Egypt Entrepreneurship Summit 2017

ILO-IFAD Taqeem Policy Roundtable: What works in promoting entrepreneurship for rural women?

As part of the Egypt Entrepreneurship Summit 2017, ILO-IFAD Taqeem hosted a policy roundtable titled “What works in promoting entrepreneurship for rural women?”. The roundtable presented evidence on rural women’s entrepreneurship promotion programmes and related policy measures in the MENA region.


The Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation and the International Labour Organization in partnership with the Middle East Council for Small Business and Entrepreneurship held the 3rd Annual Egypt Entrepreneurship Summit in Hurghada, Egypt from 16-18 November 2017. This summit brought together practitioners, educators and policy makers to explore concepts and guiding principles that support the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt. The conference sessions discussed key themes related to the future of self-employment and entrepreneurship including rural entrepreneurship, the gender gap, the evidence base for “what works” as well as training and education policy.

The purpose of the gathering was to advance knowledge and ideas to support small business formation and growth. The summit, and the session of ILO-IFAD Taqeem in particular, contributed to the knowledge base on how entrepreneurship among women can be increased – responding to the large gender gap in labour force participation between women and men in Egypt and the particular challenge for rural areas where formal public and private employment opportunities for women are scarce. To date self-employment rates among women – and especially young women – in rural Egypt are low. However, promoting entrepreneurship among rural women has the potential to socially and economically empower a large yet underprivileged section of Egypt’s population.

Policy roundtable: “What works in promoting entrepreneurship for rural women?"

Keynote speech: Dr Michael Grimm, University of Passau
As part of the Egypt Entrepreneurship Summit 2017, ILO-IFAD Taqeem hosted a policy roundtable titled “What works in promoting entrepreneurship for rural women?”. The roundtable presented evidence on rural women’s entrepreneurship promotion programmes and related policy measures in the MENA region. Senior representatives of the Taqeem Community of Practice discussed examples on how gender mainstreaming and improved results measurement is helping to close the evidence gap for effective active labour market policies and programmes.

The Taqeem Community of Practice is supported through a partnership between the ILO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) as part of the IFAD-financed project “Strengthening gender monitoring and evaluation in rural employment in the Near East and North Africa.” Through rigorous impact research, this capacity development and learning grant project aims to understand “what works” in the promotion of gender mainstreaming, with the ultimate goal of reaching gender equality in rural employment outcomes across the region. Three members of the Community of Practice namely RISE Egypt, the Alexandria Business Association, and the Population Council took part in this policy roundtable as panellists.

In his keynote speech Professor Michael Grimm (University of Passau, Germany) presented five lessons to be learned from the global evidence base on what works in promoting entrepreneurship for rural women:
  1. Empowering rural women needed culturally and gender-sensitive interventions, for example involving local communities, working with female role models but also ensuring adequate access to training sites for women and target sectors such as agribusiness.
  2. With regard to microfinance, the evidence suggests that effects of microloans on employment creation are small- in particular for female-led businesses. According to Prof Grimm this was in part because micro-loans were often too small (leading to smoothed consumption rather than investments in businesses) and not well-enough targeted to rural women who have the largest potential for becoming successful entrepreneurs.
  3. As formal education for rural women has improved dramatically over the past decades, entrepreneurship programmes should focus on linking rural women to the labour market through specific knowledge and on-the-job training, such as development of business plans and mentoring schemes during implementation.
  4. Business development services show promising results in several studies but that targeting of rural areas needs to be improved while ensuring that services are offered based on local and women relevant demands.
  5. Stress the importance of embedding entrepreneurship promotion programmes in sectoral growth strategies, for example for rural women in post-harvesting and processing industries that are targeted at export markets.
Panellists (left to right): Dr Michael Grimm (University of Passau), Ibrahim Melouk (ABA), Perihan Tawfik (ILO, moderator), Rana Elmeligy (ILO), Eman El-Hadary (RISE Egypt), Dr Ali Rashed (Population Council)

During the following panel discussion, Ms Elmeligy presented results from a Taqeem supported randomized controlled trial which measures outcomes of women’s attitudes towards self-employment in Egypt. The study showed that discriminatory beliefs and strong gender differentiation in perceptions of women entrepreneurship are common among young people in Egypt. For example, over 80 per cent of women in the study believed that in Egypt it is possible for women to successfully run a business while only 50 per cent of men agreed. The evaluation then assessed the impacts of the popular television series “El Mashroua” (“the project” in English”), a reality TV show where 14 young entrepreneurs are tested on their business knowledge and acumen. Among the findings of the study was that discriminatory attitudes held by men regarding the success prospects of women’s entrepreneurship were reduced due to the edutainment TV programme. It more generally showed that TV programmes can change gender-related perceptions around entrepreneurship in Egypt.

Ms Eman El-Hadary explained how RISE Egypt supports social enterprises, 40 per cent of which are (co-) led by women, in upscaling their interventions and maximising impact. Through capacity-building seminars and linking entrepreneurs to national and international experts in the respective sector, RISE helps women-led social enterprises to increase their credibility and reputation in the market which facilitates-key challenges facing young women entrepreneurs- for example access to finance. Mr Ibrahim Melouk agreed on the importance of providing women-led enterprises with a combination of loans and training, an approach which Alexandria Business Association (ABA) has successfully been pursuing in partnership with UN-Women. He described that a modernized M&E system allows ABA to tailor loans to their 175,000+active female borrowers, constituting 49% of their loan portfolio.

Dr Ali Rashed showcased how Population Council Egypt implemented Neqdar Nesharek, a women’s empowerment programme in Upper rural Egypt. He emphasized the inclusive approach to empowerment the intervention adopted. The programme provided business, life skills and vocational training to young women and also involved relatives and small village-based associations. A rigorous impact evaluation showed that the programme significantly increased income-generating activities among trained women.

Finally, in a short discussion with the audience several participants underlined the importance of further decentralising entrepreneurship training programmes (such as Start and Improve Your Business) to increase access and coverage for and in rural areas.