Photograph — egyptianstreets

Women-led businesses may currently account for a tiny fraction of MSMEs in Egypt, but that does not mean it will hold for much longer. This is because of the continuous and ambitious reach of social enterprises like Entreprenelle, a Cairo-based forum that seeks to empower businesswomen by training them and giving them access to larger networks.

Entreprenelle’s expansion scheme recently received a big nod from the British Council, with whom it partnered to kick off its 2019 social impact entrepreneurship program, intended to increase the number of female entrepreneurs in the country. While Cairo and Alexandria have become established hubs for women-led businesses, the message has not quite reached the women in other lesser accessible governorates like Mansoura, Minya, Assiut, Sohag, and Aswan.

Entreprenelle’s project manager Roaa Ahmed told Egyptian Streets that the program was tailored and customized for each location, to maximize participants’ benefits, relative to the unique demands of their communities, hubs, and personalities. 3-day intensive sessions will be followed by foundation-laying for keeping participants within networks, online and offline, a hub for creativity and growth exchanges. According to her, in Mansoura alone, more than 100 females attended, with the women picking up knowledge of business modeling, marketing, sales and funding, as well as team building and time management.

Rania Ayman, Entreprenelle’s founder, understands that the current upward trajectory can nosedive if new women-led businesses are not guided correctly. This is why Entreprenelle organizes SHECAN yearly, to dip business owners in the ambience of similar minds, and propose solutions to problems women face in business, in an environment that communicates community. Last year, some 2500 women attended the event. In the third edition, which held in March, Entreprenelle reported 5000 in attendance, potentially making it the biggest assembly of female-centric entrepreneur gathering in the MENA region.

Women are more likely to start businesses in Egypt, because they constitute only seventeen percent of private employment and thirty-one percent of public jobs, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). And the Eygptian government has been a willing partner. But one of the criticisms of the current administration’s drive for boosting MSMEs is that governmental efforts hardly take into cognizance the fact that women face a different set of challenges in business, and are therefore unable to benefit from one-size-fits-all programs. Whether it is access to finance, markets, or business networking opportunities, the problem always looks different for a woman in business.

Which is why Entreprenelle’s work is necessary, to close that gap before emergent female business owners are driven back by such historic, society-imposed problems they consider unsolvable. All of Entreprenelle’s work is impressive. But perhaps an understated part of it is how much freer women founders are sure to be, in the company of women like themselves. There’s nothing quite like solidarity to set a typically restrained population running. And Entreprenelle seems to have unlocked the winning formula. With support from entities like the British Council, and others in the near future, women entrepreneurs will have a louder voice in Egypt’s MSMEs population.

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