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We-Fi Regional Summit seeks to unleash the potential of women entrepreneurs in MENA

Over 250 government representatives, business leaders and women entrepreneurs from the Middle East and North Africa, MENA, region and around the world will converge on Dubai next week at the first We-Fi MENA Regional Summit, to discuss how they can work together to unleash the potential of women-led enterprises. The event will take place on the sidelines of Global Women’s Forum Dubai, GWFD, 2020 – to be held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, on February 16-17.

The We-Fi MENA Regional Summit is co-organised by Dubai Women Establishment, DWE, and the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, We-Fi, a ground-breaking international partnership launched in 2017 to unlock financing for women-led businesses in developing countries. We-Fi has allocated $249 million to programs that will benefit over 114,000 women-owned SMEs and mobilise $2.6 billion from the public and private sector. The initiative, which is housed in the World Bank and implemented by six multilateral development banks, is supported by 14 donors, including the UAE government, which was one of the first contributors.

The Summit aims to spur action to accelerate women entrepreneurship throughout the MENA region; showcase programs, institutions and research that help enhance policies and expand women entrepreneurs’ access to finance, markets, training and mentoring; and engage women entrepreneurs to generate inspiring new ideas. The event will feature sessions offering in-depth discussions, and learning and networking opportunities.

At the opening session of the Summit, World Bank Group President David Malpass will elaborate on the progress made by We-Fi in propelling women’s entrepreneurship programs around the world and the importance of supporting women’s economic empowerment in the MENA Region.

In the afternoon, a high-profile panel session will shed light on institutions, companies, and programs in the region that have developed innovative solutions to help women entrepreneurs overcome financing, market, and policy barriers to the growth of their business.

This session will be keynoted by Sérgio Pimenta, Vice-President for Africa and Middle East of IFC (the World Bank Group’s private sector arm), followed by two ‘Game Changer’ sessions that will see an entrepreneur and an investor telling powerful stories about their personal journeys and the impact of their businesses.

Later in the day, a plenary discussion titled, ‘Empowering Women Entrepreneurs in the MENA Region: New Solutions to Overcoming Barriers’ will showcase innovative private and public sector solutions that are supporting women entrepreneurs in the MENA region. Panelists include Nadia Al Saeed, General Manager of Bank al Etihad; Rania Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation, Egypt; Laura Lane, President of Global Public Affairs at UPS; Michael Okoroafor, Vice President of Global Sustainability & Packaging Innovation at McCormick; and Heike Harmgart, Managing Director at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, EBRD.

The We-Fi Ministerial Roundtable will bring together ministers from around the MENA region, heads of international organizations and CSO leaders to discuss how they can work together to enhance the legal and policy framework for economic equality between genders; remove barriers for women to access finance; and reinforce opportunities for collective action.

Supported by the UAE government, We-Fi and its implementing partners have invited a cohort of women entrepreneurs from the region to join a series of training and exposure activities at GWFD 2020 and We-Fi Summit aimed at expanding their access to finance and markets.

During the two days of GWFD 2020, We-Fi will also host the ‘Entrepreneurs Hub’. We-Fi Implementing Partners will organise three breakout sessions aimed at providing information for the participating entrepreneurs on building an e-commerce enabled business (World Bank); accessing early stage capital (International Finance Corporation); and becoming a supplier in global supply chains (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development).

Lamia Khan, CEO of Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020, said: “We are proud to host the very first We-Fi MENA Regional Summit here in Dubai, which will support the UAE’s ongoing efforts to enhance the economic participation of women, particularly in the entrepreneurial sector. This event will provide a vital platform to empower and mobilise support for the growing community of talented and innovative women entrepreneurs in the UAE and MENA region. Our strategic partnership with the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative is a prime example of the goal-oriented cooperation Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020 seeks to advance by engaging leaders and experts across all levels of government, business and society and providing them a platform to contribute to the creation of a better future.”

Wendy Teleki, Head of the We-Fi Secretariat, said: “Helping women to start businesses requires tackling economic barriers, human development gaps and social and cultural norms. It also requires partnerships to build an ecosystem that supports these women across the many dimensions of their economic lives. At We-Fi’s MENA Regional Summit, we will bring together this ecosystem, including all major stakeholders to spur action, and showcase programs that are working for women in the region. I am very grateful to our multilateral partners for creating such a rich program and to Dubai Women Establishment for making this possible in the first place.”

During the Forum, We-Fi Summit participants will also have an opportunity to benefit from key skills training during workshops, which will explore a wide range of topics, including tracking finance to women-led enterprises; leveraging e-commerce to grow sales; value chain partnerships; and support for female business owners in conflict-torn regions. The sessions will also discuss ways to encourage women business leaders by improving access to capital and combating legal discrimination against female entrepreneurs.



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