From the 19th to the 21st of November 2019, the Women Business Forum organized by the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) took place in Barcelona, within the framework of the Smart City Expo World Congress.
This annual meeting served as a platform to create new opportunities for women-owned and women-led businesses from the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa), building a space to share ideas and good practices, and establish partnerships.
This year, in addition, the framework of an event like the Smart City Expo World Congress allowed a larger platform for business connections, since the Congress gathered more than 1,000 companies and 25,000 visitors, including investors, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders from all over the world.
This year’s forum focused on innovative business models as opportunities for women entrepreneurs. We attended the three roundtables to discuss women’s role in the circular economy and the technology and innovation fields.
During the first session, “Women in circular economy”, Marisa Farrugia, Deputy Secretary General of the UfM for Social and Civil Affairs, pointed at the circular economy as one of the main responses and solutions to the current issues of the region, like climate change and inequalities.
Sara Gabarrón, project manager at the Catalan Water Partnership (CWP), focused on the sustainable use of water, highlighted that “circular economy doesn’t mean reducing or minimizing the impact of the action, like the linear economy intends; but circular economy aims at having a positive impact”.
Participants agreed that access to finance is the main challenge for women entrepreneurs; banks and investors still feel less confident to offer loans to women. That’s why Carolina Rius, cofounder of the innovative company HUSK ventures, which converts rice husk into organic biochar, stresses the importance of grants, public support and incentives to help women access to finance and grow their businesses, a fact also highlighted by other panellists.
Precisely, during the second panel of the session “Access to finance, investment and support schemes”, the participants presented programmes and platforms that help women build partnerships and access finance avoiding gender bias, such as FinTech Egypt and SwitchMed.
The following roundtables focused on the topic “Women in technology and innovation”, especially, on the challenges that women have to face in this sector.
Besides the always important issue of the gender pay gap, the speakers underlined the need of attracting more women to this kind of jobs, and in the same way, encouraging young girls to choose a STEM career (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
On this matter, Enass Abo-Hamed, CEO at H2GO Power, and Joana Barbany Freixa, general director of Digital Society at the Generalitat of Catalunya, put the spotlight on the importance of having female role models and mentors to inspire young girls, but unfortunately the lack of them is a big obstacle to increase girl’s presence in the sector.
The participants also addressed the difficulty of balancing professional and family life, especially, in this kind of jobs and at a certain age, and again, the barriers that women have to face to access to finance.
Photo Credit: UfM
This platform is part of the Axis 1 "Strengthening the capacities of equality actors" of the Priority Solidarity Fund "Women for the future in the Mediterranean" funded by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and led by the European Institute of the Mediterranean, in the framework of the project “Developing Women's Empowerment” labelled by the Union for the Mediterranean.