Microfinance player Pi Slice plans growth in GCC, North Africa

By July, microlending platform hopes to serve entrepreneurs in six MENA countries, including existing loans in Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan

Dubai-based microfinance website Pi Slice will add three new countries to its roster this year, so budding entrepreneurs in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia can access small-scale funds to start a business.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA)-focused crowdfunding site allows individuals and corporations to lend small amounts of money to micro-entrepreneurs in the region. By July, the platform will serve six MENA countries, including existing loans in Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan.

“In the whole Middle East microfinance loans average around $1,500,” Pi Slice CEO, Genny Ghanimeh, told Philanthropy Age. “And women [entrepreneurs] get more money than men, believe it or not.”

Unemployment remains stubbornly high across the region, from as much as 40 per cent in Tunisia to an average of 22 per cent among young men in the MENA 7 (Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen), according to the World Bank.

Starting an enterprise is often the best way for families to meet their basic needs. Yet, access to finance is one of the biggest barriers, particularly for poorer households whose income is not sufficient to secure a commercial loan from a bank, for example. There is a gap of some 3 million potential microfinance customers in need of funding across the region, according to Pi Slice estimates.

Pi Slice is one of the semi-finalists in the upcoming MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab Startup competition, taking place on 20 April in Kuwait. The platform is in the running for one of three $10,000 prizes in the social entrepreneurship track.

The platform will also introduce Islamic finance products and an Arabic version of the site by mid-2015 to boost uptake among the growing number of Saudi individuals interested in contributing through crowdfunding. The Musharakah products give investors equity in the business.

“The biggest lenders on the platform today are Saudi individuals,” says Ghanimeh. “If we succeed we’ll be the first micro-lending, Sharia compliant platform in the world.”

Pi Slice has helped raise around $250,000 since 2012 for 200 micro-entrepreneurs starting businesses such as a bakery, beauty salon or food store.

With crowdfunding infrastructure in MENA in its infancy, the platform partners with businesses in the Gulf to encourage their employees and social media followers to offer loans, typically repaid over the course of one year. The MENA to MENA platform channels the money to local microfinance institutions, which distribute and manage the loans.

The platform hopes to partner with around 25 corporates from the GCC and Lebanon by the end of the year, up from six currently.

Photo credit: Pi Slice