Female Forward
Advancing women’s place in the entrepreneurial scene

Interview with Sana Afouiaz, Founder and CEO of Womenpreneur Initiative
Womenpreneur Initiative
Womenpreneur Initiative © Womenpreneur Initiative

Sana Afouaiz is an award-winning gender expert and women advocate. In 2016, she established Womenpreneur Initiative, an organisation with a community of 10,000 women across 20 countries, that aims to advance women’s place in the entrepreneurial scene, technology, innovation & society. Through her work, Sana reached thousands of women, to drive visibility, social impact, and resources for women in the ecosystem and beyond: https://womenpreneur-initiative.com

For the past six years, Sana advised the United Nations, European Commission, corporate institutions and organisations on gender issues. She was heavily involved in SDGs discussions, she helped draft several resolutions and recommendations on gender in New York, Bali, Geneva, and Paris and presented them to UN representatives. 

Today we had the chance to interview Sana Afouiaz, Founder and CEO of Womenpreneur Initiative.

Womenpreneur Initiative
Womenpreneur Initiative © Womenpreneur Initiative

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, what in your opinion are the greatest challenges for female entrepreneurs in the Mediterranean region?

While the effects of the pandemic appear to have an asymmetric effect across sectoral lines, this appears true also in terms of its impact on individuals. Although research suggests that men are at higher risk for the COVID-19 virus, the scope of the pandemic reaches far beyond the realm of health. When focusing on its economic and social repercussions, it appears that is where women become more vulnerable to its consequences. Data highlights the many ways in which gender inequalities have disadvantaged women in economic, social, and political life prior to the pandemic, only to be magnified by the arrival of the virus. This serves to demonstrate how the pandemic is equally a social crisis as it is an economic crisis or public health one.

According to Arabnet’s 2020 report, 71 percent of start-ups were negatively affected by the pandemic, with 22 percent reporting suspended activities and 21 percent reporting a sharp decrease in demand or significant financial losses. Sectors such as software-as-a-service, hospitality, and tourism appear to have been the most negatively affected by the pandemic. Start-ups in e-grocery and delivery, EdTech, and fintech are among the sectors that observed an increase in demand and thus an increase in revenues. The profits of 16.7 percent of e-grocery services reportedly doubled, while revenues of 47 percent of EdTech start-ups reported being positively impacted. Employment, revenue, and business operations were also negatively affected across the MENA region due to the pandemic. The World Bank reports that a significant share of firms in the MENA region have reduced their number of employees.

The global health pandemic continues to have a profound impact on the social, economic, and political lives of individuals across the world. Prior to the pandemic, gender disparities within the MENA region caused by social, economic, and legal inequalities were a cause for concern, only to become magnified by the pandemic. Although research suggests that men are more vulnerable to the negative health implications of the COVID-19 virus, there are secondary effects of the pandemic which affect women differently, making them uniquely susceptible to the negative impact of the crisis which spans across social, political, and economic dimensions.

Sana Afouaiz © Womenpreneur Initiative

Which are Womenpreneur Initiative main initiatives to promote the inclusion of women in the Tech ecosystem in Mediterranean countries?

We have many initiatives, but I would highlight our online space that we launched in March 2021 that has more than 6000 members and get 120,000 views every week, which is our Womenpreneur Digital Hub: an online knowledge- and resource- sharing platform for women in the MENA region. The Womenpreneur Digital Hub supports women’s skills development in entrepreneurship, digitalization and financial literacy. Our aim is to ensure that every woman and girl in the MENA region has access to the right tools to realize their fullest economic potential.

We have created itheWomenpreneur Digital Hub, the first online space for women in the MENA region to learn, connect and grow. Our way of helping is enabling women to find opportunities and offering access to the resources they need to develop new skills, transform their network into true and valuable connections and grow their businesses. We also aim to create job opportunities through skills training, give access to high-level experts to ask for advice and create a supportive community of powerful women. More details here: https://www.womenpreneur-digital.com 

During the past years, Womenpreneur Initiative has been working with women across several countries of the MENA region. Could you refer to an initiative or project led by women, which could be a reference for EU member states?

We have worked with a very inspiring young entrepreneur, Khadija Jallouli, she is the Founder & CEO of HawKar is a social innovative Tunisian start-up which develops vehicles especially adapted to people with reduced mobility. HawKar’s smart electric car is directly accessible in a wheelchair, compact, affordable and environmentally friendly. The start-up addresses a  relevant issue in Africa & the Middle East-North Africa region, which is that the infrastructure and public transport are often not suitable for people with disability. Thus, the solution enables people with reduced mobility to be autonomous and move independently at long distances. 

HawKar’s solution won at DemoAfrica 2018 and will be at the 2019 edition of the Lions@frica Innovation Tour in Silicon Valley. 

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Womenpreneur Tour: Interview with Khadija Jallouli © WomenPreneur Tour