Women from all over the world, including the Middle East, are kicking life goals every day. But in the last few decades, opportunities and doors have opened up for women throughout the Arab world, allowing them to excel to their fullest potential. Here are 10 entrepreneurial Arab women to be admired.
Buthaina Al Ansari
Buthaina is the founder of Qatariat – a company that helps Qatari women gain access into the workforce. The company is made up of three parts: Qatariat Training and Development, Qatariat Magazine and Qatariat Development Consultancy. Named one of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women in 2012 and 2013 by Arab Business magazine, Buthaina also sits on the board of Qatari Business Forum and Arab International Women Forum in London.
Nayla Al Khaja
Nayla is an Emirati pioneer in the film industry, gaining the title of the first female film producer in Dubai. Having founded the film and television production company D-Seven Motion Pictures in 2005, Nayla’s company works with clients such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Vogue, Nike, Nivea, Gucci, Canon and LG. In 2007, Nayla launched ‘The Scene Club’ – Dubai’s first film club and grew the club membership from 50 in the first year, to more than 10,000 today. Arabian Business named her one of the ‘500 Most Powerful Arab Women’ and in 2007, she won the Muhr Award for Best Emirati Female Filmmaker at the Dubai International Film Festival. Other awards won include the Emirates Woman of the Year award in 2005 and ‘The Youngest Entrepreneur’ of the year at the Global Businesswoman and Leader’s Summit Awards.
Wafa has been helping women to get out of poverty in rural Morocco and North Africa. Establishing the Wafa Association of Artisan Women in 2003, Wafa’s organisation aims to help women sell their artisanal goods and be able to make a living from this. The organisation originally started in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco and did so well that it spread to other parts of North Africa. Women involved in the program have the opportunities to attend craft fairs, exhibitions, technical training and workshops, and learn about effective marketing strategies for their small businesses. Wafa connects women with artisan skills on a local and international level.
Dr Hayat Sindi
Hayat Sindi is one of the most influential Arab women in the world when it comes to medical science. Currently a visiting scholar at Harvard University, the Saudi national aims to raise awareness of science among females in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world. Hayat is the co-founder of ‘Diagnostics For All’ – a not-for-profit organisation devoted to offering a low-cost and simple point-of-care diagnostics tool for developing countries, especially those who live rurally and don’t have easy access to hospitals and medical facilities. Educated in the UK, Hayat was the first woman from any of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf region to be accepted into Cambridge University. She was also one of the first female members of the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia. During her education in the UK, she was often pressured to desert her religious beliefs, but she was a firm believer that ‘a person’s religion, colour or gender has no bearing on scientific contributions’ and still proudly wears her head scarf to this day.
Haifa Al Kaylani
Palestinian born Haifa is the Founder Chairperson of the Arab International Women’s Forum. Raised in Lebanon and studying in Beirut and Oxford University in the UK, Haifa has travelled to more than 60 countries around the world and is fluent in five languages. The Arab International Women’s Forum is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to give Arab women a voice. It helps them showcase their talents in both business and public life. Haifa’s personal goal is to use her skills to create a bridge of cultural understanding between Arab and international communities, especially women.
A mover and shaker in the business world, Qatari national Sheikha has her finger in a few pies. Starting her career as an Assistant Lecturer in Economics at Qatar University, Sheikha is the Founder and Chairperson of Amwal, Founder and CEO of Al Waab City Real Estate development project, Vice Chairman of Nasser Bin Khaled Al-Thani & Sons Group and is also Founding Chairperson at Q-Auto. Amwal, which was then known as the Qatar Ladies Investment Company, was the first investment company to receive a licence from Qatar Central Bank to carry out investment banking and asset and wealth management in Qatar. Sheikha sits on many boards and has been on the Arabian Business list of most influential Arabs for several years in a row.
Emirati scientist, Maryam Matar, is the Chairperson and Founder of UAE Genetic Diseases Association – a not-for-profit organisation that works to reduce the frequency and impact of common genetic disorders in the UAE. Maryam was the first Emirati woman to have the title of Undersecretary to the Minister of Health in 2006 and in 2014, she was named one of the 20 most influential women scientists in the Islamic world by Muslim Science magazine.
Syrian national Jouhayna is an art entrepreneur. Along with her husband and two cousins, she set up Ayyam Gallery in Damascus in 2006. This gallery showcased Syria’s art history and put a number of Syrian artists under the international spotlight. Ayyam Gallery was so successful, that they were able to expand to Beirut, Dubai, London and Jeddah. Ayyam Gallery is not just an art gallery, but a cultural voice, showcasing well-known Arab artists.
Amani El Tunsi
Amani has created a platform for Egyptian women to speak their minds and discuss issues that they may not feel comfortable about discussing in their day-to-day lives. Banat wa Bas is an online space where issues such as sexual harassment, marriage and spinsterhood are thrown around and dissected by the women of Egypt. Amani launched the platform in 2008, as she wanted to give women the chance to feel in-control over their lives by accessing a plethora of knowledge. Banat wa Bas is a website, radio station, rehabilitation centre, publishing house and even has a media and communications program to help women enter the workforce.
Wafa Al Rimi
Wafa is a talented woman on the rise. At only 16 years of age, the Yemeni founded Creative Generation, an organisation that creates solar powered appliances to use during power outages. The idea grew when Yemen was in the midst of the Arab Spring. The now 20-year-old’s entrepreneurial skills were acknowledged by Queen Rania of Jordan when she addressed the World Future Energy Summit. Watch this space.