The Rise of Female Entrepreneurs in the MENA region

The MENA region has undergone major political social and economic changes and improvements over the last 20 years, but when it comes to business, entrepreneurship rates in the MENA region are still significantly lower than other global ecosystems. The number of early stage startups is relatively low.

The percentage of adults starting new business in 2016 was only about 10%. Things have surely progressed quite much since then and entrepreneurship has been on the rise; however, women entrepreneurship is following a different storyline.

In addition to the many challenges faced by male founders starting from difficulties in finding the funding sources and not ending with not getting the enough governmental support, female founders in the Middle East and North Africa region have to deal with problems like difficulties in finding the network they can operate and commute it, having very little to no carrier experiences, cultural and societal expectations and responsibilities, beating and overcoming stereotypes, other duties that women 'have to' to carry out e.g. housekeeping, among other challenges.

On the other hand and despite these challenges, female founders - in some countries more than the others - are starting to step out of their comfort zones and are starting their own businesses in an environment that has not been fully recovered from the stereotypical misconceptions and discrimination in working offices.

No one can deny the role of women in boosting and recovering Middle East economy in its darkest times. Many industries are in total need for women’s experience, perspective, and point of view. Markets that have globally been improved and filled with innovative women like Education, Health and wellness, Beauty, and Fashion are still not easy markets for female entrepreneurs in MENA.

Women in the Middle East are more vocal than ever about their rights of being independent, having equal job opportunities, and even having their own business, but they probably still need the extra push to be conducted by media, business, and governments leaders.

So, what is the turning point that paved the way for such a phenomenon across the Middle East?

Many governments and institutions especially in Egypt, the Gulf Countries, Tunisia, and Jordan are pushing and encouraging women to start their own businesses through entrepreneurial initiatives and support. Many programmes are now aimed at creating more opportunities for women especially graduates and students to start entrepreneurial projects.

This governmental support urges for making this change and breaking from these traps and it has an important role in waking the entrepreneurship spirit in many women in the Middle East.

The other turning point has to do with the rise of the women empowerment movement and the desire for independence and a fulfilling carrier path for many women.

Many incubator and accelerators around the MENA region are offering special support for women founders. FasterCapital, an online incubator and accelerator based in Dubai, launches a yearly female-founder supporting initiative whereby it offers technical, business and funding support for women entrepreneurs from the MENA and from international markets too.

The role of female entrepreneurs in boosting the economy of Middle Eastern countries

Many Middle Eastern countries have been subject to many political and economic events that had a devastating impact on the economy and wealth generation.

With the growing awareness among women in the Middle East and the movements that the Middle Eastern society has witnessed in the past two decades, led to the increased contribution of women in the economic development in the Middle East. These days, women are considered an important and vital part in the labour power of the economy of the Middle Eastern countries.

The high costs of living and the poor economic situation in some of the Middle Eastern countries has pushed women to go beyond their limits and start their own businesses pushing the entire economic situation forward.

With the growing number of female-owned businesses, women entrepreneurs have contributed to boost GDP and increasing economic growth rates too.

What are some of the other business-related factors that influence women entrepreneurs in the Middle East?

  1. The economic and market situation.
  2. Non-adequate financial resources.
  3. Lack of business support.
  4. Personal-related factors e.g. lack of education, lack of commitment and motivation, and adequate entrepreneurial skills and training.

Where to start as a female founder?

If you are a woman in the Middle East who has an innovative business idea, it is highly suggested that you start right away!

These are some practical steps you can take to start your business:

  1. Start taking the first steps now (validating your idea, writing and preparing the business plan, etc.)
  2. Do not underestimate your idea (sometimes innovative ideas might sound silly)
  3. Start building your network (investors, businessmen and businesswomen, mentors, advisors, other entrepreneurs in the same market, etc.)
  4. Find your supporters (join an incubator, accelerator, experts network that will help you move forward quicker)
  5. Target a local untapped market gap (find your innovative approach to the untapped market gap in areas you have expertise in)

Final words

Innovation and creativity are not related to gender, age, nationality, or any other personal attribute. On the other hand, women in the Middle East are getting ahead on the academic level but not on the professional level. With their expertise, knowledge, and wisdom, women in the Middle East have very much to offer for the MENA region and for the world.