Company: Pi Slice
Entrepreneur: Genny Ghanimeh
Country: United Arab Emirates
Established in: March 2013
Many entrepreneurs can be accused of starting with their heads in the clouds, but few do so literally. In 2010 while Genny Ghanimeh was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, her guide admitted to making the climb to pay for his daughter’s education. “I was surprised he did it six times a year, but he told me he had to do it.” The climb being no small feat, Ghanimeh was inspired and set on a course to make finance more accessible in places where it was lacking. She joined the entrepreneurial clan in Dubai in March 2013 when she launched Pi Slice, a crowdlending platform for micro-finance entrepreneurs in the Middle East.
Ghanimeh identified a gap in microfinance in the MENA region, where out of the six million households identified by microfinance institutions (MFIs) as eligible for loans, there are three million who remain in need of funding, according to Ghanimeh’s research in the sector. Assuming the average micro loan is roughly $1,200 the funding gap according to her research stands at $3.6 billion. This is exacerbated by the region’s poor standing for its microfinance environment. According to a 2013 study by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, the microfinance business environment in the Middle East and North Africa has improved little in recent years.
Microfinance meets CSR
Ghanimeh partnered with several major microfinance institutions around the region in Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, as well as with MicroWorld, a microcredit organization which is part of Paris-based PlaNet Finance, one of the largest NGOs for microfinance in the world. These MFIs opened up their portfolios of micro-entrepreneurs to the application, and users browsing PiSlice’s website from around the world can make a contribution to finance a portion of a specific loan’s total amount. Pi Slice plans to expand its coverage to include Iraq soon as well.
“I created a model where I bridge all of this to the private sector,” explained Ghanimeh. To attract more lenders, she approached large corporations and encouraged them to direct their policies of corporate social responsibility (CSR) towards microlending. “So I go to big corporates with big employees. I design a page branded with their logo, and the countries on which they want to focus.” Both employees and corporates can lend, and a system of dollar-to-dollar matching encourages lending. Companies are given an incentive to participate with a page on Pi Slice’s website tracking their loans.
On March 2nd, Pi Slice announced its partnership with Stanton Chase Middle East, a branch of the global headhunting and consulting firm. Stanton has subsequently launched its own lending page through PiSlice as part of their CSR initiative.
With an average ticket size of $1,500 dollars, Pi Slice aims to create 5,000 jobs for microentrepreneurs by the middle of 2015.
Though CSR has its critics and has not helped confidence in business which is still below 55 percent in many countries according to McKinsey&Company, CSR is nevertheless seen as a must for any serious company. Ghanimeh believes that CSR still has room to grow in the region, and is actively campaigning to promote it as an avenue for businesses to engage with their communities while still witnessing tangible benefits. She has spoken on the topic at institutions such as the London Business School and at events such as the recent CSR Summit in Jeddah.
Taking a slice
Pi Slice takes a commission fee of 5 percent off the transaction. Though Ghanimeh claims that the companies that have signed on were willing to pay the fee, they decided to waive it for the first year in order to focus on building traction. “When you’re doing a social business, (it’s) different that doing a regular business. It should not be focused on revenues, at least in the first phase.” She is confident that as corporate leaders see more stories of companies reaping the benefits of successful CSR campaigns, more will be attracted to their services. “Of course because this is something new. As people see case studies, we will have more enrollment from the private sector.”
The World Bank estimates that to deal with unemployment in the MENA region, a whopping 85 million additional jobs need to be created in the next decade. Microfinance has to date played an important role in financial inclusion and job creation. By diversifying the sources of microlenders, both by type by encouraging corporates to sign on and by scope as the online platform opens up the lending process to anyone with internet, Pi Slice has the potential to make a mark on MENA microentrepreneurship.