Meet the Muslim women creating big business in Egypt
- 13 August 2018
- Add to Bookmarks
May El Habachi
Business is largely viewed as a male-dominated world, especially in the Muslim community, in which female modesty is held in high virtue. However, in Egypt, like many other countries in the Middle East, a new breed of female Muslim entrepreneurs is shattering this stereotype by rapidly growing their own businesses.
In fact, according to a recent report by the Egypt Network for Integrated Development, women now account for 10 per cent of entrepreneurs in Egypt. And these numbers are expected to rise as Egypt’s startup ecosystem flourishes.
A number of female entrepreneurs are already shining in their field, paving the way for others in their home country to follow in their footsteps. One of the biggest success stories to come out of Egypt is, of course, that of Mai Medhat and Nihal Fares, the duo behind Eventtus, an event-engagement platform and mobile app that helps businesses with ticketing, event planning and networking (read about their story here).
Among the many others who are beginning to gauge regional and international recognition is Rania Ayman, founder of Entreprenelle, an organization that supports women-run startups. She founded her company two years ago specifically to help women launch their own ventures.
It was when she was working in advertising a few years ago that Ayman noticed how underrepresented women were in the industry and in the workforce at large. She decided that she needed to take an active role in raising the profile of those in the business world.
“I started Entreprenelle to address a real market need for women,” Ayman told My Salaam. “Entrepreneurship is not just for those who are more affluent and want to make a change but is also important for women living in more remote areas to be able to support themselves and their families.”
Market need is key to creating a successful startup, it seems. Eman El-Koshairy and Bahia Sharkawy started their own programming boot camp school, Al Makinah, to fill a gap in the region after they found themselves struggling to hire qualified software engineers for the companies they used to work for. In El-Koshairy’s words, “There was a talent gap, which led us to start researching a solution to this problem.”
According to Al Makinah, coding is a valuable skill that is in high demand. It is not only important for jobs in tech companies and startups, but it can also be useful for entrepreneurs who want to build their websites and for women who are looking for flexible work opportunities.
Today, Al Makinah has trained more than 150 students and plans to reach hundreds more not only in Egypt, but also in Arab countries, through blended learning programs, using online learning and traditional classroom education.
Although Entreprenelle and Al Makinah show that female Muslim entrepreneurship can be successful in Egypt, it is not without its challenges.
Hana Ibrahim, founder of home accessories business Hana Designs, has learned to create her own opportunities. Struggling to acquire funding to participate in national and international exhibitions, Ibrahim now relies on in-house marketing to reach her customers.
With 14 members of staff, Hana Designs sells everything from cushions to trays, mugs to curtains. It also exports to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and France.
Despite the success of the business, Ibrahim said that dealing with suppliers can be difficult for female entrepreneurs: “It took me some time to learn how to deal with suppliers. I had to show them my standards to ensure the quality of my products.”
In addition to market and economic challenges, women can also experience cultural and societal setbacks. Ayman remarked that women are expected to fulfil their duties as homemakers, which can make it difficult to start their own businesses. “We need to tackle culture and education to bring about positive change for women.”
Entreprenelle’s Ayman believes that entrepreneurship will continue to increase because of the lack of jobs available and the discrimination that women sometimes experience in the workforce. As a result, some women have no choice but to start their own business.
Regardless of a woman’s situation, all four agree that the most important step is to just do what you want to do.
“Just start,” is the advice from Al Makinah’s founders. “Things won’t be perfect, but just take the first step.” Everything will then fall into place.
© MySalaam.com 2018 All rights reserved