Building Market Opportunity and Women’s Networks in MENA

By Madeleine White

Reflections on Trade+ Impact summit, in Ifrane, Morocco 19-23rd September 2016

Madeleine is co-founder of Nina magazine, Impact director of Enterprise development NGO Challenges Worldwide (a founder member of the Access to Finance for Rural Enterprise (ACRE) consortium). Madeleine contributed to discussions around the importance of impact investment and social enterprise within wider economic development at Trade+Impact, based on Challenges Worldwide role within the ACRE consortium, and Challenges Capital role as Syndicate manager. 

Designed to increase the impact women-led social enterprises have in their communities, the inaugural Trade +Impact summit in Ifrane, Morocco  focussed on addressing 2 key sectors: Craft/textiles (by hand) and Agribusiness for cosmetics. The idea of an event that linked real business being done and investments being made to wider discussion around inclusion and theory was an exciting one – and indeed had been 5 years in the pipeline.

Says Kathleen Holland, founder Trade +Impact:

“We were keen to establish a new way of collaborating, evidencing practical outcomes to discussion points that have been part of the Women’s Economic Empowerment discussion for several years. We picked Trade, Social Impact Investment, Skills Development (with a focus on technology), Networking and Advocacy as the pillars at the heart of this summit, as we felt they most closely addressed the challenges faced by women in these regions and sectors.”

Sponsored by the Moroccan government’s trade and investment arms, Invest in Morocco, as well as educational partners Al Akawayn University and trade partners Handicraft from Morocco - Trade+ Impact saw over 150 women from across five continents gather to explore their role in making change happen.

The idea behind targeting the sectors was that both agribusiness and craft sit amongst two of the top employers for women in Africa and the Middle East. Indeed, they are most often run by women-led social enterprises that positively impact their employees and communities. In West Africa alone 16,000,000 women collect and harvest the Shea nut, 10% of which goes directly into cosmetics.

Morocco was a great place to launch this concept and trade fair, as it straddles both the MENA region and Africa, two regions that are seen as having significant potential but are also still challenged by real barriers to growth, particularly in terms of equal access to economic opportunities for women.

As Microsoft Social Media lead Miri Rodrigues shared in her impassioned speech,

“We are all actors in creating a reality that people can understand and use. Own your story and use it to take your work to the world.”

I set to putting the final touches to a panel discussion and workshop around my own area of expertise,  linking economic growth with social purpose and knowledge share (in terms of access with finance and investment) to intelligent design around innovative investment solutions.

However, as ever, it is important to contexualise the challenges from the outset. This was done throughout the event, but was discussed with particular focus on our panel, which focussed on Social Impact investment.

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