Village Capital

Finance Forward MENA 2020


Finance Forward Partners

About the Program

Village Capital and MetLife Foundation are launching an investment readiness program for Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Turkey-based startups that are using tech to help low-income individuals and families manage their day-to-day finances, build short- and long-term savings and wealth. The accelerator is a collaboration between Village Capital, MetLife Foundation, and PayPal. We’re encouraging applications from entrepreneurs building high-growth, scalable solutions focused on the following regional challenges:

Gender inequality. The World Bank reports that 1.2 billion adults have secured a bank account since 2011. While there has been considerable improvement in global financial inclusion, this progress has not developed in all regions and sections of society proportionally. Of the 380 million people living in the Middle East and North Africa, 52% of men and only 35% of women have an account with a financial institution or mobile money provider, resulting in the region having the world’s largest gender gap, and some of the world’s largest unbanked populations. Women’s labor force participation in the region is also the lowest in the world, negatively affecting women’s economic security.

Youth Unemployment. 60% of the population in MENA is under 25 years old, and the region suffers from the highest rate of youth unemployment in the world, meaning that by 2025, an additional 20 million jobs need to be created in order to stabilize youth unemployment. A lack of stable income-generating opportunities also make it difficult to build financial health, buy or rent a home, save, and build wealth - all of which are key enablers to economic mobility.

Access to finance for MSMEs. Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) account for 96% of registered companies and about half of employment in the region, yet only receive 7% of total bank lending - the lowest in the world. An International Monetary Fund report shows that there is considerable opportunity to increase SME access to finance in the region, and doing so will result in greater financial inclusion regionally.

Digital Identity. Displacement patterns in the MENA region have become increasingly more complex, with many populations having been uprooted and displaced over multiple borders. The per-capita refugee populations of Lebanon and Jordan have become three to six times greater than any other country in the world, and many people throughout the region are living without the basic identification needed for access to fundamental services. 

The COVID-19 pandemic will have an unprecedented effect on the financial health of many in MENA, with low-income groups and small businesses heavily impacted. Applications for Finance Forward MENA 2020 are open to companies developing relevant products in response to the crisis.

Entrepreneurs will benefit from Village Capital’s award-winning curriculum, intensive feedback from their peers, and connections and one-on-one mentorship with potential customers, investors, industry experts, and MetLife employees. Village Capital will cover the costs associated with travel and two participating startups will be selected by their peers to each receive a MetLife Foundation Social Entrepreneurship Grant of $70,000 (USD).


We aim to recruit a diverse cohort of startups that are targeting underserved populations (such as low and middle income consumers), that are located outside of major tech hubs, and that have diverse management teams.

Overall factors we consider:

• Focus on addressing inequity: Solutions supporting communities facing financial health inequities based on race, age, gender, geographic location, income level. 

• Focus on non-”HENRYs”: Solutions primarily focused on low-to-moderate income communities as end beneficiaries, as opposed to “HENRYs”.

• Focus on agency: Solutions that empower users with agency over their financial decisions.

• Cultural and behavioral sensitivity: Solutions that use a creative, cultural, and behavioral lens.

Eligible startups must have:

• For-profit market-based solution that tackles a financial health challenge for low-to-moderate income communities in MENA or Turkey

• Operations in or have the ability to expand business to the MENA or Turkish market

• Have a minimum viable product (MVP), and raised less than $1M in equity

• Have at least one full-time founder based in the MENA or Turkey

• Have meaningful customer or business validation (not limited to revenue, can also be successful pilot studies, number of users, and/or strategic partnerships)


• Top two (2) peer selected startups will receive a MetLife Foundation Social Entrepreneurship Grant of $70,000 (USD)

• Ability to network and receive mentorship from potential strategic partners, customers, and founders

• Ability to network and receive mentorship from MENA and Turkey-based investors

• Diverse and inclusive network of mentors and founders within financial health and fintech

• Startups will receive a stipend for one (1) founder/C-suite member to travel to selected emerging fintech cities in MENA and Turkey for workshops

• 10-12 days of interactive workshops tailored to help your company identify early milestones and prepare for your next round of capital (if relevant)

• Access to an investment analyst who will coach you 1:1 on building a financial model, identifying unit economics, and on using financial metrics to drive both the business and investor diligence

• Participate in mock board meetings with representatives from financial institutions, corporates, fintechs, and investors that can help your organization scale

• Exposure on Village Capital’s program website and other communications collateral

Program Timeline

Applications open

March 18, 2020

Apply on this page

Applications close

May 31, 2020

Apply by 23.59 EST

Cohort Confirmed

July 2020

Participating ventures will be confirmed and displayed on this page

Workshop 1

August 9-12, 2020

Cairo, Egypt

Workshop 2

September 14-17, 2020

Istanbul, Turkey

Workshop 3

October 11-14, 2020

Dubai, UAE

Please note that Village Capital is carefully monitoring the current global health situation and will modify the timings or format of the workshops if needed. At this time we encourage all interested companies to complete their application regardless of the potential for future travel restrictions.


• What is the main goal of the program? The program is designed to help startups identify early milestones and prepare for their next round of capital (if relevant). In short, through in-person workshops, we deliver a targeted, award-winning curriculum and provide countless connections to prepare startups for growth. 

• Do you require us to move to the cities of the program? No. We require one founder/C-suite member to travel to the cities where the workshops will be held, only for the length of each workshop. We require that the same founder/C-suite member participates in both workshops. One additional team member is welcome to join the workshops. Startups are eligible to receive a stipend for one (1) founder/C-suite member to travel to the workshops.

• Do you take equity in your programs? No. Village Capital is structured as a non-profit and cannot take equity.

Eligibility criteria may be relaxed for entrepreneurs who are pivoting to develop products relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please reach out to with any further questions.

Advisory Board