Interview with Leila Serhan: Senior Vice President & Group Country Manager – NALP, Visa

Leila Serhan, Senior Vice President & Group Country Manager – NALP, Visa

Leila holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the American University of Beirut.

1. What is Visa’s role in initiatives serving youth, women, and girls in Egypt? When did these initiatives start in Egypt?

As a global company, the work we do every day at Visa to support individuals, businesses and economies inspires me because we believe that economies that are inclusive advance all people everywhere. And at the heart of it all are women.

Visa is committed to fostering an environment that enables all women to thrive and challenge the status quo. This commitment is lived out in many ways, both inside and outside the workplace.

Internally, Visa signed the Equal Pay Pledge in 2016 to close the gender wage gap. Visa has also emphasised hiring diverse candidates from all walks of life, irrespective of age, gender, race, or religion.

We have formed partnerships outside of Visa to further encourage our D&I goals. This includes Visa’s She’s Next global initiative to empower female-owned small businesses and business leaders. Launched for the first time in Egypt, the initiative aims to offer female business owners in Egypt the coaching and tools necessary for the growth of women-led small businesses starting from networking, and mentoring to funding opportunities. The initiative was launched in partnership with the Commercial International Bank (CIB), one of Egypt’s leading private sector banks, and USAID.

In 2021, the Visa Foundation provided $250,000 in funding to support micro and small businesses in Egypt during COVID-19. This included grants to programs that provide training, support services, and access to capital to these types of businesses, with a gender-inclusive and diverse lens.

Visa also continue to inspire women worldwide, as evidenced by our global sponsorship of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Women’s Football Competitions and, most recently, Visa backing gymnast Simone Biles’s withdrawal from Tokyo Olympics events to focus on her mental health.

2. Talk to us about the results of the study Visa conducted around the challenges facing female entrepreneurs and how far it can help in overcoming these challenges in Egypt?

Women who own and manage businesses face a unique set of challenges including access to capital and peer networks as well as societal pressures.

As per a recent Visa survey on female entrepreneurs in Egypt, we identified some of the biggest challenges women entrepreneurs are facing each day.

• The majority of surveyed women – 69% – said that getting funding for their ventures had been a challenge, with 77% using their personal savings to start their businesses.

• Fifty-three (53%) also cited finding a business partner as a key challenge,

• Four in six women are concerned about the long-term success of their startups.

• 32% admitted that gender stereotypes have negatively affected their work as an entrepreneur, with 80% saying they felt that societal approval or disapproval played a role in their choice of career or business.

The same study revealed that being financially independent ranked as the top motivation when starting a business, followed by the desire to realize a dream, to achieve a balance between “home and work,” and to be a leader and responsible for the results of their business.

The areas women entrepreneurs in Egypt said they wanted to learn more about are how to better set goals for the profitability of their businesses, how to develop stronger strategies, and ways to survive the continuing impact of COVID-19.

Based on this, Visa introduced the She’s Next initiative to positively contribute to finding adequate solutions to these challenges via offering financial and mentoring support to the winners within our role in promoting financial inclusion.

3. How does Visa support the female small business owners partaking She’s Next initiative?

To support the Egyptian government’s ongoing efforts to economically elevate women entrepreneurs across the country, we launched Visa’s global She’s Next initiative for the first time in Egypt with our partners CIB and USAID.

The She’s Next initiative offers female business owners in Egypt a unique opportunity to apply for one of five $10,000 grants and receive a year of coaching from IFundWomen, as well as networking and mentoring opportunities to build, fund and grow their ventures.

Visa is committed to fostering an environment that enables all women to thrive and challenge the status quo. And with the launch of She’s Next in Egypt – we want to address the disproportionate barriers faced by women entrepreneurs and provide them with the right learning opportunities, how to set better goals for their businesses profitability, how to develop stronger strategies, and how to survive the lingering effects of COVID -19.

The expansion of the She’s Next program in Saudi Arabia builds on Visa’s commitment to digitally enable 50 million small businesses around the world to kickstart recovery from the COVID -19 pandemic. Since 2020, Visa has invested more than $2.2M in over 200 grants and coaching for women SMB owners globally through She’s Next, including in the US, Canada, India and Ireland.

4. What is your advice to women and girls?

Our recent Visa survey on female entrepreneurs, conducted across Egypt, Morocco, UAE and Saudi, revealed a very powerful statement which the majority of the respondents agreed to – “you should be brave if you are a woman opening a business.”

Having started out in a historically male-dominated industry (tech/fintech), I am familiar with some of the challenges which women have traditionally faced in the workplace. It is extremely important for women to be brave in order to not only overcome the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis, but to also be successful and thrive. And this truly resonates with me.

5. What are the initiatives/future projects you aim to achieve in Egypt?

For 2022 and beyond, Visa is committed to its role to support Egypt’s ambitions to develop a strong digital payments infrastructure to meet consumers’ expectations for frictionless and secure payments. As a trusted engine of commerce, we want to also help ensure all businesses, big and small, are well-equipped with simple and cost-effective solutions.

To achieve this, we have already introduced several initiatives and are working closely with banks, the government, and fintech partners to introduce innovative, frictionless, secure and rewarding solutions.

These include solutions such as “Click to Pay,” which help consumers make secure and fast online purchases from various merchants and platforms. We also plan to launch “Tap-to-Phone,” an innovative, low-cost mobile acceptance solution that can turn a merchant’s mobile phone into a payment terminal, enabling them to accept contactless payments easily and cost-effectively without POS.

We are also working with fintechs and recently launched our first Visa Everywhere Initiative (VEI) 2022, in partnership with the CBE’s Fintech Egypt, to enable and support more fintechs and startups to showcase their ground-breaking solutions that can help to solve the payment challenges of the future.

Visa has also partnered with fintechs such as Nexta and Klivvr to provide easy-to-implement payment solutions for small businesses.

To increase consumer trust in digital payments and promote safe online payment practices, Visa also launched a consumer education campaign in Egypt. Now in its second year, our Stay Secure campaign continues to be an important platform for Visa and our partners to help educate consumers about payment security and support merchants in meeting the increasing need for secure, seamless e-payments both in-store and online.

In the years to come, Visa will continue to roll out new programs and resources that advance its commitment to digitally empowering SMBs and supporting business resilience.

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