close the global gender gap (World Economic Forum – The Global Gender Gap Report 2021). So far, 61% of the gender gap has been closed in MENA, and but at current progress, it will take another 142 years to reach parity.
The United States, New Zealand, and Canada headed the ranking of global economies, propelled by strong scores across all three components: women’s advancement outcomes, knowledge assets and financial access. These economies continue to furnish the conditions required to facilitate women’s access to financial support and services as well as their ability to start, operate and thrive in entrepreneurial activities. Women command a strong share of business ownerships, driven by favorable conditions such as high quality of governance, positive social and cultural attitude, and vibrant entrepreneurial dynamism.
Despite the challenging environment, women have proven to be resilient entrepreneurs, surpassing men in terms of entrepreneurial activity in 10 economies including Saudi Arabia, overall showing that the entrepreneurial spirit sees opportunity every day to reimagine, refresh and reinvent – a defining factor for women’s success in business since long before the latest crisis. Continuing to create the right social, political and financial understanding and conditions for this entrepreneurial spirit to realize its success is of singular importance for future economic growth.
Progress in Saudi Arabia
In Saudi Arabia, the strong rise in ‘Female Opportunity Driven Entrepreneurship’ was likely spurred by various factors such as a general increase in ‘Perceived Business Opportunities’ that may have been triggered by the pandemic. This is encouraging as it points to entrepreneurial optimism and the ability to respond to crisis situations. The report notes that reforms and government support have contributed to empowering and motivating women economically and financially. Improvement has also been recorded in sub-indicators such as ‘Availability of Venture Capital’ and ‘Access to Entrepreneurial Finance’. 87% of women entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia started a business to build wealth for greater financial autonomy.
Slight improvement in Egypt’s Entrepreneurial Framework
Egypt recorded a slight increase in indicators such as ‘Women’s Entrepreneurial Activity Rate’ and ‘SME Operational Financing’, as well as ‘Entrepreneurial Framework’ and ‘Higher Education Entrepreneurial Training’. However, there remains a large gender gap in labor force participation in Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia despite there being more women enrolled in tertiary education than men.
Government policies that intentionally support women’s entrepreneurship can also meaningfully contribute to a swifter, more balanced recovery. As part of Mastercard’s commitment to creating a world where women entrepreneurs are equally represented and supported, the company made a global commitment to connect 25 million women entrepreneurs to the digital economy by 2025.
Not only will empowering women’s entrepreneurship act as a catalyst for growth and innovation, but it will raise up the communities around successful women and fuel a global recovery that is more equitable and sustainable for everyone.