It’s not just chicken feed
Day 2: G8 Deauville Partnership Supporting Countries in Transition: Arab Women in Business Conference the participants attended different break-out sessions on various topics including financial and legal services.
The goal of this session was to facilitate opportunities for partnerships. This session brought together UK and Arab women from banking and financial institutions, trade associations, businesses, government and social enterprise. Key topics were how to access credit for Arab women-owned start-ups and SMEs, dealing with tariffs and taxes, the rule of law and integrity and how to connect with potential commercial partners in the G8. The short term deliverables could be knowledge transfer and joint business development in each other’s markets for trade and services.
‘I have excellent credit, repay all my previous loans of up to $100,000 US and still I cannot get the banks to lend me for working capital and expansion’ the Yemeni entrepreneur told Lisette Mermod, Managing Director, Risk Reward Ltd following her presentation on ways for Arab women in business to make connections with UK women in banking and finance to leverage their growth. ‘I took over the business from my father when he could not manage any longer,’ she continued. ‘It is profitable and well-established over many years with many customers. What can the G8 Deauville Partnership do for me and others like me, when we are in a country like Yemen with high political risk?’
‘Trying to get funding from the bank should be the last resort, not the first,’ offered former CEO, HSBC Qatar, Matthew Smith, now the Secretary General of the Middle East Association, UK. ‘The banks are now burdened with increased capital requirements so lending to SMEs is difficult for them.’
‘There are funding vehicles beyond the traditional bank lending these days such as crowd funding and private equity not readily known to the Arab world,’ added Mermod. ‘Consider our Corporate Social Responsibility project for worldwide women in banking and finance, W3BF.com and as a result of this Conference we will be adding a link to a crowd funding portal we support. Please give us a few days and then consider applying either through your business women’s trade association or directly.’
‘Also, we happen to be working with a client who is seeking funds to increase his chicken farm business across Africa – this could be a good supply chain connection,’ Mermod added. ‘This is a great example of how making connections with the UK financial services community and in particular the City of London, with what I call its Global Pathways, all its contacts, depth of experts, all manner of financial products and services which can be leveraged to help your business. And you can be sure that G8 countries are keen to do business in emerging markets.’
During the Q&A session an Arab businesswoman in the audience raised her hand. ‘I am an Asset Manager and have a problem. I have a woman client who was trying to do a 10 million pound deal with a UK company and I was too embarrassed to ask her the questions about how she got her money, which was what I was told I had to do by the UK side as part of anti-money laundering rules. It is just not fair to ask such a question as it was too uncomfortable.’ ‘This is quite understandable, as in our culture these kinds of questions are very difficult to ask,’ responded the young female Saudi solicitor from DLA Piper‘s Riyadh office. ‘The reason this is required is to protect you from future possible liabilities if the source of the funds becomes an issue. It is just something you cannot change, I am afraid.’
Mermod offered guidance for those keen to partner and trade with the G8 UK: ‘There are tools you can use such as Cherie Blair’s Foundation for business mentoring mentioned yesterday, and to prepare yourself for international trade get trained to a UK professional qualification available from the British Council or W3bf.com. According to the Dubai Businesswomen’s Association report in 2009-2011 less than 19% of women surveyed said they were seeking finance in the short term to expand their businesses internationally. Why? Training will give you mastery of valuable internationally respected, recognised standards and will serve as a lingua franca facilitating your expansion into international trade.’
‘If you are looking for partnerships and collaborations with UK companies one of the best ways is to reach out to the Commercial Trade Advisor at the UK Trade and Invest team in your country and tell them what you are looking for. They are very good and keen to help introduce you to UK businesses, so connecting with interested firms will be relatively quick and easy.’
Following the applause and enthusiastic exchange of business cards among the panellists and participants the group headed down for lunch in the Main Hall of Lancaster House. Descending the grand staircase comments overheard included the what about the ‘elephant in the room’ or Islamic banking and finance, and the speculation as to which Arab woman would be the first to corner the market by starting-up a driving school for women in Saudi Arabia.