By Reem Abdellatif
CAIRO: By bringing progressive ideas to the country’s business development sector, Egyptian female entrepreneurs are taking the lead in social and economic change.
In this sphere, “women can lead the economic revolution — nobody is putting any glass ceilings there,” said Sherine Allam, CEO of the Association for Women’s Total Advancement and Development (AWTAD).
Since Egypt’s uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak last year, calls for social and economic progression have echoed around the world, with youth at the forefront. Along the way, more and more young women rose to claim their place in society.
Finding their role in the community, a group of young women from various educational backgrounds came together to establish SuperMamma (www.supermama.me), a website launched in 2011 that provides women with advice on various topics from pregnancy issues to balancing work and family life.
“Any woman has a super woman inside of her,” said 31-year old Yasmine El-Mehairy, co-founder and CEO of SuperMama, who previously worked in the fields of technology and business.
“My other partners, Zeinab Samir comes from a web development and design background and Shereen El-Samaa, comes from a marketing background,” she added.
The website, with the slogan “Everything is under control,” offers advice in English as well as Arabic to serve the needs of Egypt’s diverse female population. They recently got a boost after attending a startup bootcamp in Denmark.
“What we do is provide tools to help [women] find these super powers. We are currently starting a new series on the website to help encourage women work from home.”
Although El-Mehairy has found a growing need for this work in the Middle East, their startup faced problems finding financing, because the country still lacks a support system for small businesses.
With a growing youth population taking to the streets of Egypt every day demanding unfulfilled change, many unemployed but ambitious youth find themselves at a loss of hope.
Allam is among many female frontrunners moving to contribute to society’s needs by helping youth and women reach their potential.
But women will have to continue fighting especially in the coming period of Egypt’s evolution because the idea of rebuilding in Middle Eastern society will often be seen as a “man’s job,” said Allam.
“People think it is not a woman’s job to take the lead because we are rebuilding, that this is a man’s job, when in reality, women are natural mediators,” she added.
“While we have accomplished a lot, we as women have not recognized our role and abilities to rebuild the economy.”
AWTAD works to mobilize the role of women as development agents to leverage Egypt’s human capital.
Since the revolution, Allam has witnessed a rapidly growing number of unskilled, uneducated women entering the workforce, becoming sole-providers for their families as their husbands have lost their jobs due to the economic crisis.
Allam, who works to help startups, said many of her clients are female entrepreneurs who have tremendous business ideas and projects that can change their lives as well as the lives of others, yet they have trouble accessing finance.
But, in order to reach their potential, these women must push for more leading positions in the business arena.
“These ideas are important for advancement in our society,” said Allam. “What I am doing on the ground is contributing to how people see things, changing behavior and promoting business skills development.”
Allam’s program helps show people what skills they have and how they can depend on these skills to help them get where they want as well as sustaining what they have accomplished.
“It is a mix of the tools you have and the tools you are born with. We are also creating an economic change for women and society in general, a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to start anything, but they have potential,” said Allam.
This is where AWTAD comes in.
This year, Allam’s organization is also partnering with Microsoft to establish a business center for women to help support startups and contribute to their growth.
Sharing a similar vision is Shahinaz Ahmed, CEO of Education for Employment (EFE), an organization that works to bridge gaps between youth and the private sector.
With a majority of Egypt’s population under the age of 30, the country has witnessed an unemployment crisis over the past decade; and the problem is no longer related to whether or not a person has a college degree.
Currently, the unemployment rate for those who graduate from universities is at 25 percent, Ahmed told Daily News Egypt.
Although many companies in Egypt can grow by as much as 40 percent, Ahmed pointed out that they are missing the right kind of manpower.
“You need their labor, you need the bulk of the community contributing to the economy,” she said.
EFE primarily focuses on helping university students by supporting unemployed, marginalized youth who have limited opportunities by allowing them to access employment in the private sector.
“These youth are taught all their lives that they do not qualify for the job market because the state, the home, the education system do not allow for a person’s evolution,” Ahmed said.
“We give these students the kind of education they need to qualify for jobs.”
She pointed out that because the structure of society forces these youth to just participate in collective decision-making, many of them have never made their own choices.
“They are denied the right of decision-making and the opportunity to take control of their life, suddenly they are put in the job market, forced to make decisions, when nothing in their 22 or 23 years has supported that,” she said.
This past year, Ahmed has been inspired by the growing number of eager youth who are looking for advancement in all kinds of fields.
“Young people have taken their space; they are not waiting to be given the space anymore,” she said.
Shereen Allam, second from the left, at the recent Change Your World Cairo forum.