Empowering women in SMEs

Amira Hisham, Tuesday 16 Apr 2024

The Aziza initiative to finance women’s micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises is another step towards women’s economic empowerment and financial inclusion, reports Amira Hisham

Empowering women in SMEs


The Micro, Small, and Medium-Sized Enterprise Development Agency (MSMEDA) has unveiled Aziza, an initiative which offers five-year soft loans to women nationwide to bolster their projects or establish new ones. The initiative comes complete with technical, training, and marketing support to ensure the ventures’ sustainability and success.

Launched in tandem with Egyptian Women’s Day in March, Aziza focuses on industrial, productive, and agricultural projects capable of competing both domestically and internationally.

It aligns with government efforts to support micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises enrolling in the formal sector. It also allows women to benefit from the facilitated procedures provided by the MSMEDA’s one-stop-shop units countrywide.

Aziza also offers a range of non-financial services, including specialised entrepreneurship training courses and guidance on export mechanisms. Information is available through Hotline 16733.

This is not the government’s first initiative to empower women economically. The Mastoura initiative was kickstarted as a collaboration between the Long Live Egypt Fund and the Nasser Social Bank some years ago and offers women revolving loans in the form of production tools, enabling them to establish their own projects.

In 2023, 24,226 women benefited from Mastoura at a total cost of LE448 million.

“Initiatives of this sort are critical for women, be they mothers, grandmothers, or widows. They serve as a crucial tool for social protection, shielding women from the hardships of lacking an income, preserving their dignity and independence, and instilling a sense of security and stability. They also contribute to social peace,” said Samia Khedr, a sociology professor in Cairo.

Minister of Planning Hala Al-Said has recently presented the economic and social performance monitoring report for 2022-23 to parliament, which details the state’s achievements in women’s economic and social empowerment.

According to the report, financing for women’s small and micro-enterprises recorded LE2.3 billion in 2022, with LE459 million allocated to small projects and LE1.8 billion to micro-enterprises. These investments facilitated the establishment of 99,200 projects, generating 145,300 job opportunities.

Women account for 68 per cent of the total workforce benefiting from community development services. Additionally, women account for 57 per cent of those applying for financing in Upper Egypt, the report said.

Between January and June 2023, the MSMEDA allocated around LE739 million to women’s small and micro projects, supporting around 35,000 of them.

Economist Ali Abdel-Raouf Al-Idrissi believes it is imperative to empower women economically, particularly in the face of ongoing shocks and crises that should prompt resorting to these initiatives on a larger scale.

Financing SMEs is crucial for any economy, he said, adding that they play a fundamental role in addressing entrenched issues such as unemployment and fostering economic growth.

Economies “are primarily based on SMEs,” he noted.

Al-Idrissi said that such initiatives need to be well marketed and information about them made more available. Alaa Al-Saqti, head of the Federation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, concurred, emphasising that existing projects may lack effective marketing strategies.

“While small-scale activities abound, they require technical support, training, development, and improved marketing efforts to reach their full potential,” he stated.

According to Al-Saqti, there is a thriving carpet industry in Fowa in the Kafr Al-Sheikh governorate, with many women employed in the sector, for example. However, the industry lacks a structured marketing and development system despite having a wide overseas market, along with other handicrafts.

Al-Idrissi said initiatives like Aziza should be diversified and span all sectors, while noting the current focus on agriculture. He stressed the importance of intensifying such efforts in Upper Egypt.

Al-Saqti emphasised the importance of giving women the ability to work from or near their homes.

Al-Idrissi acknowledged that there may be some risk in granting low-interest loans. “Some people may use such loans to buy saving certificates,” he said, but precautionary measures and oversight by financing entities should be enough to mitigate this risk.

The Central Bank of Egypt has set financing limits for micro projects at LE50,000, small projects at between LE50,000 and LE3 million, and medium-sized projects from LE3 million to LE5 million.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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