A number of programmes are being started in Egypt to help empower Egyptian and African women entrepreneurs, among them the social-media platform “50 Million African Women have a Voice”, commented Tarek Shash, deputy director of Egypt’s Micro, Small, and Medium-Sized Enterprise Development Agency (MSMEDA).
The platform, a joint project with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), aims to help women create trade and industrial communication networks. Shash explained that the project targets women entrepreneurs and SME owners in 38 African countries.
The MSMEDA manages the content of the platform in Egypt, he said, adding that women, especially in impoverished areas, were more than capable of steering the financial and economic boat of their families, especially if they are given appropriate advice and assistance.
Various financial agreements were signed in 2020 to contribute to the economic empowerment of women, among them a deal with the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation that allocates 200,000 euros to the MSMEDA to help to generate jobs for women in Upper Egyptian villages.
Last year, the French Development Agency financed a programme supporting women’s projects to the tune of 50 million euros and gave a one million euro grant to help develop an appropriate environment for the growth of women-owned businesses.
The government strongly believes that women in poorer areas are the key to local development, said Nevine Badr, head of the micro finance sector at the Social Fund for Development. Studies from different parts of the world have shown that empowering women economically increases their impacts on local communities, she added.
There is a need to change the culture of needy communities towards the values of work and production by creating successful models within them by focusing on women in programmes designed to combat poverty and unemployment, Badr added.
Some programmes target female breadwinners only, such as the nationwide micro-financing project to help women set up their own micro-enterprises. The project is funded by the French Development Agency in cooperation with the Banque du Caire.
Another project, called Bedayty (My Beginning), supports micro-enterprises, and was launched under the Bint Masr (Daughter of Egypt) initiative, in cooperation with the Agricultural Bank of Egypt. Another project targeting women was kick-started in collaboration with UN Women.
The programmes are in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) concerned with encouraging women to acquire loans to set up micro-enterprises and attract more women to launch new projects or develop their own new ones by supporting them economically and socially.
They are not only designed to facilitate funding for women’s project, but also to train more women as entrepreneurs and to improve their ability to manage projects and accounting systems.
By training women in these ways, the government wants to instill entrepreneurial values in some of the country’s neediest communities, explaining why the MSMEDA has inked a number of other agreements that focus on women.
These include a micro-financing initiative funded by the World Bank to encourage entrepreneurship among women to create more job opportunities. The project allocates 30 per cent of its total loans to women’s projects, directs 10 per cent of loans to finance projects by women over 35 years old, and dedicates 30 per cent of loans to projects by young women aged 21 to 35.
The Bedayty project for micro-financing is funded by the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development and is meant to help improve the income of beneficiaries by awarding them loans to establish micro-projects, helping to reduce unemployment and increase incomes.
The project supports women economically and socially, especially female breadwinners. Some 25 per cent of the funding is directed to projects owned by women or where women are the main beneficiaries. About 60 per cent is dedicated to groups below the poverty line, and at least 60 per cent of the total is disbursed in rural areas.
The government is committed to helping women breadwinners in poorer areas become successful entrepreneurs, and it is a national goal in which many entities are cooperating, including the MSMEDA, NGOs, the ministry of international cooperation, and international donor agencies.
Specialised national banks are taking part, integrating their financing strategies with the state’s goal to support the SMEs sector.
One such example is an initiative by the Agricultural Development Bank designed to back the marketing skills of small farmers and support sustainable agricultural investment. The projects are located in some of Egypt’s neediest areas and are targeted by donor agencies and the state.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly