OWIT-Toronto celebrated its partnership with the Canada Arab Business Council (CABC) to provide women-led businesses and entrepreneurs access to market insights and opportunities across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The partnership was formally announced at a joint OWIT-Toronto and CABC webinar, “Expand your business into the Middle East & North Africa region” in December, which brought together senior women leaders in the public and private sectors to share a current update on doing business in the MENA region, delve into opportunities at the Dubai Expo 2020 and upcoming events and milestones for companies looking to enter, expand or re-activate their trade and investment efforts in the region.
At the occasion of the launch, Helen Hemmingsen, past OWIT-Toronto President said, “As a global network with local chapter representation across Central, North and South America, Western Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, the missing gap of global connections has been the Middle East and North Africa region. This partnership serves as a gateway to tap into opportunities for business information, connections and support our members in doing business in the MENA region.”
CABC is the voice of business between Canada and the Arab world. CABC and OWIT-Toronto have shared interests of advancing international trade between Canada and the Arab world, as well as enhancing international business education and networking opportunities for women entrepreneurs, professionals and trade experts. Cathy Séguin, President and Executive Director, CABC noted, “Our partnership with OWIT-Toronto is a significant milestone for Canada Arab Business Council. It facilitates and accelerates our mission and our scope to promote Canada’s inclusive economic success and to foster international trade and the advancement of women in business in the MENA region. This is also consistent with the government’s strategy in supporting women leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators.”
The panel discussion was moderated by Carmen Sylvain, Former Canadian Ambassador to the Republic of Colombia, the Kingdom of Morocco and the Republic of Mauritania. She was joined by Katerina Tarasova, Executive Director, International Accreditation at Health Standards Organization; Lindsay Margenau, Counsellor (Commercial) and Senior Trade Commissioner, Consulate General of Canada to Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Karima-Catherine [KC] Goundiam, CEO, Red Dot Digital Inc. & B2BeeMatch; Jennifer Cooke, Director, Inclusive Trade, Export Development Canada (EDC); and Amal Soliman, Co-Founder, Nubia Foods.
Here are some key take-aways on doing business and expanding into the MENA region:
- In terms of doing business in the MENA region, it is important not to generalize doing business across the region, as there are many geographical and cultural variations across the MENA region as well as in GDP economy levels.
- Services to women entrepreneurs are accessible to offset challenges and barriers in accessing programs and solutions through EDC, the Trade Commissioner’s Service (TCS) and other counterparts in the trade ecosystem including the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), as well as B2BeeMatch’s VIBee program that provides customized solutions to women-led businesses.
- Key trending sectors in the MENA region that have gained traction especially with the pandemic and increased digital transformation include: healthcare; health tech industry; robotics and artificial intelligence; education tech; health and wellness; and beauty and fashion. The healthcare sector will continue to drastically transform to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic, and also to find new ways of simplifying complex healthcare systems into more efficient and effective ways.
- Resources, knowledge, education and skills building are available to support Canadian women to export with confidence in the MENA region, providing connections both to the ecosystem of organizations that can support them as well as to different opportunities internationally.
- Learn and get an understanding of the players in the global trading ecosystem and leverage them. This helps to strengthen export plans and position in markets of interest. Reaching out to the TCS, EDC, and organizations like OWIT, chambers of commerce like the CABC can really help to achieve those export goals and accelerate your success, accessing market knowledge, strategic planning for market risks and challenges.
- Crucial to start with an international mindset – businesses are more likely to have a global competitive advantage when their leaders have a global mindset and are thinking big from the outset.
- Participating in trade missions provides opportunities to explore international business prospects, to build more networks and have access to specific sector information.
- Accessing financing and grants using financial products can help speed up growth, help a business owner achieve their objectives more quickly. Financial support to women entrepreneurs looking at accessing new markets like the MENA region is also available at the EDC.
- Important to protect yourself as a business owner from liability – this opens up access to more resources like grants or other financial products. It is also important to have a good understanding of all the risks involved in a market and what can be addressed.
- Access to a strong network – this can enable introductions to customers, suppliers, partners, distributors etc., as well as providing knowledge and support.
- The MENA region presents a good alternative with diversifying supply chains especially given the global supply chains disruptions caused by the pandemic.
- Most MENA countries have very conducive environments for women to do and start businesses, with a large number of women entrepreneurs as a driving force for their economies, in leadership roles and company executive roles. Countries like UAE have been voted as the safest in the world for women and provide a global hub for business with a diversity in the population and in cultures.
- Members were invited to the Expo Dubai 2020, one of the major highlights of the year. The world's largest business event that was held in the UAE, it hosted 200+ pavilions and 24 million registered visits from 178 nations over its six months duration (October 2021 to March 2022). CABC led a high-level Canadian trade mission of 30 companies to the UAE and organized its first international business event 'Canada Arab Business Forum 2022' with 250 attendees representing government and businesses from Canada and the UAE. With a focus on strategic sectors such as Healthcare, Education, Artificial Intelligence, Clean Energy and Agriculture, the event created significant business and networking opportunities promoting bilateral trade and investment outcomes.