Arab Women Entrepreneurs Shaking Up the Region

Every year on Nov. 19, the United Nations along with 120 countries around the world officially celebrate and highlight female entrepreneurship for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day. While major disparities between men and women persist, in terms of pay, opportunities, and in some nations, the rights they are given, as Women’s Entrepreneurship Day comes around every year, more and more entrepreneurial women are emerging to the fore. While global change has been slow and criticized by the UN and others for being too “uneven and incremental”, what is certain is that change is happening, and the Arab world has been no stranger to this global push to economically empower women. Across the region, from Gulf nations that are undergoing drastic changes in recent years that enable women to enter the world of business independently to North African nations with emerging start-up scenes with women often at the forefront, the economies of the region are changing. With Arab women increasingly emerging as entrepreneurs pushing exciting new ideas and ways of doing business, we thought we’d highlight some Arab women entrepreneurs shaking up the region.

Ayah Bdeir

Via Inc.

With a Master’s engineering from MIT and an enduring love for Lego, Ayah Bdeir from Lebanon embarked on making a truly modern version of those beloved building blocks for the 21st century. As a way to introduce engineering and science in a fun way to the younger generations, Bdeir founded LittleBits. Using batteries, motors, magnets, speakers, buttons, microphones, and everything tech you can think of, LittleBits lets you piece together your own little inventions. From walking robots to light bulbs that turn on and off when you clap, the possibilities are endless. LittleBits, however, stands out from the competition as being educational and fun, inspiring thousands of children to pursue engineering. Bdeir did not just create a successful company, but a product that has a positive impact on the world, and is rightfully praised as an example to follow.

Yasmine El-Mehairy

Made by women and created for women, Supermama was launched as the Arab world’s first online hub for mothers to meet, discuss, and help each other in their lives. Supermama was founded in Egypt by Yasmine El-Mehairy in 2010 after she herself struggled to find accurate and up-to-date pregnancy advice for women in Arabic. Confused by the conflicting advice and often old and scientifically unsupported notions of what women should do in pregnancy, El-Mehairy launched the site not just as a space for women to discuss and share their advice, but as a place for health-care professionals to give their informed and supported opinions. As a sign of the impact, Supermama has had, up to 15% of the site’s visitors are said to be men as the site promotes both partners to be involved in the process of raising a child.

Reem & Natalya Kanj

The sister duo behind Ego & East are Reem Kanj and Natalya Kanj. Jumping on the surging interest and money revolving around the world of influencers, the two founded Ego & East as an influencers talent agency that helps young talents succeed in this emerging industry. Although originally from Lebanon, the two represent clients from around the region and the world and have founded a truly global company. The pair also recently announced to Entrepreneur Middle East that they were merging with another MENA-based and female-founded and run talent management agency called Maison Pyramide. With Masion Pyramide, focusing on consumer brands and PR, Kanj is set to use its expertise in talent management and the world of influencers to further exert its dominance on the scene.

Wafa Al Rimi

Via Medium

Being a successful entrepreneur is one thing, but doing this and making a positive impact on the world is a much harder task. Wafa Al Rimi is an entrepreneur who sticks out for making real and positive changes in the world to benefit us all. Faced with power outages in Yemen and the huge problem it present not just to people lighting their homes, but to hospitals that have to rely on diesel generators to keep life-saving equipment going, Al Rimi looked for a solution. At the age of 16, Al Rimi and a few others came up with the idea of Creative Generation, a non-profit that distributes solar panels. After winning several innovation awards and being praised as one of the region’s most exciting start-ups, the company has now gone on to provide solar panels and electricity to numerous hotels, offices, and other establishments throughout the region.

Gehad Abdullah

Founded in only 2015, Mermaid has already completely shaken up the home and office cleaning industry. Using an application, customers can find cleaners online with just a click on their phones. Offering ease of use and flexibility to both the customers and the cleaners, Mermaid has become a major operation in Egypt in just a few years. The woman behind the idea, Gehad Abdullah, has remarked how it was important not only to provide a professional and reliable service to customers but to provide a safe environment where the cleaners are treated with respect. Similarly, Mermaid has had a positive impact by proving itself to be an important form of employment for refugees, who often struggle to find work in the country.

Mai Medhat & Nihal Fares

Seeing how other countries around the world were experimenting with digital ticketing for concerts, events, and flights, two young Egyptian female entrepreneurs saw the writing on the wall and set out to be ready for Egypt inevitably following this global trend. The two established Eventtus, now known as Bevy, to help completely digitize event organizing in Egypt and soon grew the company into a massive organization that was later brought by foreign investors to expand globally. The brains behind Eventtus, Mai Medhat and Nihal Fares, met and developed their partnership at Cairo’s Ain Shams University whereas computer engineering students shot up to the top of their class. As students, the two stood out from the crowd early on and even won Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition for their ingenious solution to Cairo’s notorious traffic jams that often clog the city’s streets. Mai and Nihal’s story is one of hard work and the importance of smart solutions.

Hayat Sindi 

Although already a super successful figure in medical science, has been a visiting scholar at Harvard University, Hayat used both her expertise and passion to do good in the world by founding a charitable organization to help those in developing countries. She founded Diagnostics for All, a non-profit organization with the aim of providing medical diagnostic tests in places with little healthcare provision. With tests for various diseases and infections, Diagnostics for All has undoubtedly saved thousands of lives and made otherwise expensive tests affordable and available to large numbers of people. No stranger to breaking boundaries, Sindi was also the first woman in the Gulf to receive a Ph.D.

Loulou Khazen Baz

As one of many other female entrepreneurs in the Arab world leading the way with regional firsts, Loulou Khazen Baz founded Nabbesh, now known as Ureed, an online space connecting freelancers and businesses in the region. Although originally from Lebanon, Loulou launched her company in Dubai in 2012 and now hosts over 5000 companies. One aspect of Nabbesh that has been praised is its commitment to promoting talent in the region itself, and in turn, promoting local economies and people.

These are only a few of the many female entrepreneurs that have come out of the region in the last few years. However, when Women’s Entrepreneurship Day comes around again next year, even more, female entrepreneurs in the region will have risen to prominence with ingenious ideas to solve existing problems, and we look forward to seeing how women will continue to shake up the region.

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