Jordan, Egypt, and Palestine—Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund (AWEF)

Client: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

Duration: 2015-2021

Region: Middle East and North Africa

Country: Egypt, Jordan, Palestine

Solutions: Economic Growth

The Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund (AWEF) focused on market system change and women’s economic empowerment (WEE) in Egypt, Jordan, and until March 2018, the occupied Palestinian Territories. AWEF developed an innovative and path-breaking approach to market systems to encourage the adoption of new practices and approaches to support WEE. AWEF operated in consortia with MarketShare Associates, Education for Employment Jordan, and Positive Planet International.

Women in the Middle East have untapped potential. They have the interest, skills, and ability to play a significantly more active role in the economy. It is only through the long-term inclusion of women that these countries will be able to witness sustainable growth, security, and stability. AWEF worked to change the way markets work by tackling critical underlying constraints that limited whether and how women participated in markets.

AWEF focused on catalyzing change in the ready-made garments, citrus, public awareness, financial inclusion, dairy, market linkages, local government, and ICT/flexible work strategic areas, reaching 578,241 women through its interventions. Nearly 1,150 market actors and institutions have adopted AWEF-supported practices and 54 market actors and institutions have demonstrated commitment to reform rules or internal policies that enabled and empowered women. AWEF directly or indirectly facilitated 2,231 market linkages across Jordan, Egypt, and the Occupied Territories, generating increased income opportunities for women.

AWEF generated additional income for 30,725 women and aggregated net additional income generated for poor women across Egypt and Jordan amounted to £4,630,204. Since the beginning of the project, 116,169 women benefited from increased productivity and/or skills.

AWEF was a unique program in that it worked to jointly improve women’s access to opportunities, but also empowered them to take hold of these opportunities by supporting their agency—their voice, choice, and decision making in economic spaces. AWEF interventions helped to strengthen voice, choice, and control for 75,107 women.

Read more about women’s economic empowerment on AWEF’s learning hub.

Sample Activities

  • Support businesses to increase the focus on women’s working conditions, including gender-sensitive recruitment, human resource management, and training policies in Egypt’s food retail, citrus, and ready-made garment sectors.
  • Enhance access to finance for women by working with digital financial service providers to expand outreach of services to women and women entrepreneurs.
  • Assist home-based female producers in Jordan’s dairy sector to raise awareness of the value of testing and certification of products to increase their competitiveness and value.
  • Work with government standards institutes, the private sector, and women producers of food products such as maftoul, cheese, and yogurt to streamline certification processes and services and better enable women to move up the value chain.
  • Support introduction of fee-based, female paraveterinary services to make basic animal health care services more available locally, particularly to home-based production run by women.

Select Results

  • Worked with partners to expand the reach of digital financial services to women through networks of female agents in Egypt and Jordan, leading to more than 34,000 additional female e-wallet users.
  • Worked with digital financial service providers on financial literacy for women and adapting financial products to support women-owned microbusinesses. Following the success of the pilot, the partner worked to develop e-payment services to microfinance clients, reaching 100,027 women across Egypt. During COVID-19 restrictions on movement, these microbusinesses were able to continue making and receiving payments.
  • Influenced a formal change in the Palestinian Monetary Authority’s regulations on allowing banks to offer accounts for low-income earners. This change in position enables all low-income earners as well as those who are self-employed, to access banking services and accounts which dramatically expands their potential market and improves women’s ability to make decisions over their own finances.
  • Worked with municipalities in Jordan to introduce a platform within the municipality through which women have access to services that enable them to become more entrepreneurial and establish or formalize their businesses, such as training, information, networks, and linkages to potential markets.
  • Developed a suite of interventions supporting the growth of women-owned home-based businesses including establishing systems to generate market linkages between large retailers and women producers.
  • Influenced the development of guidelines on licensing of home-based businesses that were adopted by the Jordanian Ministry of Local Administration. Licensing processes were institutionalized and implemented across 17 municipalities and had a significant impact on women’s sense of agency and engagement in local government, as well as increasing their ability to generate incomes.
  • Worked with clothing factories in Egypt to develop and institutionalize gender-sensitive worker training to influence how businesses work with and perceive women in the workforce. We also engaged with major Egyptian retailers to increase the hiring of women.
  • Worked with partners to develop and test new recruitment processes for women in the readymade garment sector. These new approaches included running women-only job fairs, creating mixed-gender outreach teams as part of recruitment drives, and adopting gender-sensitive promotional materials. As a result of this intervention, 4,028 women were reached through recruitment events and AWEF’s partner and lead firm, Arafa, established a reputation as a credible employer within targeted communities.
  • Influenced a formal change in the Palestinian Monetary Authority’s regulations on allowing banks to offer accounts for low-income earners. This change in position enables all low-income earners as well as those who are self-employed, to access banking services and accounts which dramatically expands their potential market and improves women’s ability to make decisions over their own finances.

One year (2021) extension in Egypt (AWEF II)

Select Results

  • Partnered with microfinance institutions (MFIs) to roll out the digital financial services (DFS) Learning Program to 443,000 existing and prospective female borrowers, mostly micro-entrepreneurs. The Program uses a blended-learning approach using animated videos to educate women about the accessibility and benefits of digital payments and mobile-based technology for business purposes.
  • Worked with partners to provide low-income women with income-generating opportunities and to catalyze access to e-payments and the fast-moving consumer goods sector through female agents—1,323 prospective female agents completed the DFS training.
  • Incentivised 110,750 female-owned micro-enterprises to open digital payment options including e-wallets, prepaid cards, etc. to repay their loans to MFIs.
  • Provided almost 500,000 poor women with improved awareness, trust, understanding, and use of DFS services through the Digital Financial Inclusion Program.
  • Partnered with several companies to improve productivity and decision-making powers of female workers. This was achieved through the provision of soft skills training (SST) to supervisors of female workers in the ready-made garment and citrus sectors. Training included professional supervision, building effective relationships, on-the-job learning, and managing, motivating, and evaluating workers. In total, 1,719 female workers were found to have improved relationships with SST-trained supervisors, and more voice and choice within the workplace.
  • Institutionalized the SST program with the Federation for Economic Development Associations in Egypt.
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