Google launches US$13 million worth of loans and grants to help MENA startups

Giving a boost to MENA’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Google has debuted a new initiative to help startups and SMEs recover from the repercussions brought on by the global pandemic. The Grow Stronger with Google program is designed to boost MENA’s economic recovery through digital transformation to support local businesses and job seekers by focusing on three main pillars: digital skills training and mentorship, digitizing businesses, and providing access to capital.

The tech giant will offer digital marketing training sessions in partnership with local organizations and entities. This includes the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and the Egyptian Tourism Federation in Egypt, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (Atta Digital) and the Ministry of Tourism in KSA, and NAMA Women Advancement Establishment, Dubai SME, Ajman University and the University of Sharjah in UAE. This will also be followed with virtual training sessions on advanced digital skills such as cloud computing in UAE. Google is also targeting to train 400,000 developers, with a focus on women, on advanced digital skills such as Flutter, AI and machine learning. Out of these, 140,000 will be from KSA.

This prospect comes at a fitting time as the COVID-19 crisis has showcased the significance of leveraging online opportunities. “The jobs market turmoil caused by the pandemic has made reskilling even more urgent,” comments Lino Cattaruzzi, Managing Director for Google in the Middle East and North Africa. “It’s now more important than ever to learn the skills that are required for the jobs of the future- whether it's general digital skills like online marketing or advanced skills like those covering Flutter and Machine Learning. Getting the right skills will help businesses bounce back stronger, and communities to accelerate their economic recovery more sustainably." 

The tech giant will disburse US$1.1 million worth of financial grants to entities like Mercy Corps, Arab Tourism Organization and Youth Business International, which are mentoring entrepreneurs across the region. It also launched Google for Startups Accelerator, and is welcoming MENA entrepreneurs and startups to apply for mentorship and training opportunities that will be held by experts from Google and its partners on digital marketing and strategies. Selection for the first cohort of 15 startups will be in November and will last for three months. Cattaruzzi notes that one-on-one mentorship opportunities like these is a crucial offering that can be complemented to the company's digital training offers.

When it comes to helping business digitize their ventures, Google aims to bring 100,000 local businesses in KSA online by having them listed on Google my Business and offer training on digital marketing, in partnership with Saudi Post. In UAE, the goal is to bring 50,000 entities online, in partnership with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Local businesses in UAE, KSA and Egypt can access the newly launched Market Finder, an AI-powered product by Google to help enterprises identify international business opportunities. This feature is also suited to work well with another initiative to give MENA retailers free access to list their products on the Google Shopping tab.

As part of its MENA-focused program, the tech giant is pledging $4 million in grants and loans, as well as $9 million in ad grants and credits for governments and businesses. To help provide access to capital, Google is offering $3 million in loans (out of which $2 million will go to Egypt) to support thousands of underserved small businesses in partnership with US-based microfinancing platform Kiva.