All over the world, female entrepreneurs are contributing to their societies and seizing business opportunities by starting up their own enterprises. Emirati women are increasingly doing the same, with some 20,000 companies owned by 13,000 women.
Retail and other service sectors are by far the two most favored sectors by Emirati women entrepreneurs, who – according to a study conducted jointly by Abu Dhabi University (ADU) and Qatar University – are self-motivated to succeed and not driven by a desire for higher income.
“In the UAE, most women do not go to work out of economic necessity. They do so because they have a need for self-accomplishment or to help others, and want to contribute to the success and reputation of their country,” Dr Jabeen, assistant professor of management at ADU, said to Gulf News.
Narrating her business journey in the same Gulf News article, Azza Al Qubaisi, an emerging jewellery designer, believes that family support is key to giving women entrepreneurs the courage to take business initiatives.
“They trusted me enough to give me the time to establish my business without being demanding, and released me from some family restrictions,” she said.
The UAE government also recognizes the contributions made by women entrepreneurs in economic development. For instance, The National Strategy for the Advancement of Women was established in 2002 to encourage women participation in business and provide them with an enabling environment for success.
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Although the Arab society has witnessed a paradigm change in cultural, social and religious boundaries, success of women entrepreneurs may be limited by sticky cultural barriers. Knowledge Wharton reports that Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud, owner of two leading luxury retail corporations in Saudi Arabia, has said that women entrepreneurs are still confronted by cultural challenges and "socializing on a business front is difficult after hours.” However, Internet and social media are changing the way Emirati women entrepreneurs communicate and engage with their audience.
Business funds for start-ups are of the opinion that women entrepreneurs need to think beyond retail and fashion. Ibrahim Al-Mansouri, chief operating officer of the UAE-based Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, advises women entrepreneurs to consider more innovative business ideas. Tamara Abdel Jaber, co-founder and executive board member of Jordan-based consultancy Palma, shares this view.
“The challenge is that women are not thinking big,” she said at a Middle East and North Africa Businesswomen's Network forum in April 2012. “We are not seeing women build up courage to venture into other businesses, not cooking and crafts.”
Emirati women entrepreneurs have done well to break new frontiers and make a strong impact with their success stories. However, they need to reinforce their status by ensuring sustainability of their ventures and adopting a more innovative approach to confront the challenges in the modern business world.
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The biggest challenge for every woman is her own perception of what she can and can’t do, said Iman Al Midfa, Director General, Shurjah Business Women Council, at an Arab International Women’s Forum (AIWF) in December 2012.
“If she can break the glass roof that she has placed on top of her own head she can reach her targets.”