Emerging market economies face a significant credit gap and access to finance is considered the biggest obstacle for enterprises. Banks have been the traditional source of funding, but the financial crisis has led banks to be even more reluctant, which is creating an active debate about the importance of broadening the range of funding options available beyond banks.
Such debates are relevant in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region where female unemployment rate is higher than in other regions. Only about 17.9% of women are active in the labour market compared to the global average of 47.1%. The majority of women are engaged in the informal sector and work under poor conditions. Challenges for women have increased significantly in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis. According to an Oxfam report, Care in the Time of Coronavirus, women are hit hard by the pandemic. The heavy and unequal care responsibilities are trapping women in time and income poverty and excluding them from active participation in economic activities. Access to finance is a crucial need for women entrepreneurs.
The Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) sector has the potential to create jobs and employ women and young people. Studies indicate that this sector contributes to a large percentage of employment. Start-ups and micro-businesses, especially social / impact-driven enterprises, have proven to be an alternative for livelihood recovery during the Coronavirus pandemic when jobs disappeared from the labour market as a result of the sudden closure of many medium and large-sized businesses.
However, innovative approaches are rays of hope that can help in mobilizing finance for the enterprise. For example, it can be done through collective action at the community level through community-based organisations, self-help groups, and cooperatives. Alternatively, one can use innovative and market-based capital such as crowdfunding and angel investment. Experiences of increasing investment opportunities and supporting self-employment can be useful for decision-makers and donors.
Oxfam’s Youth Participation and Employment (YPE) programme in the MENA region addresses these issues by supporting start-ups and micro-enterprises through community-based support services and linking with innovative financing.
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