Egyptian women are entrepreneurial powerhouses, and Rasha Abu AlSaud has been working for the last three years to link them all.
In 2015 Abu AlSaud launched the Women Entrepreneurs of Egypt network in 2015, after organizing a successful day for female entrepreneurs the year before, dedicated to creating events, collective funding campaigns, and women-led projects.
The network now has 1,200 members and holds an independent annual event, drawing women who’ve launched their own businesses in fields from textiles to ecommerce.
Inspired by the best
Abu AlSaud was encouraged to forge links between women entrepreneurs thanks to the high profile examples on show in the country.
Rana El Kaliouby attracted $14 million in investment last May for her company Affectiva; Mona Al Khodairy is breaking stereotypes in Upper Egypt building a biogas startup; Amira Azzouzz founded one of the region’s leading fashion websites, Fustany; and Yasmine El-Mehairy transformed her website Supermama from a small site for mothers, to a highly successful ecommerce company.
CAPMAS, Egypt’s state statistics agency, said in March 2016 women made up 49.9 percent of Egypt’s population but that wasn’t reflected in the labor market, where women represented only 23.5 percent of the workforce and illiteracy rose to 33.5 percent.
According to some studies the low participation rate of women in the labor market may be due to issues such as harassment and low post-high school education rates.
Supporting Egypt’s women
Abu AlSaud considers good training to be the key to a successful start with any project, and sees lifting the skills levels of women as a key part of her mission.
She launched The Workshops academy in 2013, providing arts and culture classes, and later entrepreneurship training, before selling it to coworking space AlMaqarr for an undisclosed sum to start Maktaby in 2014 to help women find independent and global work opportunities.
She said when she launched The Workshops she “had no idea how to manage projects”. After participating in the Cairo Startup Cup at the end of 2013 she joined a network of experts who helped her improve the company’s performance and increase its customer base by 80 percent.
“This experience also helped me sell the company at a later stage and encouraged me to pass on this knowledge to others,” she said.
Maktaby was the vehicle to pass on the that knowledge. The project trained women on how to find job vacancies and how to meet their requirements, and was paid via a commission based on each project.
However, a few months after Maktaby was launched Abu AlSaud decided to change course and instead provide training sessions, English and Arabic corporate content creation, and event organization and website design for individuals and companies.
She made this decision after finding that a large section of women in Egypt did not have access to the internet, especially in rural areas and small villages. “Training women in the field became one of our activities and is part of our non-profit social responsibility,” she said.
Maktaby statistics show that over 1,000 women have received training to manage their businesses online, work independently through specialized platforms, or launch small commercial projects.
Of these women, 15 percent now run their own businesses, essentially from home, in various sectors. While 35 percent of trainees failed to continue their journey after the training, 50 percent were able to find independent work online.
“We need to harness the power of women because they can change the world. This can only happen if we support them with education and funds. I dream of the day banking programs realize this fact,” she said.
Feature image via Women Entrepreneurs of Egypt.