BEIRUT: Aspiring Arab women entrepreneurs have the opportunity to get support in starting their own business or in their existing venture by applying to the Arab Women’s Entrepreneurship Program.
The American NGO AMIDEAST and its corporate partner Citigroup (through its philanthropic arm, Citi Foundation) are soliciting applications for AWEP from aspiring business women in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Egypt, including residents of those countries from other nationalities such as Palestinians.
“This is for Arab women of all nationalities who want to start a business or who already have a small business. It’s meant for those who wouldn’t normally have access to training,” says Allyson Jerab, adviser at Cisco Entrepreneur Institute at AMIDEAST.
The initiative, now in its second year, aims to give 80 women (20 from each of the four countries), who wouldn’t otherwise have the skills, support and tools they need to build financially sustainable businesses.
The program, done in Arabic, will begin with an intensive 15-day training session that focuses on basic business skills, such as customer service, how to apply for a loan and handle accounting.
In the following six months the women will apply what they learned with the help of local seasoned professionals, through Citi’s global Women’s Diversity Network, who will serve as guest speakers as well as one-on-one mentors.
Last year’s guest speakers included Christine Sfeir, CEO of Dunkin’ Donuts Lebanon, Lara Tarakjian, executive director of Silkor, Rana el-Chemaitelly, founder of the Little Engineer, Nada Ghobril, managing partner at Memento Photoboutique and Esraa Haidar, owner of Consult-E Marketing Services.
The successful candidates will also be given their own laptops and they will be added to a closed Facebook group in order to network with last year’s participants.
Providing business training opportunities to Arab women could help stimulate development in the region, where, according to the U.N., women’s incomes are less than a quarter of the average levels.
In addition to helping with regional development, Jerab says she has noticed that female entrepreneurs often lack the confidence that their male counterparts have because of their obligation to take care of their families.
“In my personal experience, female entrepreneurs have more fear of failure than men – especially if they’re widowed or divorced, because of the financial responsibility,” she says.
“They also don’t always realize how much time is involved in running a business.”
Because some of the participants’ busy schedules, AMIDEAST will be selecting alternate candidates this year in case some drop out, as was the case last year.
Although women’s salaries lag far behind those of their male counterparts throughout the world, including the Arab region, 30 percent of Lebanon’s small- and medium-sized enterprises are owned by women.