By Neil King
Nadine Halabi discusses the Dubai Business Women Council’s 2015 Ro’Ya programme, which offers female entrepreneurs the opportunity to get the advice and guidance they need to launch their own start-ups
The winds of change are blowing as strong as ever for female entrepreneurs in the UAE.
The stereotypes that once relegated women to the sidelines of business have been washed away, with increasing numbers of executive roles being filled by females, and more and more groups, workshops and programmes being developed to encourage women into entrepreneurship.
One such platform is Ro’Ya, an initiative by the Dubai Business Women Council (DBWC) and MasterCard to, as they concisely put it, ‘empower and encourage budding female entrepreneurs in the UAE’.
Now in its second year, the inaugural programme in 2014 attracted women from across the Emirates to its series of workshops designed to advise, educate and inform participants as they start out on their journey to launch their own business.
Following the series of workshops, a gala dinner and grand final pitching event invited selected Ro’Ya participants to present their businesses in front of a panel of judges, with Nadia Wehbe emerging as winner with her children’s language concept Baby Arabia.
The 2015 programme opened last month, with registration running until the end of May, and as Nadine Halabi manager of business development at DBWB said, the class of 2015 can look forward to a much more targeted programme.
“We have a tailor-made course of 10 workshops, all aimed at supporting the entrepreneurs and providing all the knowledge they could possibly need for setting up a business,” she says.
“They will be related to budgeting, finance, HR, branding, soft skills, and many other things. This year we have focused on bringing on board partners who are experts in supporting entrepreneurs: Serial entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and companies who have done it themselves and know the challenges.
“It will be more detailed, a more accurate method, and more comprehensive. Previously we had multinational partners who gave participants information on how to make it really big. This year the approach is more step-by-step.”
Halabi explains that Ro’Ya is open to all women who are resident in the UAE, with prizes of $50,000, $30,000, and $20,000 on offer to the winners of the gala event, scheduled for the end of the year, to help them launch their business.
And her enthusiastic review of 2014’s effects goes to show that the programme is having tangible results.
“From the ladies who were with us in last year’s programme - the graduates of 2014 - the winner has been able to recruit more people on board and expand her service [Baby Arabia] into more nurseries.
“The second place winner [Isabelle Millasseau - Footup] has manufactured her product, and others have taken advantage of their experience with the workshops to develop business plans, and start up.
“What’s nice about the graduates of 2014 is that they built a community. They got together, came to each other for advice, and developed a special bond, which was amazing to see. We want 2015’s participants to do the same.”
While the structure of this year’s programme will be the same as 2014, there will be different personnel on hand to advise and guide the entrepreneurs, including a venture capitalist and business coach who will give participants the foundations of what it takes to build and grow a sound business.
“This is a long-term commitment,” continues Halabi.
“We want to make sure that these women have a business that lasts, and we want to build a community. Hopefully, through the support we’re providing, the participants can be part of that.
“Things are progressing a lot from what we’ve seen, in as much as women used to be afraid to start businesses. Maybe they didn’t have the know-how, or couldn’t raise capital, but things have definitely changed.
“Women now are more out there, and more courageous. They are more willing to take that leap out of the corporate world and intro entrepreneurship. There are a lot of support groups, networking groups, and so on, that are making a big difference.”
With Ro’Ya being part of DBWC - which was established in 2002 under the umbrella of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry - one of the programme’s great benefits is the access to successful and notable business women such as the organisation’s president, Dr Raja Al Gurg, as well as the likes of Faiza Al Sayed, and Khawla Lootah.
Another benefit is association with the continuing international work of the council, which represents Dubai and the UAE on annual trade missions.
Last year the group visited the UK on a trade mission, and will head to France later this year to establish similar ties with the business community there.
“DBWC represents business women in Dubai,” says Halabi. “What women are, how much they’ve grown, the diversity of positions women hold in Dubai, the role of the chamber, and so on.
“A lot of it is about trying to reverse the stereotype that some people hold of women in this region.
“The council has grown a lot, especially in the past four years, and we want to take some of the Ro’Ya ladies on delegations abroad as an example of the business women community here. When people from other countries come to visit Dubai, we invite them here, and we will extend the invitation to some of our participants.”
It all adds up to a comprehensive, and inclusive platform for female entrepreneurs in Dubai, and so far Halabi is pleased with the programme’s progress, especially with applications having already hit the 65 mark with a month to go - last year the total number of applicants was 72.
“We’re going on the right track,” she says.
“For the second year, I think we’re doing very well. We want Ro’Ya to be recognised as one of the great opportunities Dubai is offering women entrepreneurs, and I think we’re getting there.
“As a non-profit organisation, DBWC is really here to bring together like-minded business women and offer them a great experience.
“Anything that can create or develop their skills, we’re here for them.”