When it comes to businesses in the MENA region, the industry is booming. However, the number of women in such a male-dominated field is minuscule. Gender inequality in the entrepreneurial field is quite evident, with the network being that of a patriarchal one. Stepping out of your comfort zone and pushing through obstacles in such an environment isn’t the easiest thing to do. The She-E-O’s have had to grab every opportunity to stand out in the field, and thanks to them, the industry is growing at quite a rapid pace. Here’s to some of the women who stood out and made their mark in the field!
From a science geek to a huge entrepreneur, Sarah Toukan’s success knows no bounds. With a great affinity for mathematical problems and challenges, Sarah Toukan is now responsible for one of the Middle East’s biggest fintech companies - Ziina. Ziina is, in fact, the UAE’s first peer-to-peer payment app. It is a digital wallet that facilitates user-to-user payment transactions with just a few taps. This payment application is meant for friends and family and is made in such a way that you can send gifs, emojis, texts, etc., making it all the more personal. Ziina is aiming to expand its platform to Saudi Arabia and Jordan soon, with $9.4 million in funding already received!
Sarah is predominantly an engineer, and although her current profession isn’t the stream she studied in - mechanical engineering- she claims that her engineering mindset is what helped her in this business venture.
From investment banking to tech, Helen Chen has delved into various fields, but she’s best known for her prop-tech startup, Nomad Homes. This Wharton graduate had her eye on real-estate back where she grew up in Washington DC when she took care of her parents’ rental properties in the summer. Nomad Homes is a platform that focuses on buying and selling real estate properties while ensuring customer safety. Just like a realtor, Nomad Homes also provides an advisor for the home buyer for an all-personal experience. With $20 million in funding, Nomad Homes has aced the game of putting property and technology together!
Chinese-American Helen Chen realized that although her job at the investment firm gave her financial security, it wasn’t what she loved. She stepped out of her comfort zone and found out that real estate was her calling.
Keeping a sustainable ecosystem in mind, Angana Maheshwaris’ Veganologie creates high-quality bags from recycled materials. Paving the way for a greener future, Angana believes that it is high time for fashion and sustainability to coexist. Their bags range from crossbody bags to cardholders, and the fascinating part is that Veganologie claims to have made crossbody bags from 11 plastic bags! Veganologie, which began during the pandemic, aims to significantly reduce its carbon footprint.
Born in Calcutta, Angana Maheshwari is quite the traveller! With NYU and the London School of Economics as her alma maters, she’s working on getting investors for her sustainable brand, Veganologie!
Gen-Z’s favourite Nuha Hashem is the co-founder of Zywa, a gamified banking app whose aim is to make students make financially literate choices. Targeting the Gen-Z population of the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, Zywa offers a prepaid card and an app for 11- to 25-year-olds where they can receive and make payments. The parent’s existing bank account is linked to the child’s Zywa wallet. Nuha Hashem, an electrical engineer and a passionate iOS developer, took the tech team at Zywa by storm.
With $3 million in funding, this Egyptian national has taken financial education at a young age to a whole new level!
Kelly Lundberg took her passion for fashion straight into business! Kelly, who founded StyleMeDivine at the age of 24, is now an award-winning stylist as well as a major entrepreneur. StyleMeDivine has worked with several brands, including the likes of Chanel and Louis Vuitton. StyleMeDivine gets you the A-Z, from choosing the best hairdresser to the best tanning place for your needs! After working on StyleMeDivine for 15 years, she changed gears and became a personal brand coach. Most of her work is done online, which enables her to go international rather than stick to a particular region.
Kelly brought the idea of personal stylists and shoppers to Dubai back in 2005, when nobody knew what it was, and Dubai thanks her for it!
Buthaina Al Ansari
Buthaina Al Ansari, Qatar's leading businesswoman, established her position with Tamkeen Training and Consulting Solutions. Tamkeen focuses on the advancement of Qatari women by providing them with business skills to help modify gender inequality in most workplaces. She’s a powerful member of the MENA Business Women’s Network as well, and she strives to make every Qatari woman financially empowered.
In 2012, she was ranked among the 100 Most Powerful Women and also honoured with L’Officiel Qatar’s Most Inspirational Arab Woman of the Year Award.
Both hands over the reins
The gender equality situation is much better than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean it's the best in the MENA region. With more autonomy for women now, especially in countries like Saudi Arabia, the situation is hopefully changing for the better. As more women take over the reins, one must realize this was never a competition but rather an assurance of better economic growth in the industry. Paving the way for female entrepreneurs in the MENA region would surely help the advancement of the industry compared to international standards. Here’s to all the women who’re breaking out of their comfort zones and making their voices heard!