High-growth companies and women’s entrepreneurship are the two key factors to unlock the growth potential in North Africa and the Middle East (MENA). The point was underscored in an OECD report presented at a meeting of the MENA-OECD Working Group on policies for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), entrepreneurship and the development of human capital. The meeting took place at the Foreign Ministry in Rome.
“The creation of new, high-growth companies”, explained Under-Secretary Marta Dassù in her presentation, “could help the MENA region make a step-change. It could help complete the transition from a model based on micro-enterprises, limited to the informal economy, to one based on innovative companies well integrated in the global economy. However, a more favourable business environment is needed to enable these enterprises to exploit the benefits of globalisation to best and fullest advantage”.
The Under-Secretary for Economic Development, Claudio De Vincenti, noted the positive integration between the Italian SME model and local economic systems in MENA. This has fostered growing commercial and investment flows throughout the Mediterranean region.
The Working Group, co-chaired by Italy and Tunisia, discussed a new Report entitled “New Entrepreneurs and High-Growth Enterprises in MENA”, produced by the OECD and by the International Development Research Centre. The Report identifies the barriers to the creation of new businesses, and possible ways to speed up the development of enterprises with greater potential for employment, innovation and growth.
According to the Report, the proportion of high-growth-potential companies in MENA is comparable with that of other regions. 10% of mature companies in the MENA region expect to take on new employees, compared with 5% in Latin America and 8% in low-income Asian countries. However, since the number of enterprises is so low in MENA, the overall number of high-growth businesses is far lower than in other regions.
To foster the development of high-growth companies in the region, the improvement of the business climate for all entrepreneurs must be a priority. More specifically, this includes reforms to eliminate unfair competition and to improve essential public services (transport infrastructure, electricity and information and communications technology (ICT)). Also needed is a more effective legislative framework for contracts.
The Report also suggests that increasing women’s labour force participation could be the factor with the greatest impact on increasing business start-ups in the Mediterranean region. In MENA, just 32% of working-age women are active members of the labour force, compared with an average of 61% in OECD countries.