The Middle East’s top female entrepreneurs
With the number of female entrepreneurs in the region growing in number and influence, we look at some of the most successful and inspirational Arab women currently shaping the entrepreneurial landscape.
Sheikha Hessa bint Saad Abdullah Salem Al Sabah, President, Council of Arab Businesswomen
\nA successful entrepreneur who has worked at the International Marine Petroleum Company, and within Kuwait’s Ministry of Defense’s Department of Medical Services, Sheikha Hessa is now president of the Council of Arab Businesswomen.\nWith an emphasis on women’s empowerment in the workplace, she has served on several committees, including the Kuwait Volunteers Women Society, the Kuwait Businesswomen Committee, Arab African Woman Council, and the Women’s Affairs Committee.
Randa Ayoubi, founder and CEO, Rubicon Holdings
\nRanda Ayoubi survived on an initial investment of $140,000 for a decade before persuading friends and family to invest $3m in her dream. The result was Rubicon Holdings, an Amman-based entertainment company which is now a global powerhouse with five international branches and more than 300 employees.\nRubicon Holdings produces such hits as Ben & Izzy, a children’s cartoon series promoting cross-cultural understanding between the Middle East and the West.
Hayat Sindi, medical researcher
\nSince arriving in London in the early 1990s with no command of the English language and no promised place at university, Sindi’s story has been an incredible one. She has since been credited with the invention of MARS, which combines the effects of light and sound for use in biotechnology. \nShe co-founded Diagnostics for All, and is feelow at PopTech, which offers scholarships to young scientists.
Nayla Al Khaja, film producer
\nCredited as the UAE’s first female film-maker, Al Khaja has already made three short films in her brief career. One of her films won a prize at the Dubai International Festival in 2007, and the young Emirati has also set up her own production company – D-SEVEN. \nAl Khaja also heads up the UAE’s first official film club, but her career choice and decision to tackle taboo subjects has often led her to controversy. Her 2010 short film ‘Malal’ looked at issues raised by arranged marriages, raising eyebrows across the region. However, she has since been commissioned by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority to make short films for the Authority’s cultural initiative, Soul of Dubai.
Maha Al Ghunaim, chairperson, Global Investment House
\nMaha Al Ghumaim is something of a celebrity in the Arab world of banking and finance. She founded Global Investment House, one of the largest investment companies, in 1998, and when she took the firm public on the London Stock Exchange in 2008, it became the first Kuwaiti company to list there. The firm was also listed on the Kuwait, Dubai and Bahrain bourses.\nAl Ghunaim also sits on the boards of Kuwait University, National Industries Group, and the Qatar Endowment Fund at the Qatar Foundation.
Jouhayna Samawi, art entrepreneur
\nAs one half of a husband and wife team, Samawi is helping revolutionise the region’s art industry. Alongside her spouse Khaled, and his cousin Hisham, Samawi founded Ayyam Gallery in 2006 with the help of collectors. The gallery has helped revive interest in Syria’s art history, while nurturing the country’s burgeoning and dynamic contemporary art scene.\nInitiatives such as the Shabab Ayyam Project, an incubator for emerging artists, demonstrates the gallery’s commitment to bringing the new wave of Syrian artists to international attention. Expansion into Beirut, Dubai, London and Jeddah have raised the entrepreneur’s stock yet further.
Sheikha Hanadi Bint Nasser Al Thani, chairperson, Amwal
\nOne of Qatar’s most successful businesswomen, Sheikha Hanadi is the founder and chairperson of Amwal, CEO of Al Waab City Real Estate development project, and deputy CEO of Nasser Bin Khaled Al Thani & Sons Group.\nSheikha Hanadi started her career as a lecturing assistant in the economics department of Qatar University before establishing the Qatar Ladies Investment Company (now Amwal) in 2008.
Buthaina Al Ansari,\nfounder, Qatariat
\nA high-flying and inspiring business executive in Qatar, Al Ansari received a Qatar Business Women Award for her Qatarisation work at Al Rayan Investment. She founded and manages Qatariat, a company that specialises in helping Qatari women advance into the workforce, split into three parts: Qatariat Training and Development, Qatariat Magazine, and Qatariat Development Consultancy.\nWith degrees from universities in Qatar, London and Cairo, Al Ansari was voted L’Officiel Qatar’s most inspirational Arab woman of the year in 2012.
Wafa Al Rimi, CEO, Creative Generation
\nIn the midst of the upheaval in her home country of Yemen during the Arab Spring, then 16-year-old student Al Rimi decided to start her own business. Creative Generation was founded with a group of her peers, creating solar-powered appliances as a panacea to power outages. \nWith clients including the Movenpick Hotel, Al Rimi’s entrepreneurial skills were recognised by Queen Rania of Jordan in a speech earlier this year, namechecking the young businesswoman during her address to the World Future Energy Summit.
Maryam Matar, founder and chairperson, UAE Genetic Diseases Association
\nMatar is one of the UAE’s most highly regarded public servants. After working in several public health positions she launched a series of outreach initiatives, including UAE Free of Thalassemia 2012. She has also launched the UAE Down’s Syndrome Association in 2005 and the UAE Genetic Disease Association in 2006. \nMatar was the first Emirati woman to hold the position of director general in the Dubai Government.
Octavia Nasr, CEO, Bridges Media Consulting
\nJournalist Octavia Nasr is most well known for her coverage of Middle Eastern affairs, including several wars, for Lebanon Broadcasting Corporation and CNN. She is regarded as one of the pioneers of the use of social media in traditional media, and now runs her own firm, Bridges Media Consulting, whose aim is to help companies better leverage their use of social networks.
Haifa Kaylani, founder, Arab International Women’s Forum
\nHaifa Fahoum Al Kalyani is founder and chairwoman of the Arab International Women’s Forum, an umbrella organisation that brings together 1,500 associations, individuals and corporations based in 45 nations and six continents of the world. She also holds senior roles in several organisations in the UK and internationally as well as seats on the boards of cultural and educational institutions and NGOs.
Christine Sfeir, CEO, Treats Holding
\nIn between raising two young children, Lebanese entrepreneur Christine Sfeir has also created one of the region’s most successful restaurant empires. When she was just 22-years-old she persuaded Dunkin’ Donuts to hand over the company’s Lebanese franchise to her. The rest, as they say, is history, with the franchise becoming a huge success in Beirut. She subsequently added Lebanese brand Semsom to the fold, and has expanded into Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with further expansion planned for India.