With entrepreneurship skyrocketing in Egypt, and the recent celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, we take a quick look at the current landscape and our very own female founders.
The higher echelons of the global business community have long been dominated by men. According to Fortune magazine, there will be only 21 female CEOs running Fortune 500 companies as of February 2016 – down from 24 in 2014. And the statistics don’t seem more favorable in Egypt.
In an April 2015 article, the BBC reported that females account for only 11% of entrepreneurs in Egypt. While the article, which featured our very own Neveen El Tahri and 138 Pyramids, shed light on the positive strides women are making locally, it also presented another alarming statistic. The Entrepreneurship Development Institute, a Washington-based think tank, issued a 2014 study of how straightforward it is for women to grow businesses. Out of the 30 countries canvassed, Egypt ranked 28.
Despite these somber news, we at 138 Pyramids cannot help but revel in the myriad of ways women – and particularly young women – are flourishing in the Egyptian entrepreneurship ecosystem. A recent Arabian Business article of the 100 most influential Arabs under 40 included Lina Attallah, founder of Mada Masr and Yasmine Helal, founder of Educate-Me. Both of these remarkable women, as well as others within and without the list, are a testament to something quite noteworthy. Female entrepreneurs and businesswomen are rising in a variety of different fields, from education and nonprofit to investment and construction. Two of these inspirational women are none other than our female founders Farida Temraz, Aya Elarief and Marwa Gad.
Those interested in fashion will surely be familiar with Farida Temraz. As CEO and Designer in Chief of Temraza Haute Couture, Farida is poised to take the fashion world by storm – and is well on her way. To date, Farida’s line Temraza was awarded a first place award during Paris Fashion Week and her designs have graced the red carpet at the Festival De Cannes, the SAG awards and the awe-worthy Academy Awards – the latter being a first for an Egyptian designer.
Farida, for one, is not fazed by the supposed difficulties of being a female founder. On the contrary, she believes it is one of her greatest assets, citing female executives’ ability to multitask and channel their passion efficiently. Moreover, she believes the supporting and nurturing relationship female founders and female investors have is a recipe for success and key in effectively addressing business challenges.
Ayah Elarief and Marwa Gad of Bookra couldn’t agree more. Aya and Marwa launched Bookra, an Edutainment company, in October 2015 to make a positive difference in the lives of children and youth through progressive learning methodologies. That said, the duo believe that women’s detail-oriented nature is actually a competitive edge in the field of publishing and is apparent from a quality control and creative aspect. They continue to echo Farida’s sentiment, heralding being a female founder as an asset due to their high level of commitment and dedication. Moreover, they believe a female founder’s commitment goes beyond revenue, and focuses on the success of the company and the team behind it.
These women are not only singing the praises of female at the helm, they are turning the traditional narrative on its head. Farida, for one, does not agree with the traditional depiction of the female-hostile work environment. “I believe that gender differences no longer exist [in business] due to the high number of females excelling in their businesses and establishing [their own].” Asked whether she believes the playing field has been evened out, Farida went on to add “the challenges females face are closely related to those males face.”
While Ayah and Marwa do not believe we’re there yet locally, they look to the global stage for hope and inspiration. “Yes, of course, there are still [gender differences in business], especially when you’re a young woman, ” Ayah said, “[However] we don’t feel like that in the Gulf, Europe or the USA.” Ayah went on to add that, in light of this difference, Ayah and Marwa are advocates of women in the workplace. “Most of our female employees have a story behind them, ” says Ayah, “we support women in the workplace because [we know how hard it was for us].” Despite their awareness of the need to support women, Bookra is committed to hiring hard workers – regardless of gender.
The stories of Farida, Ayah and Marwa stand in stark contrast to the doom and gloom that often surrounds coverage of female entrepreneurs in Egypt. Reading the statistics pales in comparison to speaking to the phenomenal women that are making it happen despite the odds, and that are choosing to write their own stories. And these are exactly the type of stories we should be covering and, more importantly, nurturing. But don’t worry, Egypt has plenty of time because Temraza and Bookra show no sign of slowing down! With Farida planning to become the first high-end fashion brand based in Egypt, and Ayah and Marwa set do diversify and expand into different segments such as animation and production, these are two female founders we definitely have our eyes on.