20 April 2020

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On Tour for Women Entrepreneurs

In autumn 2019, an unusual van was seen traveling across North Africa...

In autumn 2019, an unusual van was seen traveling across North Africa.

Emblazoned with the logo WOMENPRENEUR TOUR, the orange bus started in Morocco before stopping in Tunisia on its way to Jordan. The travelers had a clear goal in mind: to map and connect female leaders in tech, bringing together bright minds to explore the state of the Arabic startup ecosystem.

Finance in Motion’s Elena Matthiolius was among the van crew. “When it comes to women in business, the tech industry in the Middle East and North Africa can benefit from role models,” she says. “Only 6% of women in the region occupy top management positions in any industry. And less than one-third of women are currently active in the workforce at all.” Yet these figures are changing. As the potential of digital innovations rises, so too does the number of women establishing tech startups in the region.

This was the setting of the Womenpreneur Tour: a first-of-its-kind awareness campaign to promote women entrepreneurs in the digital landscape of the Middle East and North Africa. A joint project of the SANAD Entrepreneurship Academy, managed by Finance in Motion, together with the nonprofit Womenpreneur Initiative, the Womenpreneur Tour aimed not only to showcase the region’s female digital talents, but also to discover the challenges they face and explore possible solutions.

“In some respects, the digital revolution is doing wonders for financial inclusion and connectivity,” continues Elena, who helped coordinate the Womenpreneur Tour for the SANAD Entrepreneurship Academy. “The flipside is, of course, that automation can mean job displacement for some forms of employment. In the Middle East and North Africa, those forms of employment are disproportionately held by women.” 

Her colleague Jessica Bodmann, who conceptualized the tour together with Womenpreneur Initiative CEO Sana Afouaiz, agrees. “That was one of our main motivations behind putting together this program,” she says. “We wanted to encourage inclusive digital entrepreneurship, giving women the space and resources to lead tech trends across industries. By putting these talents in the spotlight as role models, the Womenpreneur Tour aims to be a catalyst for positive change.”

Altogether, the tour crew interviewed more than 40 startup founders, policymakers, and business leaders. In addition, Elena and Jessica co-organized financial industry events in each of the Womenpreneur Tour’s three countries, gathering ecosystem representatives to identify ways to facilitate investment in women in the form of capital, resources, and advocacy. Experts discussed gender-based outreach strategies, the effect of gender bias in investment decisions, and how technology can tilt the balance towards inclusive finance for female entrepreneurs. 

Elena reflects: “It was inspiring to meet so many entrepreneurs who, despite all the challenges they have faced, remain courageous, full of stamina, and entirely dedicated to their projects.” 

Jessica nods. “We discovered a lot on the Womenpreneur Tour. Not only that women continue to face unique challenges to starting a business, but also that there is an increasing recognition of the importance of overcoming these barriers. From an economic perspective, the entrepreneurial empowerment of women offers huge growth potential: When you unleash the talent of a full half of the population, everyone benefits.”

Now, the Womenpreneur Tour is rolling out its findings in the form of video documentaries and an informational campaign. Join Sana Afouaiz on the van’s journey in the Womenpreneur Tour video. And discover what the crew learned about promoting female entrepreneurship in the latest Womenpreneur Tour results video!