In Egypt, lending apps boost cash-strapped women business owners

In Egypt, lending apps boost cash-strapped women business owners
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Updated 30 December 2021

In Egypt, lending apps boost cash-strapped women business owners

In Egypt, lending apps boost cash-strapped women business owners
  • While gameyas were long organised informally and offline, they are now being offered through apps in a tech transformation

Nagat Mohamed was in dire straits. After sales at her clothes shop in Egypt's Nile Delta plummeted, she took out a loan from a microfinance company to keep the business going – but did not earn enough to pay that back either.

To escape default, the 43-year-old entrepreneur turned to a traditional money-lending system known as a 'gameya' — revived with a 21st-century twist as an app.

"It was a real lifesaver," Mohamed told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over the phone.

A gameya is a type of community savings pool which also functions as a peer-to-peer loan system.

Members deposit a fixed, equal amount of money into a joint pot every month. At the end of each month, one person is awarded the full amount until everyone has had their turn.

While gameyas were long organised informally and offline, they are now being offered through apps in a tech transformation that is revolutionising financing for Egypt's cash-strapped female entrepreneurs.

One in five Egyptian workers are women, according to the World Bank, many of whom run their own small businesses or home-based initiatives.

That makes it hard to get a loan from banks, which require documentation proving a fixed salary or ownership of a shop.

Microlenders, meanwhile, typically impose exorbitant interest rates of up to 40 percent.

Many online gameyas have no interest rates, and registration requirements are minimal: just uploading an ID, signing a contract in person, and providing monthly income statements.

The apps also let members pay a fee to be among the first in line for a payout, thus letting them settle old debts quickly and avoid taking on new loans with onerous interest rates.

Mohamed turned to an online app called MoneyFellows to help her repay the 15,000 Egyptian pounds ($954) that she owed the microfinance company for her shop.

"Two months ago, I finally paid my loan. I'm joining another money circle to grow my business and fund my daughter's marriage," the mother of three said.

Many of Egypt's women entrepreneurs turned to the gameya model during the pandemic, which hit small enterprises hard.

Three-quarters reported a drop in business in 2020, and 9 percent had to shut down completely, according to a survey by Egypt's Ministry of Planning.

"People are showing growing interest in online savings systems because they are simple, easy to use and come with meagre interest rates," said Ahmed Wadi, the chief executive and founder of MoneyFellows.

The number of women entrepreneurs using the app has risen from about 20,000 before the pandemic to some 150,000, representing about 6 percent of its 2.5 million users.

On average, they took out loans of 12,000 pounds.

Women make up one in three users of another app, ElGameya, typically seeking loans of about 15,000 pounds.

"There was an already existing need for our business," its founder Ahmed Mahmoud Abdeen said.

"Women were already joining offline gameya apps or borrowing from their friends and families to pay their loans or grow their business. We only made life easier for them."

Part of the appeal is the flexibility.

If ElGameya's borrowers want to get their payout within the first four months of the lending circle, they pay a monthly interest rate of up to 9 percent. But if they accept a longer wait, the interest fees are waived.

Amal Abdel Aty, who owns a home utensils shop in the Nile Delta city of El Mahalla El Kubra, said she had been forced to borrow from her friends and sell some of her possessions to meet repayments on two loans she took from microfinance companies.

Her first loan was worth 10,000 pounds at an interest rate of 24 p ercentover 18 months. When she could not pay it, she took out another 10,000-pound loan.

Three months ago, she joined a 12,000-pound lending circle at ElGameya and has already been awarded the full pot, allowing her to pay back the first microfinance loan.

REVIVING OLD SYSTEMS

Gameya loan apps are not regulated, but the central bank is working on a system of authorisation.

The money-lending circles have a long history of boosting access to finances for marginalised communities, particularly in urban areas, according to Yomna El Hamaki, a professor of economics at Ain Shams University.

There is also a religious element.

"In a Muslim society like Egypt, people usually prefer to register for gameyas rather than go to the banks or other financial institutions which offer loans at interest rates that are considered forbidden by many Muslims," El Hamaki said.

And with economies squeezed by the pandemic, they have become an online lifeline for Egypt's budding women business leaders.

"These apps are a buffer for many who got their financials adversely affected by the pandemic," she said.


Global alliance on green economy launched in Dubai

Global alliance on green economy launched in Dubai
Updated 03 October 2022

Global alliance on green economy launched in Dubai

Global alliance on green economy launched in Dubai
  • UAE’s Economy Ministry was setting up shop inside the immersive virtual world

DUBAI: A “Global Alliance on Green Economy” was launched at the 8th World Green Economy Summit, which concluded in Dubai.

The summit was held under the theme “Climate action leadership through collaboration: The roadmap to net-zero.” A large number of ministers, experts, decision-makers, officials, representatives of institutions, and the academic community from around the world took part in the summit.

The alliance aims to build a coalition of countries, prioritizing a green economy in the context of climate action and sustainable development, to enhance the capacity of developing countries, provide support for their green economy transition projects and exchange knowledge on implementation.

“If we want to fast-track our transition to a green economy, we must all work together, and to do so, we need one platform with one common objective. The UAE Global Alliance on Green Economy seeks to provide such a platform,” said Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE minister of climate change and environment.

Bet on tech

The UAE, which already boasts the world’s tallest skyscraper and has launched a bold Mars mission, now hopes to become a pioneer in the depths of the metaverse.

In a project launched at Dubai’s gleaming Museum of the Future, it announced that the UAE’s Economy Ministry was setting up shop inside the immersive virtual world that is now taking shape. 

If we want to fast-track our transition to a green economy, we must all work together.

Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE minister of climate change and environment

Those who don their virtual reality goggles or use other means to venture within will find a ministry open for business with companies and even ready to sign bilateral agreements with foreign governments, officials said.

The metaverse is an online world where users will eventually be able to game, work and study, its proponents say — although it is still in a “test” phase, the UAE’s economy minister conceded.

Abdulla bin Touq Al-Marri was speaking at the inaugural Dubai Metaverse Assembly, held at the museum whose innovative ring shape decorated with Arabic calligraphy flanks the city’s main thoroughfare.

Representatives of tech giants mingled with entrepreneurs and developers exploring the potential of the metaverse, a network of digital spaces intended as an extension of the physical world.

DFM adopts new methodology

Dubai Financial Market said on Monday it planned to adopt a new methodology for its main equities indices, which will come into effect in the fourth quarter, according to Reuters.

The Dubai bourse’s general index, Shariah index and sector indices, will be calculated by S&P Dow Jones Indices, it said in a statement.

A key improvement among the changes is a limit on the weighting of a listed company to 10 percent from 20 percent, which should result in a larger representation of companies on the DFM’s benchmarks, it said.

The Dubai bourse said the index calculation will be based on actual free float adjusted market capitalization, and that the indices will be rebalanced on a quarterly basis, from semi-annually currently.

The bourse plans to align its sectors with an industry classification standard which is followed by institutional clients, it said.

DFM will have seven sectors: Financials, industrials, real estate, utilities, communication services, materials and consumer staples.

The bourse has invited market participants for consultations on the index methodology ahead of possible changes, with the revised indexes to be launched in Q4, it said.


Egyptian pound weakens the most in four months

Egyptian pound weakens the most in four months
Updated 03 October 2022

Egyptian pound weakens the most in four months

Egyptian pound weakens the most in four months
  • Foreign currency has dried up in Egypt over the last six months, forcing banks and importers to scramble to find dollars to pay for imports and putting pressure on the central bank to let its value weaken

CAIRO: Egypt weakened its currency on Monday by the most in more than four months, with the Egyptian pound falling by more than 0.10 pounds to the dollar, according to Refinitiv data.

The pound was trading at 19.62 to the dollar at 1337 GMT, down from 19.49 at the open.

Foreign currency has dried up in Egypt over the last six months, forcing banks and importers to scramble to find dollars to pay for imports and putting pressure on the central bank to let its value weaken.

Dollars have disappeared in part because of the higher cost of imported commodities, a drop in Russian and Ukrainian tourists and a flight of dollars from Egyptian treasury markets.

The last time the central bank allowed the currency to weaken so quickly was from May 22 to May 25, when it fell by 0.34 pounds against the dollar in three days.

The pound weakened to a record low on Dec. 21, 2016, when it traded at 19.80 pounds per dollar during intraday trade, according to Refinitiv. But in subsequent years it rebounded.

Egypt since March has been negotiating a financial support package from the IMF, which has long been urging it to allow greater exchange rate variability.


Oil jumps $3 as OPEC+ weighs biggest output cut since 2020

Oil jumps $3 as OPEC+ weighs biggest output cut since 2020
Updated 03 October 2022

Oil jumps $3 as OPEC+ weighs biggest output cut since 2020

Oil jumps $3 as OPEC+ weighs biggest output cut since 2020

RIYADH: Oil prices jumped $3 a barrel on Monday as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, known as OPEC+, considered reducing output by more than 1 million barrels per day to buttress prices with what would be its biggest cut since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brent crude futures for December delivery rose $2.99 to $88.13 a barrel, a 3.5 percent gain, by 12:50 p.m. ET (1650 GMT). US West Texas Intermediate crude rose $3.33, or 4.2 percent, to $82.82 a barrel.

Citing OPEC+ sources, Reuters reported that the organization is planning an output cut of more than 1 million bpd ahead of its meeting in Vienna on Oct.05 to decide on the next phase of the production policy. 

It should be also noted that the upcoming meeting on Wednesday will be the first in-person meeting of OPEC ministers since 2020, which clearly indicates its significance. 

If the meeting agrees to the output cut, it will be the organization’s second consecutive monthly cut after reducing output by 100,000 bpd last month.

“If OPEC+ does decide to cut output in the near term, the resultant increase in OPEC+ spare capacity will likely put more downward pressure on long-dated prices,” energy consultancy FGE said in a note, as reported by Reuters. 

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs, on Sept. 28 had cut its 2023 oil price forecast due to expectations of weaker demand and a stronger US dollar. 

Analysts at Goldman Sachs now see Brent crude averaging $100 a barrel from October to December and $108 a barrel in 2023, down from the previous prediction of $125 for both time periods. 

Post the Ukraine conflict, oil prices had rallied to over $120 a barrel, as the western allies led by the US and EU weaned themselves from Russian oil imports. 

Oil prices, however, have been tumbling since July, as the pandemic lockdown in China negatively impacted the demand, along with a surging US dollar weighed on global financial markets. 

Goldman Sachs said a production cut under consideration by OPEC+ was justified by the sharp decline in oil prices from recent highs and supported its bullish view.

“We reiterate both our bullish oil view as well as our preference for long crude timespread positions into year-end,” the bank’s commodities research division wrote in note on Monday.

Despite one of the tightest markets in recorded history, Goldman said the cut could be justified by the 40 percent decline in prices from their June peak and enabled by the lack of supply elasticity, given slowing shale activity and exhausted spare capacity.

“The collapse in investor participation, driving liquidity and prices lower, is also a likely strong catalyst for such a cut, as it would increase the carry in oil and start to claw back investors who have instead turned to USD cash allocation following the aggressive Fed hikes.”


Strong growth primarily driven by economic reforms, says Saudi finance minister


Strong growth primarily driven by economic reforms, says Saudi finance minister

Updated 03 October 2022

Strong growth primarily driven by economic reforms, says Saudi finance minister


Strong growth primarily driven by economic reforms, says Saudi finance minister

  • Al-Jadaan lays emphasis on establishing a Gulf common market for the benefit of citizens

RIYADH: Leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council are keen to see the group achieve “the highest levels of economic integration,” said Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan.

He was speaking at the 117th Meeting of the GCC Financial and Economic Cooperation Committee in Riyadh on Monday. 

Al-Jadaan stressed the importance of establishing a Gulf common market for the benefit of the GCC citizens.

He said the economies of the GCC countries are not immune from the effects of the economic crises the world is going through but they tackle such issues by adopting a proactive approach. 

“Yes, we are benefiting from higher oil prices, but the strong growth we are seeing is primarily driven by the reforms we have implemented,” he said. 

The Saudi finance minister said the global economy is facing major headwinds, while the effects of the epidemic remain, supply chain issues persist, energy and food markets are in turmoil, with inflation rising to its highest levels in several years. 

He stressed the need for tightening monetary and financial conditions.

Saudi Arabia is expecting its budget surplus in 2022 to hit SR90 billion ($24 billion), and another SR9 billion next year, the Ministry of Finance announced last week.

Looking at the full year 2022 projections, the real gross domestic product is expected to grow by 8 percent, while the inflation in 2022 may record about 2.6 percent.


MENA Project Tracker — Egypt starts new gas project; Oman requests bids for port

MENA Project Tracker — Egypt starts new gas project; Oman requests bids for port
Updated 03 October 2022

MENA Project Tracker — Egypt starts new gas project; Oman requests bids for port

MENA Project Tracker — Egypt starts new gas project; Oman requests bids for port

RIYADH: The offshore arm of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. has received a commercial bid from a Saipem-led team on its $1 billion Umm Sheriff Gas Cap condensate development project, reported MEED.

ADNOC Offshore has single-sourced bids from the Italian-based consortium — which also includes China Petroleum Engineering & Construction Co.— to speed up the highly delayed engineering, procurement, and construction phase.

Egypt to begin work on a new gas project

Egypt’s Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek El-Molla has announced the approval of a project to connect the Raven offshore gas field to the El-Amriya onshore processing plant, reported MEED.

The project will include many different phases, and act as a link between the Raven field and the butane extraction plant, which is operated by the Egyptian Natural Gas Co.

After its completion, the butane plant will receive 100 million cubic feet a day of gas from the Raven field — reaching its maximum capacity, according to Gasco Chairman Yasser Salah El-Din.

Oman requesting bids on development of new port

Oman has requested bids for the development and operations of its Dhalkut Port in the Southern Dhofar Governorate as part of plans to grow its maritime trade, according to Zawya.  

The project will be tendered under a “develop, manage and operate” contract, where both local and foreign firms will be given a chance to bid.

The deadline for the project bids is Oct. 16.

“Bids must be submitted by local and international companies which have experience in port operation and management,” the statement said.