How can Arab women empower themselves to lead? 10 inspiring quotes from #NAWF2015

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Left to right: Habib Haddad, Rana Salhab, Jihad Azour, Youssef Hamidaddin

Al Iktissad Wal Aamal Group and Al Hasnaa Magazine organized the 7th New Arab Woman Forum (NAWF) at the Four Seasons Hotel, Beirut, Lebanon on February 26 to discuss the potential of women entrepreneurs, the challenges they face in the Arab world and the role they can play in innovation and fostering economic growth and employment. The theme was “Empowerment through Entrepreneurship and Innovation.” 

Regional leaders—women and men—shared challenges, personal experiences, tips and advice on how to move forward and change gender-based assumptions that women are not strong enough to lead businesses. Panelists included Rana Salhab, Regional Talent and Communications Partner at Deloitte; Youssef Hamidaddin, CEO at Oasis500 Jordan; Habib Haddad, CEO at Wamda; Najib Choucair, Director of Banking Department at Banque du Liban; Nadia AlSaeed, CEO at Bank al Itihad Jordan; Sahar Nasr, Lead Economist at the World Bank Egypt; Joe Baddour, Assistant General Manager of Corporate Banking Group, BLC Lebanon; and Christina Chehade, Head of Investors, Partner and Mentor at Endeavor Lebanon; and Abdalla Absi, CEO at Zoomal. 

Women tech entrepreneurs in the MENA region outnumber women tech entrepreneurs on a global scale. Just 10% of internet entrepreneurs in the world being women, versus 35% in MENA. This could be due to the option of working from home, which allows women to bypass cultural challenges and explore the possibilities of starting a tech business.

The four panels at NAWF were titled enhancing access to finance; a new era for women entrepreneurs in the Arab World; women facing the innovation challenge; and success stories by inspiring women sharing their experiences. Here are 10 of the most insightful pieces of advice as they were said:

  1. “Deliver yourself from the negative unfair picture that was drawn around you.” Ignore negative assumptions.
  2. “Be pragmatic, leave emotions behind, and build your business case.”
  3. "Accept a slower career path, but not a limited and marginalized one."
  4. "Don’t fight for women quota, but for less men quota." Work on establishing new rules that empower women.
  5. "Look for and get inspired by global role models like."
  6. "Raise awareness and motivate change around you when it comes to speaking to the media, schools, corporates, and banks. Push them to open up (to employing and supporting women)."
  7. "Encourage your owns kids and young siblings to work at a startup."
  8. "Bypass cultural aspects towards Arab women in the region."
  9. "As a woman leader, embrace intrapreneurship. Give your employees the freedom to innovate."
  10. "Once you are there, employ other women! We need to celebrate and over-celebrate women leaders."

On another note, some interesting stats were shared throughout the different interventions, here are the main ones:

  • 60% of Zoomal’s projects are started by women, because “in my opinion women have better communication skills and determination”- Abdalla Absi, Lebanon, Zoomal.
  • 30% of of startups founded by women have more than 50 employees, and 15% have less than 10 employees. - Rana Salhab, Lebanon, Deloitte.
  • 100 billion dollars in Saudi banks [are] owned by women. - Rana Salhab, Deloitte.
  • Around 1700 entrepreneurs applied to Oasis500 programs, an equal percentage of which were men and women. - Youssef Hamidaddin, CEO Oasis500 Jordan.
  • 38% of women are researchers in science and tech in MENA, versus 30% in Europe. -Bettina Bastian, Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship, American University of Beirut.

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