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Speeches & Transcripts February 16, 2020

World Bank Group President David Malpass Opening Remarks at the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) MENA Regional Summit

Good afternoon.  I’d like to thank Your Highness, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum; Her Excellency Mona Al Marri; the Government of Dubai; and the Dubai Women’s Establishment for hosting this important forum.

Thank you for your continued support to We-Fi: the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative.

I’m very pleased to be here today with two inspiring women:  Ivanka Trump and Kristalina Georgieva, who both played an important role spearheading We-Fi and are championing women’s issues.  Thank you for all that you do.

The World Bank is proud to host this fund to help women entrepreneurs gain access to financing, markets, and networks, and to help remove regulatory and legal barriers to women’s success.

Along with the US, the UAE is one of the 14 founding donors and is a generous supporter of We-Fi.  Two years ago here in Dubai, We-Fi made its first funding allocations.  To date, the fund has allocated $250 million, expected to support over 114,000 women entrepreneurs in 50 countries and to crowd-in more than $2.6 billion in private and public sector funding.

We-Fi is able to achieve such breadth in its programs, thanks of course to our donors, and to the program’s implementing partners and their broad network of public and private sector actors.  Going forward, I would like to encourage everyone to crowd in more partners, so we can achieve even more scale.

The Forum’s theme is important: “The Power of Influence.”  Women entrepreneurs are already changing the business landscape in MENA.

A number of inspiring women entrepreneurs from the MENA region were invited to join us here today.  If you are an entrepreneur yourself, I’d like to ask you to stand up and be recognized.

Starting and growing a business is a powerful tool for women to overcome poverty and build better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities.

But entrepreneurship is just one piece of the puzzle.  We are nowhere close to a world where a girl born today has the same opportunities as a boy, where women get paid fairly, and where they can become entrepreneurs, pilots, mathematicians, or engineers if they so choose.

We estimate that in MENA, increasing female labor-force participation to the levels of men could boost regional GDP by 47 percent.  Currently, US$ 575 billion in regional income is lost because of gender-based discrimination in laws, social norms and practices that constrain women’s rights and opportunities.

Fortunately, more countries recognize that their economies can only reach their full potential with the full participation of both women and men.

At the World Bank, we’re focusing on helping countries achieve good development outcomes.  I’ll now say some more on two key areas where we’ve been working hard:  laws and regulations and broadening access to finance.

First, we need to work towards having laws, policies, and regulations that empower women to succeed in the economy.  The World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law report tracks eight indicators for women – from entering the workforce to living in retirement – across 190 economies.

These indicators are aligned with the three foundational factors that the US-led Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative is focusing on.  The pillars are (i) women prospering in the workforce, (ii) women succeeding as entrepreneurs, and (iii) women enabled in the economy.  This program, launched in February of last year, has already reached 12 million women around the globe.  We’ll be hearing more about this important initiative.

According to the Women, Business and the Law report, over the past two years, 40 economies enacted 62 laws to advance gender equality, including (i) removing restrictions on industries, jobs and number of hours that women can work, (ii) expanding paid maternity and parental leave, and (iii) introducing protections against sexual harassment in the workplace.

MENA has historically had the lowest average score on the report’s index.  However, this year, the region made the most progress: Jordan, Lebanon, Algeria and Bahrain made a number of reforms.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia, in particular, made the most reforms:

Since 2015, the UAE has pushed for legislative reforms, including equal pay and female representation in corporate boardrooms;

In Saudi Arabia, laws were changed to protect women from employment discrimination and to prohibit employers from dismissing a woman during pregnancy and maternity leave.

And there is room for every country to improve: I would like to note the recent changes in the US towards paid family leave.

Another important World Bank initiative that focuses on regulations is the Empowering Women by Balancing the Law (EWBL) initiative: it provides countries with the analytical tools to revise outdated laws on child marriage, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and sexual harassment at the workplace.

Secondbroadening access to finance and markets:  Globally, the financial gap for women-led businesses is $1.5 trillion.

On the venture capital front, women enter accelerator programs at roughly the same rate as men, but only 11 percent of SMEs that receive seed-funding are women-led.  Today, IFC is launching a new program, ScaleX, which rewards accelerators for not only including women in their programs but also helping them access early-stage financing.  

On the access to markets front, it’s far more difficult for women entrepreneurs to access markets than men.  Only one percent of global private procurement goes to enterprises owned or operated by women.  We at the World Bank Group have committed to double our corporate sourcing from women-owned firms by 2023.

Digital technology can help women overcome some of these obstacles.  In countries which are still largely cash-based, using electronic payment systems can boost the growth potential of women entrepreneurs.

In Egypt, for example, financial service provider Fawry, an IFC investee company, enables about 2.5 million transactions per day.  This allows many poor people and the SMEs serving them to transact cheaply and efficiently.

Recognizing the potential of women entrepreneurs, the company recently launched ‘Heyya Fawry’, Egypt’s first female e-payment agent network, whose goal is for more women to access e-payments.

Digital technologies can also help on the market side.  We-Fi programs in Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia are training women entrepreneurs on how to use e-commerce platforms to scale their businesses.

Today, the World Bank is launching a partnership with UPS Corporate to help women-led businesses in MENA export their products and access new markets using e-commerce.

The World Bank Group, through initiatives such as We-Fi, Women, Business and the Law, Empowering Women by Balancing the Law Initiative, ScaleX, among others, is helping unlock constraints faced by women.

There is still much to do.  And everyone in this room can play a role.

I am now pleased to turn the program over to my friends Kristalina and Ivanka.