The fifth Global Entrepreneurship Summit kicked off in Morocco’s resort city of Marrakech on Wednesday with a celebration of “Women Entrepreneurship Day,” discussing the role of women in free enterprise, economic growth and job creation.
The three-day summit, held in partnership between Morocco and the United States, brought together more than 3,000 business leaders and politicians from around the world, with a focus on the role of technology in innovation and entrepreneurship.
In opening remarks, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker noted the economic benefits of women’s engagement in free enterprise, the challenges facing female entrepreneurs, and American efforts to support women business leaders globally.
Pritzker said “too often” women lack access to funding, training, information and communication technologies in order to launch start-ups and grow their businesses.
Women in many parts of the world, she said, are hampered by a business culture where it is unacceptable to fail in one venture and start another.
“Such a culture needs to change,” Pritzker said, highlighting the U.S. government’s role in support such change.
Meriem Bensalah Chaqroun, chairwoman of the General Confederation of Moroccan enterprises, noted the growing role of women in the Moroccan business environment, and the challenges facing them in the wider Middle East.
“The major challenges facing women in this region include education, acceptance in the market, and the need for special training,” she told Al Arabiya News.
“Morocco, with its reforms and modern banking system, has the potential to lead the region in women entrepreneurship.”
Bassima Hakkaoui - Moroccan minister of solidarity, women’s rights and the family - told Al Arabiya News that funding is the biggest challenge facing aspiring women entrepreneurs.
“We have to overcome the masculine mentality that sees the field of entrepreneurship and of obtaining funding as an area exclusive to men,” the Islamist minister said.
“Banks are still largely hesitant to fund women’s free enterprises. As such, we find many women discouraged to engage in business ventures,” she added.
Panel speaker Lamia Boutaleb, CEO of Capital Trust Group (Morocco), said women entrepreneurs need to have the “determination to survive” in a male-dominated business environment.
“Entrepreneurship isn’t only about dreams, but more about surviving the challenge for a long time with limited resources,” she said.
Shazia Saleem, founder of ieatfoods UK, spoke of the importance of ethics for successful free enterprises.
“If you have the intention of having a big bank account and luxury yachts, you’ll never be satisfied. For successful business, you have to be ethical about what you do,” she said.
The event invites women entrepreneurs to present pitches for planned businesses. A panel of judges evaluates the proposals, and finalists compete for more than $10,000 in prizes and support opportunities.