Despite the gender gap and social challenges, entrepreneurial women across the world and Middle East and Africa (MEA) are leading the way in tapping into the power of the digital economy. In new research by Mastercard, women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs) believe there are huge benefits of a cash-free economy to their businesses.
According to the inaugural Mastercard MEA SME Confidence Index, 81% of the region’s women entrepreneurs have a digital presence for their businesses, compared to 68% of their male counterparts. In terms of a digital footprint of the region’s women entrepreneurs, social media (71%) leads the way, followed by a company website (57%). In the Middle East and North Africa, more women entrepreneurs had a website (71%) than a social media presence (55%).
These findings are aligned with Mastercard’s global commitment to connect 25 million women entrepreneurs to the digital economy by 2025, as part of its goal to build a more sustainable and inclusive world.
Despite the higher digital presence, very few have access to funding for business growth. “Globally, women-owned businesses are well represented in the entrepreneurship space, yet it is estimated that they only access between 2 and 10% of commercial bank finance,” says Amnah Ajmal, Executive Vice President, Market Development, Middle East and Africa, Mastercard. “This reflects the huge potential SME women entrepreneurs have when we accelerate their access to financial and digital tools which will enable greater gender parity in the business ecosystem.”
Digital and cash-free economy
According to the Mastercard survey, confidence levels around digital transactions are high with 30% of women entrepreneurs in MEA experiencing no challenges in accepting more payments digitally versus cash payments – especially mobile payments (62%), online payments (57%) and card payments (45%).
In Southern Africa, this confidence is further elevated with two-thirds (67%) seeing no challenges in accepting more payments digitally.
Growing confidence levels in digital as a business imperative is tied to a deeper understanding and wider recognition among SMEs of the advantages that result from a growing digital economy. Women entrepreneurs highlighted the increased efficiency of transactions across multiple channels (60%) and the ease of not handling or processing cash (60%).
They also appreciated having a more convenient way of paying suppliers and employees (59%), faster access to revenues (55%), less potential for fraud (53%) and access to new business growth opportunities (50%).
In the 2020 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE), evidence emerged of how women business owners have reacted to a new world of work with renewed confidence and adaptability, tapping into new business opportunities or realigning their business models to cater to new consumer behaviour and local or global needs.
Despite challenges around funding, support and attention, Uganda, Botswana and Ghana were ranked as the world’s three leading economies having the most women business owners (WBO) as a percentage of total business owners in the 2020 MIWE.
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The report also mentioned a high regard for risk taking, innovativeness, individuality and creativity in entrepreneurship prevalent in Nigeria and Angola. Growing the contribution of women entrepreneurs is a positive sign, as almost half of female entrepreneurs (48.7%) around the world report being driven by a desire to contribute to the greater societal good.
In addition to empowering women-led businesses everywhere with digital payments acceptance tools, Mastercard is also advancing social progress through financial literacy training to encourage the growth of entrepreneurship among women.
- Sarah Beydoun, owner of a social impact fashion business in Lebanon, was one of the women entrepreneurs featured in the award-winning Mastercard documentary FIVE – just one of the technology company’s initiatives to encourage by collaborating with inspiring entrepreneurs who are making a positive change.
- Through its partnership with Junior Achievement South Africa, Mastercard has empowered over 3,000 women to gain entrepreneurial skills, start their own ventures and create new jobs.
- The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth awarded a seed funding grant to The Omaness Skinfood Company, which will empower 10,000 women entrepreneurs in Nigeria to run their own skinfood merchant businesses.