Growing Micro and Small Enterprises: Tackling Financing Obstacles in the MENA Region

 

MENA-OECD Working Group on SME Policy, Entrepreneurship and Human Capital Development, Casablanca, 22-23 February 2011

Summary of Women’s Entrepreneurship Discussions

Participants of this Working Group meeting, including several WBF members, drew attention to financing barriers specific to women-led SMEs and proposed some possible solutions. This contributed to the WBF’s goal of further mainstreaming women’s issues in regional policy fora and identifying areas where targeted intervention is needed to support women-led firms. (View Working Group conclusions here.)

In the MENA region, women’s labour force participation rates are the lowest of any region in the world. As noted by Paul Reynolds (Professor), this is likely a key factor limiting business creation by women and one which partially explains the region’s relatively low female entrepreneurial levels. In addition, financing for the growth of women-led enterprises may be limited by the overall reticence of banks to lend to SMEs as well as possible gender discrimination in lending practices.

For these reasons, several MENA governments have begun to implement targeted projects to address barriers specific to women-led firms. For example, as highlighted by Boutaina Ismaili Idrissi, the Moroccan Agence Nationale Pour la Promotion de la PME (ANPME) has put in place tailored support measures for women entrepreneurs in the framework of their SME support programmes. These measures have included financial and managerial training, business coaching programmes and the launch of several local businesswomen’s networks.

As underlined by Amina Benjelloun (Advisor to the Prime Minister of Morocco and Director of the Economic Promotion Department of the Ministry of Economic and General Affairs), the work of the OECD-MENA Women’s Business Forum has contributed to the mainstreaming of women’s issues in the regional policy dialogue and the identification of key areas where further work is needed (See the Conclusions of the Conference on Enhancing the Business Enabling Environment for Women in Arab Economies). Lois Stevenson (LASMA Consulting, Canada) underlined the value of the WBF’s forthcoming “Inventory of Policies, Institutions and Programmes Supporting Women’s Enterprise in the MENA Region”, which will provide information on providers of business support services and financing in the region.

Participants made several recommendations for complementing these existing efforts to support women entrepreneurs in the region and to improve their access to financing. Sabah Chraibi (Espace point de depart—ESPOD, Morocco) recommended the inclusion of women as a target group in policies to support SMEs and entrepreneurship. She suggested offering greater management and entrepreneurship training specifically to women entrepreneurs.

Regarding access to financing, Soraya Badraoui (Association des Femmes Chefs d’Entreprises du Maroc—AFEM) suggested introducing legislation to reduce discrimination in lending practices. She proposed raising ceilings on micro-financing to compensate for difficulties accessing bank financing. Lois Stevenson suggested improving systems of registering and titling property to allow its use as collateral for SME loans and underlined the importance of respecting women’s property rights. She also suggested training staff in financial institutions on lending to the SME market, including gender-sensitive training.