Only ten percent of internet entrepreneurs worldwide are women, but would you have guessed that number is two to three times higher when solely examining the MENA region? In a powerful panel of women leaders of the Middle East led by Ahead of the Curve Founder Dina Sherif, its no surprise the region is surpassing the rest of the world in female entrepreneurship.
So what does the recipe for success look like? Just ask Rana El Kaliouby, Co-Founder/CSO of Affectiva, an emotion-sensing technology with the potential to revolutionize multiple spaces, including the way people with autism communicate. Affectiva has already secured over $20 million in funding, was #69 on Inc.com’s list of fastest growing companies in America in 2014, and was modeled after her Cambridge PhD research conducted while simultaneously raising a family. Entrepreneurship takes a lot of time and energy, and for her came at the price of a cushy professorship with a satisfying work-life balance. The result? Rana was names to MIT Tech Review’s 35 under 35 in 2012. Rana’s advice for succeeding in the business world? Get people on your team that share your passion.
Rama Chakaki of Baraka Media weighs in as an angel investor, communications specialist, and successful media entrepreneur based in the UAE. Rama launched BarakaBits as an answer to the overwhelming amount of negative news coming out of the Middle East to provide a news source focused exclusively on positive regional developments. Communication is a major obstacle for gender equality, and as founding member of Women Angel Investment Network (WAIN), Rama believes that teaching women entrepreneurs how to deliver strong, confident business pitches can help address the disparity. We are proud to have both Rama and Rana as the latest women on our Board of Directors!
As Co-Authors of Arab Women Rising, Rahilla Zafar and Nafeesa Syeed have extensively studied gender roles in the region, as well as the challenges women face. But perhaps the most rewarding experience while writing their book was found in uncovering the transformational process of women becoming leaders: when being forced to make quick decisions and having to assert confidence (which is often mistaken for aggressiveness), essential leadership qualities are realized as these women entrepreneurs come to fruition and embrace an the entrepreneurial attitude.
So, how to move forward with these lessons from the panel? Women can in fact do it all, just maybe not all at once. Sequence is key. Surround yourself with a network of people that support you, and break away from those who don’t…even if those might be loved ones. Keep your face forward, and don’t get torn down by negativity. And continue to champion the lessons of women’s entrepreneurial empowerment, until the stories of Deena, Rana, Rama, Rahilla, Nafeesa, and countless other MENA women superstars become the norm.