Unlocking the Potential of Women Entrepreneurs in Egypt

When Mona Erian decided to set up a small business producing handmade soaps in Egypt, she struggled to get financing. A pharmacist by profession, she decided to create a line of natural products after her young daughter suffered an adverse reaction to a store-bought shampoo.

Like many women entrepreneurs in the region, Erian ended up financing her start-up herself. Having started with just two employees, today her company, Nefertari, has 15 stores around Cairo and employs up to 125 people, 70 percent of whom are women. Erian’s goal now is to focus on exports, but she says women entrepreneurs still need help to expand, and boost Egypt’s economy.   

“If we grow, so many people grow around us,” she says. “Nefertari has an impact and is supporting other industries and small businesses like packaging materials and raw materials. We are affecting at least 1,700 other projects or other industries.

“We also need workshops and training sessions that share knowledge and experience on key business topics like accounting and human resources and tax laws,” she adds. “Not just when you set up the business but also to help you manage the day-to-day work.”  

Erian is one of several Egyptian women entrepreneurs featured in a new IFC film highlighting the challenges they face in obtaining financing. While 30 percent of all businesses in Egypt are owned by women, they access less that 10 percent of commercial bank finance.

Studies suggest women-owned businesses in Egypt have unmet financing needs of $4.2 billion and a deposit potential of nearly $2.9 billion. Measures proposed by the women featured in the film include simplifying bank requirements, reducing interest rates, conducting seminars to raise awareness and encouraging more networking initiatives.

Manar Korayem who heads the Women Banking initiative at IFC says, “At IFC, we have a strong track record of providing investment and advisory services to banks to build profitable business lines in the women’s customer segment, which is something we’d like to leverage in Egypt. We have set a goal of 25 percent of all financing going to support women-owned enterprises globally.

“We work with banks and partners to provide customized training for women in business planning and management, and financial literacy. We also facilitate networking and mentoring to support market expansion and business growth.”

At the end of FY15, IFC had a total committed portfolio of $808 million in the women banking market, including 29 bank investments and 19 advisory projects. Clients in MENA include Bank al Etihad in Jordan and Pakistan’s HBL, which launched its women banking product, Nisa, in November.

Published in February 2016