If you missed our panel, you can read our wrap-up here.
At the panel, infoDev Program Manager Valerie D’Costa joined other thought leaders, including Finnish Minister for International Development Heidi Hautala, in analyzing the seismic shifts spreading through the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and their historic opportunities for women-led, inclusive growth.
As mobile penetration in MENA tops 100 percent and societies shake unequal practices in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Valerie and others see the makings of an entrepreneurial take-off by women in the region.
In a sneak preview on the World Bank’s Private Sector Development blog last week, a vision was offered of how information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be “the great leap forward” for the region’s women entrepreneurs.
“The unprecedented reach of communication technologies is expanding not only how business is done,” Valerie said, “but also who can do business in this new and evolving ecosystem of high-quality, inclusive jobs.”
Between 31 and 38 percent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries are run by women, but due to cultural attitudes, unequal access to skills, and institutional barriers, their growth lags behind that of enterprises led by men.
This stands in contrast with women-led SMEs in developed nations, which have grown faster than male-led firms and have been important job creators for almost 30 years.
Even more strikingly, women entrepreneurs provide a larger boon to their communities than male business owners—women earners reinvest more in their family’s health, nutrition, and education.
According to a landmark report by the United Nations Development Programme, “women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn only 10 percent of the income and own only one percent of the property.”
infoDev is working with targeted incubation programs and seed funding, among others through the Finland-supported Creating Sustainable Businesses in the Knowledge Economy (CSBKE) Program, to increase the number of women-led growth businesses in developing countries. Over the past two years, 15 to 20% of all technology start-ups, supported by CSBKE, were women-led. This is far higher than the 5 – 8% female-led starting technology enterprises in the US and Europe.