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An Overview of Women Entrepreneurship in the Middle East and Africa

Monday, October 11, 2021 4:00 AM | Anonymous

MEA is home to some of the world’s highest and lowest rates of female entrepreneurship. With total entrepreneurial activity (TEA), sub-Saharan Africa leads the world with the highest rates at 27 per cent. In fact, there are seven countries in the world where women had equal or higher levels of entrepreneurship than their male counterparts – three of the seven countries are in MEA and all three MEA ones are in Africa – Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda (the remaining four are Panama, Thailand, Ecuador and Mexico. It is interesting to note at other regions with high TEA rates of female entrepreneurs, in particular Latin America and the Caribbean). 

MEA, despite having sub-Saharan Africa leading the world, is also home one of the world’s lowest rates of women TEA, where in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) it is at a mere 4 per cent.

Mastercard last year launched its latest edition of its Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) and Israel led the list at number one (Israel, often known as the Startup Nation, was the only country in MEA on the top ten which also included in the following order: The United States, Switzerland, New Zealand, Poland, the UK, Canada, Sweden, Australia and Spain). The report involved an in-depth analysis across 12 indicators and 25 sub-indicators spanning Advancement Outcomes, Knowledge Assets and Financial Access, and Supporting Entrepreneurial Conditions – the index ranked each economy according to its performance over the past year – as stated in its report.


Unfortunately, the tech sector (as is much of other sectors) is still male dominated – whereby 90% of tech CEOs are male. Interestingly though is that within MEA, in MENA the percentage of female entrepreneurs in tech is at 35%. Even though its TEA rate is really low it is notable that the percentage of female entrepreneurs is relatively high in tech.

MENA also leads in digital footprint with respect to female entrepreneurs. Via Mastercard, women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs) believe there are huge benefits of a cash-free economy to their businesses. This is via the Mastercard MEA SME Confidence Index, which highlighted that 81% of the region’s female entrepreneurs have a digital presence for their businesses, which leads in comparison to 68% of their male counterparts. With regards to the digital footprint of the region’s female entrepreneurs, social media (71%) leads the way, followed by a company website (57%). By looking at MENA specifically, the study found that more female entrepreneurs had a website (at 71%) in comparison to a social media presence (at 55%).

The wider MEA region is seeing a growing list of female entrepreneurs and this includes the wider fintech industry. Middle East-born companies such as Souqalmal.com founder and CEO’s Ambareen Musa), which is an insurtech company, to robo-advisory Sarwa co-founder Nadine Mezher to Rumman’s co-founder Shurouq Qawariq to SolidBlock’s co-CEO and cofounder Yael Tamar – show a growing rise of female entrepreneurs in the fintech and wider tech space.

In Africa, examples of female CEOs and/or cofounders in the fintech space include the likes of Nigeria’s Piggyvest co-founder and COO Odunayo Eweniyi, Pezescha of Kenya’s founder and CEO Hilda Moraa,  Lebo Mokgabudi from South Africa as the founder and CEO of Eaglequest Africa and Lilian Makoi from Tanzania who is the founder of Mipango – to name a few.

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