Women Innovators Programme returns to the Mobile World Congress

March 17, 2023
Participant at the World Mobile Congress

Touring Samsung’s presence at the World Mobile Congress

Photo: Yasmin Gamal

The majority of STEM graduates in the Arab States are women. But while they may be smashing ceilings when it comes to education, women in the region are half as likely as men to be entrepreneurs and have the world’s lowest labour force participation rates. Add to that the digital divide: half of women continue to lack access to the internet or a mobile phone, preventing them from unlocking technology’s full potential. And yet, examples abound of how the digital age is bringing unprecedented opportunities to eliminate disparity and inequality.

By joining forces in 2021 with Four Years From Now (4YFN), GSMA’s start-up platform, UNDP created the Women Innovators Programme (WIP). Based on a mutual recognition of the need to invest – on a human level – in women who are leading the way in digital and social enterprise in the Arab States, the Programme connects entrepreneurs from the region with experienced mentors from 4YFN’s global networks. In its first two rounds, WIP has provided more than 500 hours of one-to-one mentorship to women from 16 countries. Learn more about the programme, and apply to take part in WIP 2023 (as a mentor or mentee).

Participating start-ups offer digital-based solutions in areas including education, health, finance, cultural heritage, agriculture, disability inclusion, and more. With UNDP’s support, a number of them attend the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona each year. At the event, start-ups, investors and companies connect and discuss how entrepreneurs and their ecosystems can build a more humane technological playing field to solve society’s current and upcoming challenges.

Building on the success of our all-women delegation to the Congress in 2022, 11 entrepreneurs participated in MWC23, from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. They were accompanied by UNDP teams from the Arab States who are supporting entrepreneurship and digital transformation programmes, often in partnership with telecommunications operators and other private sector partners on the ground.

With over 88,500 attendees from 202 countries and territories, MWC23 offered an overwhelming opportunity to seed new partnerships with individual changemakers, technology giants, and the mobile industry. The group dove right in, navigating the event with excitement, energy, and with fingers always on the pulse.

“Your network is your net worth”


Participants pose for a group photo

Meeting with mentors and supporters of the Women Innovators Programme

Photo: GSMA

Experienced mentors are a backbone of the Women Innovators Programme, bringing fresh motivation, confidence, and ideas to their conversations with the innovators. But mentorship is a two-way street: mentees are equally a source of inspiration for their mentors. A highlight of the week was the opportunity to meet with mentors and other supporters of the Women Innovators Programme. Visionaries like Cecilia MoSze Tham, a future synthesist who moderated the first “interspecies panel” at MWC - meaning a conversation with Herbie Aureum, an autonomous plant that is one of her artefacts from the future! Or Thais Glod, a leader in driving women’s entrepreneurship. Or Daniele Tricarico, a tech for development specialist working at GSMA. And many more!

The group also connected with like-minded entrepreneurs based in Barcelona, with the kind support of the Princess of Girona Foundation and the Digital Policy Directorate of the Government of Catalonia.

Learning about the latest industry trends


Participants pose for a group photo

The partnership between UNDP and Samsung has produced new initiatives like the Samsung Global Goals App and Generation17.

Photo: Samsung

In 2019, UNDP and Samsung announced their global partnership. This digital alliance enabled new initiatives like the Samsung Global Goals (SGG) App and Generation17. The SGG application, developed with UNDP, is installed on over 300 million Galaxy devices globally, including smartphones, tablets and smartwatches. The application defines each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, showing users how they can take small actions towards achieving the SDGs. Additionally, Samsung and UNDP have also established Generation17, a flagship initiative that supports young leaders aged 18 to 32 dedicated to innovating for humanity and mobilizing global communities. As part of Generation17, 14 global young leaders are getting communication, speaking, mentorship and networking opportunities to amplify their impact and work across their regions. From the Arab States, Nadine Khaouli is representing Lebanon since 2021.

MWC is the place to be for the latest industry trends from giants like Samsung, a key UNDP partner. Through this growing partnership, that has recently announced a new contribution, the Women Innovators Program participants, and the entire UNDP delegation, joined together for a VIP tour of Samsung’s booth at MWC.

Group photo of participants at World Mobile Congress

Participants in the the Women Innovators Programme attend the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Photo: Roxani Roushas

Read the full story covering the week at the MWC conference on UNDP in the Arab States website.

This article was co-authored by UNDP staff from HQ, the Regional Innovation Team in the Arab States, and Country Offices in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

The theme of the 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women is “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. UNDP is proud to support women leaders in innovation and technological change through initiatives like the Women Innovators Programme. Learn more about UNDP’s work on bridging the gaps.