Panel discussion focused attention to the rising tide of global women entrepreneurs at a time the Arab world is experiencing transformational economic shifts and rapid technological changes with a record number of high-skilled millennials in the job market.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The rising tide of Arab women entrepreneurs was examined at a panel luncheon co-hosted by the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council and the Arab-American Business and Professional Association (ABPA) on Thursday, April 25.
The panel featured four distinguished thought leaders including, Founder and Managing Director of Catwalk Cow, Ms. Samia Ataya; Organizational Development Consultant, Dr. Malikah Alturki; Chair of ADC Women’s Empowerment Forum, Dr. Doaa Taha; and Panel Moderator, Dr. Salah S. Hassan, Professor of Marketing and Brand Management, School of Business, The George Washington University.
After welcoming remarks by U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council President Danny Sebright and ABPA President Fuad Sahouri, the panel moderator Dr. Hassan opened the panel with brief comments on the increasing influence of women-owned enterprises in shaping the global economy. The number of women-owned businesses increased a dramatic 31 times between 1972 and 2018, rising from 402,000 (4.6% of all firms) in 1972 to 12.3 million (40% of all firms) in 2018 according to a research study commissioned by American Express. Four out of every 10 businesses (40%) in the United States are now women-owned enterprises according to the State of Women-Owned Businesses Report by American Express. Dr. Hassan also noted that data from the Arab World are encouraging as well with 34-57% of STEM grads in Arab countries are women, which is much higher than in US or European universities.
Dr. Hassan had a specific reference to the Global Entrepreneurship & Development Index (GEDI), in which the United States is ranked #1 globally. GEDI was created to provide a more complete understanding of economic development by capturing the contextual nature of business formation, expansion, and growth. It is based on analysis of comprehensive data sets from more than 120 countries that attribute success in the entrepreneurial ecosystem to “3A’s” Aspirations, Attitudes, and Activity.
The three panelists covered each facet of this triple “A” model. Samia Ataya shared her entrepreneurial Aspirations on “Building Business with Common Good”Malikah Alturki discussed her research findings on Attitudes and “Changing the Mindset” Doaa Taha drove deep into Activity and how to “Empower Change to Happen.” As a leading Arab woman entrepreneur from Dubai, Samia Ataya explained the significance of defining purpose in business growth. The motive behind Ataya’s innovative brand, Catwalk Cow, was to support healthier eating habits by making available a ‘cleaner,’ wiser choice of dessert mixes that are lower in fat and calories, quick and easy to make and do not compromise on taste. Being one of few woman-led manufacturing entrepreneurs, Ataya has been recognized as a pioneer in the ‘healthy food manufacturing’ industry and creating a sub-category within the specialty food category. Catwalk Cow launched its first product in 2010 in one chain of 13 supermarkets in the United Arab Emirates. Only within three years, the Catwalk Cow brand was present in over 50 outlets of 7 major chains sharing shelf space with global brands who have had presence in the region for several decades. Ataya also explained how she has set up operation in the United States, Sataya Foods, whose mission is to introduce the original Catwalk Cow range of mixes in the U.S. as well as grow the portfolio to include gluten free, diabetic friendly, and ‘superfood’ foods.
Taking the discussion to the academic level, Dr. Malikah Alturki shared her research findings—based on her award-winning doctoral dissertation at George Washington University—on Saudi women entrepreneurs. Dr. Alturki emphasized how changing mindsets of Arab women is a most critical task to support entrepreneurship. “Entrepreneurship educators focus on the development of the entrepreneurial technical skills of entrepreneurs as an important factor in the success of entrepreneurs.,” Alturki said, “what matters most for Arab women, however, is an individual mentoring and coaching to change their whole perspective about economic life: overcoming the fear of failure, developing resilience, and encouraging risk-taking, autonomy of action, and self-efficacy.”
Another academic, Dr. Doaa Taha, delved into the principles of enabling real change in Arab women’s expansion into global markets as active innovators and business leaders. Dr. Taha, who currently chairs the Women Empowerment Forum at American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), stated that change is already happening fast not only in the Gulf countries but also in Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, and, Lebanon—which had taken steps towards marrying women’s empowerment with entrepreneurship. “Such fast pace of change, in fact, is a necessity,” said Dr. Taha, “the Arab world now faces the confluence of the proverbial demographic ‘youth bulge’ and structural shifts introduced by new technologies.” She added that “traditional jobs are insufficient and disappearing ever more, but the good news is that changing nature of technologies can be harnessed by entrepreneurs, including women, to create alternative sources of income.” Dr. Taha also noted that Arab women entrepreneurs struggle to find “role models” and mentors, and if they receive support, their role in shaping the future economies will be greater.
The panel discussion closed with Dr. Hassan’s final remarks. For Dr. Hassan, the issues that hinder women from formation, expansion, and growth of their business vary and some are confined to the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the Arab region. According to the Global Entrepreneurship & Development Index (GEDI), some of the highest ranked entrepreneurial ecosystems of the region include the U.A.E. (#29), Oman (#30), Kuwait (#44) and Saudi Arabia (#46).Dr. Hassan highlighted the potential role of bilateral trade organizations to build capacities for helping Arab women entrepreneurs in entering and growing in the US market to offset the trade imbalance. He also suggested ten imperatives of international market expansion for Arab women to build successful enterprises: (1) Thinking Global, (2) Having Purpose, (3) Being Relevant, (4) Taking the First Step, (5) Getting out of Comfort Zone, (6) Unlocking Inner Potential, (7) Having the “Women Can” Attitude, (8) Going Digital, (9) Building Strong Brands, and (10) Seeking the Right Advise.
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