Helping Arab women realise their economic potential

AAT has helped train a group of female nationals at BAE Systems Saudi Arabia

AAT has helped train a group of female nationals at BAE Systems Saudi Arabia

Allyson Jerab of the Arab Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AMIDEAST) outlines how her organisation is providing women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with the skills to enable them to realise their potential

I have always been passionate about the development of women, both on a personal and a business level, and am particularly excited about helping women in emerging market countries as they face far greater challenges than woman in developed countries do.

How AAT is helping in Saudi Arabia

The good news is that there are a number of training initiatives in place to help increase opportunities for women in the MENA region. The work that AAT has been doing in Saudi Arabia to train a group of female nationals employed within BAE Systems Saudi Arabia is a very good example.

AAT’s financial management course takes a comprehensive and practical approach that teaches small business owners to understand and manage their finances, thereby increasing their chances of long term business success.

The Arab Women’s Entrepreneurship Program

The Arab Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) – an initiative launched by AMIDEAST and Citi Foundation is designed to further empower female entrepreneurs. It does this by providing them with skills and techniques that enable them to realise their economic potential and benefit from networking and mentoring relationships that foster business success.

In addition to increasing the self-confidence of the women that are accepted into the program, the focus on personal development and the strong support network offered helps them cope with the day-to-day challenges they face both as women and as (aspiring) entrepreneurs.

The training and subsequent support offered greatly increases the chance that they will improve their economic circumstances and become financially independent. Each year, 20 women are selected to participate in AWEP in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco. The women are given training and support in a range of topics including:

  • What makes a successful entrepreneur
  • How to register a business in Lebanon
  • How to fund a new business or business growth
  • How to assess risk and feasibility
  • Strategic planning
  • Accounting and cash flow
  • Customer service
  • Sales skills

An initial 15 days of training is followed by a six-month period of regular follow-up sessions and mentorship meetings. Successful local female entrepreneurs are invited as guest speakers to inspire and motivate the participants, and representatives of local banks and micro-finance institutions educate the women on the different funding options available.

The importance of financial literacy in the MENA region

Building skills and knowledge about growing a business is central to the AWEP, however financial literacy and knowing how to maintain positive cash flow (key to the business success of any entrepreneur) are also essential components.

Most of the aspiring business owners that participate in AWEP are focused on the technical side of their planned operations and they often place less importance on sales and finance. But we believe that a good understanding of financial issues will enable them to make better business decisions. For example, they need to be able to differentiate between a profit and loss statement and a cash flow statement, and understand that profit does not equal cash flow.

Financial literacy is not only a primary concern for AWEP, but for all business owners globally. Any form of in-depth finance training for businesses and startups is therefore extremely valuable – particularly in the MENA region where women generally lack access to affordable training services.

Since its first round of training in 2011, the AWEP program has advanced the entrepreneurial aspirations of 140 underserved women in six countries. The countries included during the first year were Lebanon, Kuwait, Morocco and the UAE.  AMIDEAST is currently launching the third round of training; its Lebanon and Morocco offices are now accepting applications while Egypt and Jordan will start doing so as of early November.

Allyson Jerab is the Regional Coordinator of the Arab Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, AMIDEAST.

Allyson Jerab is the Regional Coordinator of the Arab Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, AMIDEAST.

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