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Women Entrepreneurs on the Rise in Egypt: How Heba Hosny Hopes to Fund Social Good
As Egyptians stage a sit-in in Tahrir to honor the anniversary of the uprisings that eventually ousted Hosni Mubarak last year, one entrepreneur is celebrating her birthday- and funneling newfound optimism into a social venture.
Heba Hosny, who won third prize in the Ideathon this past October at Arabnet Cairo, has been developing 7ala Wa7da, a crowdsourced donation platform for NGOs, that will highlight urgent cases within a limited time frame. The goal, she says, is to make donation simple, by showcasing only one or two cases at a time that demonstrate the most pressing issues in Egypt.
Hosny, a computer science graduate who now works at software startup Vimov, came up with the idea after working for 10 years in the non-profit world. Now she's married her passion for supporting small NGOs and socially-oriented startups with the limited-time model popularized by daily deals sites. "I was working on a group buying website when I realized that I wanted to adapt the model to raise funds for NGOs," she says.
It's not just NGOs that she's targeting, however. While she hopes to boost organizations that perform surgeries for needy people or help with education, she says, other cases are more personal.
"At one point, we were looking for a donation for a woman who is in jail essentially because she is a poor widow. She wanted her daughter to marry, but didn't have enough money. She borrowed money, but didn't have enough to pay merchants back. She's been in jail for four years. We wanted to free her by collecting the donation to cover her debt, which was around EGP 8000 (US$1300)."
Her story speaks to the plight of women in Egypt, whose current status in society may be in transition now as well. It remains to be seen how the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, which has won a majority of Parliament and elected its new speaker, will approach policies on women in the workforce.
Yet Hosny remains optimistic about the ability of women to become successful entrepreneurs in Egypt. Women-led teams took home most of the prizes at Arabnet Cairo in October, a trend she says is continuing at other events. "At Startup Weekend Alexandria, it was very noticeable that women had fantastic pitches."
Her team consists of two "awesome" girls, she says, designer Dalia and developer Badreesh, who work parttime on the project. As they've worked to bring NGOs onboard, they've met with support from family, co-workers, and mentors. "I initiated my idea at [previous employer] eSpace, where we could present independent ideas and receive helpful feedback from our managers," says Hosny.
She developed the idea further at Startup Weekend Alexandria, after which 7ala Wa7da also won social incubation with local accelerator Tahrir2, where they received advice from CEO Samer al Sahn. This November, the startup also made it to the final round of the GIST Competition at the Second Global Entrepreneurship Summit.
As 7ala Wa7da continues to evolve, it may expand to include funding for youth projects. For now, Hosny is sharing the support that galvanized her. "I like to push women to create businesses and contribute to the community, for all of us. It's time to give women a chance to present ideas. When we have a suitable chance, we deliver great ideas- not only delivering them, but winning."
While the struggle against corruption in Egypt may be a long fight, what's most important for Egypt's young entrepreneurs is that they now see possibilities, says Hosny. In the face of corruption, "We didn't believe in creating ideas before. But it's different now. We have hope, and this is the most important thing."
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