Women in tech: Myriam Awad talks about solving retail challenges using tech

Onyinye Okonkwo
*The gap Myriam Awad spotted in the sector bordered structure, data, and digitisation, making it difficult for businesses and retailers in the informal sector to run their business…
Myriam Awad Sabi GM

Myriam Awad had spent her entire career working in the FMCG industry, specifically in markets dominated by the informal sector across the Middle East and Africa. Her roles across category management focused on developing strategies, products, pricing, marketing & sales agendas along with competitive overviews and P&L management.

In the course of working in one of the many multinational companies she has worked with, she spotted a significant gap in the industry, especially in the FMCG informal sector. 

In this week’s women in tech, we speak to Myriam Awad, General Manager and Head, Commercial Planning, Sabi, in this region and she told us how spotting a gap in a sector she has worked in for so long inspired her pivot to tech. 

The beginning

Myriam Awad has a degree in finance from the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon. After graduation, she joined Proctor & Gamble as a customer business development section manager for Egypt and Lebanon where she led the development of different sizes of retailers across the board.

Myriam Awad Gm Sabi
Myriam Awad, GM Sabi

After her stint at Proctor and Gamble, she joined Cadbury where she worked as a category manager across different categories, a role that entailed strategy planning, commercial planning, P&L management, pricing, competitive overviews etc. She also led various markets in Africa, Middle-east and Pakistan. 

First stint with Bakala

With her vast experience working in the FMCG sector, Myriam was able to spot a significant gap in the distribution space for retail customers specifically in the informal sector. And, this was how her entrepreneurial journey started.

I founded my startup Bakala to digitise the informal sector in Lebanon very similar strategy to what Sabi is doing. We created different models across three years, pivoted a couple of times, and then graduated with 300 retailers, a successful and viable model and a technology that runs across data management, software and a mobile application. 

She adds, “I exited Bakala and joined Sabi as the General Manager of Ecosystem at Sabi- Africa’s largest B2B company platforming informal trade where I head commercial planning for four different verticals, FMCG, healthcare, agriculture and consumer electronics.”

The gap Myriam spotted in the sector bordered structure, data, and digitisation, making it difficult for businesses and retailers in the informal sector to run their business, scale efficiently, reach a higher number of merchants and maximise their profitability. She realised that tech could help change how things are done in that sector and provide solutions across the board.

Experience as a woman in tech

While Myriam Awad doesn’t have any challenges specific to women in tech, she knows and understands the challenges that tech entrepreneurs face and she speaks about that. 

In my role as an entrepreneur when I had my own startup, I used to face difficulties with fundraising because I was a female entrepreneur. I found that women were less likely to be approached for fundraising because they received less visibility.

“But to be fair, the VCs in Africa and the Middle East are working hard to create funds specifically for women. Overall, I know that there is a lot of work being done to encourage women in tech.”

Speaking on other aspects apart from funding, Myriam believes that “there are a lot of opportunities for women to work within tech companies, and these companies need to have it as part of their HR strategy to recruit women into their companies and have a fair gender representation.

“Working as a woman in tech in markets like Africa and the Middle-east is different because the gender representation in these regions is lagging and tech needs to be at the forefront of pushing this agenda for female inclusion in the space. 

In conversation with Myriam Awad - Sabi

“Universities also have a role to play in the orientation of female students into more tech-related courses. I don’t think the barrier to entry is an issue if the right strategy for recruitment is put in place in companies, and we are active in communities encouraging female students to take the right courses in school to equip them to occupy the right positions in companies.”

Bridging the gap with Sabi

Myriam Awad explains the challenges facing the informal sector and what Sabi is doing to bridge the gap. 

“One of the issues retailers face with the informal sector is the unavailability of proper access to feasible pricing, assortment, fulfilment logistics, etc. What they currently do to get goods to their shop is a cumbersome process. They go to the market, visit wholesalers, and compare prices; a process which is stressful and time-consuming.”

As you know, a retailer has to close down his shop to go get the goods, transport them back and sell. This is the solution we provide at Sabi. We save them the stress and reduce the burden of going through all that process. We give assortment, pricing, and fulfilment. We enable a quicker, more efficient way of ordering whatever a retailer needs to cater to clients.

Myriam Awad

Shedding more light on the Sabi solution, Myriam shares the competitive advantage they offer users. She said:

“We give retailers the choice to choose what goods to buy from different distributors and compare prices with that of other distributors on the platform. We offer our users better prices for goods than what is available in the market. If this was not so, the retailers will not continue to buy through our platform because they are the ones in the market and know the prices of goods.

“Beyond that, we empower and support our distributors to meet their targets. We support them with financing, a commitment to a certain number of sales that allows them to foresee what they will be able to make in sales. So we see them as our partners, not just a number on the app.“

What about profit?

Myriam reveals that they operate a commission-based model.

We take a cut. For example, what the distributor sells on our platform, we add a commission percentage to it and sell to the retailer and they are fine with it because it’s like they are paying for transport for the services we are offering to them.

Myriam Awad

As long as acceptability for the Sabi solution is concerned, Myriam believes that her team is providing a critically needed solution that has scaled beyond the acceptability mark. She told m that acceptability is no longer a concern. The focus is on ensuring that customers have a great experience.

“Now, we are focused on creating the right customer experience for the customers and growing our customer base accordingly. It is really about ensuring that we give them the right experience to make them remain with us and fast track our acquisition plan and our reach plan according. We are not having difficulties penetrating the market or any segment of the value chain, it is something we are doing and doing successfully”, she explains. 

Advice for women in tech

Find a problem you want to solve and solve it for the right audience, be able to sell your story, be able to convince the right people to invest in you and the sky is the limit. Partner with the right people and have the right network of advisers and you would have yourself a winning value proposition.

Myriam Awad

She adds that whatever the challenges are, the chances for women are still unlimited. According to her:

“Women are more understanding and empathetic when solving problems. so I would expect more women in tech very soon if they are enabled properly. If you are a woman interested in tech; pursue it, find the real problems, understand them, solve them, get real support and you are on track to creating a success story for yourself.” 

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