MENA Britain Trade Expo provides unique insight on women in business

Support message. Rana Adawi, chairwoman and managing director of Acumen Asset Management (L) and Sue Millar, partner at law firm Stephenson Harwood LLP, listen to Stella Cox, managing director of DDGI Limited, as she speaks at the MENA Britain Trade Expo in London. (MENA Britain Trade Expo)

2017/11/26 Issue: 133 Page: 18

The Arab Weekly
Dunia El-Zobaidi

About 600 people at­tended this year’s MENA Britain Trade Expo in London, which focused on business in the Mid­dle East and North Africa region, on November 10. Female leaders of companies spoke about the lack of women in trade and initiatives and encouraged them to enter the sec­tor, not just in MENA but in some well-developed parts of the world as well.

“Governments worldwide have recognised women’s participation is critical to economic development, Sabila Din, CEO and founder of Din Consultants in London, said during the conference. “The World Trade Organisation estimates women in trade could add $28 trillion into global GDP by 2025. Yet if we look in the statistics in the UK, of the 17% female-owned enterprises, only 15% engaged in trade. In the MENA region, of the 6%-10% female-owned enterprises, only 1% engage in trade. Of the 40% of global annu­al GDP spent on procurement, only 1% is awarded to women suppliers.”

Din cited US initiatives to encour­age women as an example for the MENA region and the UK to follow.

“We must ask ourselves, what are the barriers to this huge op­portunity?” she said. “There are initiatives that are under way such as the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative, which aims to connect women to opportunity through different acts of interven­tion, which include enacting fair pol­icies, strike business deals, unlock­ing financial services and granting ownership rights.”

“In the US, 10% of procurement has to be awarded to female-only SMEs (small and medium enterpris­es). In some MENA regions, there are targets to reward SMEs, but there is no mention of what con­tracts should be awarded to wom­en. In the UK, we are yet to reach that stage,” she added.

A particular focus on Egypt was provided by Rana Adawi, chair­woman and managing director of Acumen Asset Management.

“To have an enterprise in import and export, you need to have work experience so if this ratio drops to half, this is one of the reasons why we do not see enough women enter­prises,” she said.

“The ventures that are set up by women in the MENA region… are normally consumer focused more than business sectors. Women are focused on technological ad­vancement and social media in online businesses that do not have enough finance or empowerment behind (them) to be able to export to successful businesses,” Adawi ex­plained.

“The multi-layered bureaucracy is another challenge but challenges are always opportunities. With the ‘Arab spring,’ women have played a very big role in that. They were the ones on the street that changed things so we will see the 23% in­crease.”

Stella Cox, managing director of DDGI Limited, spoke about her experience as an English woman working in the Middle East.

“I have never experienced gen­der discrimination working in the MENA region. One challenge I did face a while back is whether my cli­ents would accept a woman dealing with them or if it would be a tough call. As a relationship manager, I needed to go and see my clients where they worked and I couldn’t get visas in certain markets,” Cox said.

“When I worked in Islamic finance there were no women working with me so that was demotivating. Now things have changed. During the time I was working there, I would say we built history developing our own paths creating role models and mentors. We looked to collaborate with our firms and partners and overcome barriers.”

MENA Britain Trade Expo returns to Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Lon­don October 26, 2018.

Dunia El-Zobaidi is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.

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