We all are aware of the stereotypes that try to evade the idea of ‘women making an impact’ for ages. But the good thing is, in this age of technological disruption, there come women who have set themselves as examples and synergies for breaking through the pigeon holes across the business, society and every other domain in the Middle East and the world.
While the world already knows about Her Excellence Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Indra Nooyi, and many others listed by Fortune, Forbes and other media behemoths; on this women’s day, we decided to create a list that entirely focuses on the businesswomen impactfully influencing women, women & young entrepreneurs, businesses and the startup ecosystem of the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) – disrupting the dogmas and narratives.
List of Most Influential Female Entrepreneurs of the Middle East
These women entrepreneurs, leaders and enablers have been really active and successful in terms of creating an impact on the business and startup ecosystem of the Middle East & North Africa by setting themselves as examples through consistent work, or by directly creating synergies for new and budding entrepreneurs – paving towards the booming startup ecosystem of MENA.
▸ The list is NOT sponsored by any third-party or the listed women entrepreneurs.
▸ The following list is in alphabetical order and NOT the net worth or number of the social following or any other similar metrics.
Here’s to the list of most influential women entrepreneurs of the Middle East and North Africa.
Amy Mowafi – Co-Founder & CEO, MO4Network
The brain behind MO4Network, one of the most creative agencies and media hubs in the Middle, founded in 2011 by Amy. The network encompasses a number of platforms like Startup Scene, Cairo Scene, Cairo Zoom and more. Amy hails from Egypt and also the author of the book ‘Fe-mail: The trials and tribulations of being a Good Egyptian Girl’.
Amal Dokhan – CEO, Global Entrepreneurship Network, KSA
Everything that resonates with entrepreneurship lies in the portfolio of Amal who hails from KSA. The director of BABSON GLOBAL Center Entrepreneurial Leadership, a board member at Cranfield University Saudi Advisory Board, a board member at King Abdulaziz University Female Advisory Board. She leads organisational and corporate innovation programmes across US, Canada, South Africa, UAE and actively contributing to Vision 2030.
Areije Al Shakar – Director & Fund Manager, Al Waha Venture Capital Fund of Funds
Areiji holds over 15 years of experience in banking and entrepreneurship domains. She has been working with Bahrain Development Bank where she takes on coaching, mentorship, startup seed funding, and entrepreneur development. Areiji aims to make Al Waha a key venture capital funding platform and community in MENA by creating added value opportunities for its portfolio of fund managers and its network partners, stakeholders, and start-ups. She has also worked with a number of reputable organisations namely Investcorp, Citibank, BNP Paribas and Lehman Brothers.
Assia Riccio – Founder, Evolvin’ Women
Hailing from Italy, a philanthropist who after accumulating 10 years of experience and developing HR management models founded Evolvin’ Women in UAE in 2017 to help organisations in the UAE achieve a greater level of diversity and inclusion through socially responsible initiatives. Her company was presented at Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Summit, the Arabian Travel Market. She also represented Dubai in sustainability at ChangeNOW Summit in France.
Asma Ahmad – Founder, Zaha Experience
Born in Kuwait, Asma utilised her life experiences to form a synergy called Zaha Experience, a social impact firm that brings together people from different cultures, nations and ethnicities to meet, interact, bond and reshape the way one relates to each other’s culture. Her hard work and ideation behind creating border-free experiences through Zaha is not only inspiring to women but every new and young entrepreneur.
Briar Prestidge – Founder & CEO, Prestidge Group PR
Originally from New Zealand, Briar is a digital marketing and comms professional who has built a community of over 40,000 business professionals which she addresses via both online and offline channels. Her company Prestidge Group PR is a high-profile media agency based in Dubai. Briar was selected for Amazon Prime’s reality series ‘The Social Movement’ that aims to solve socio-economic issues.
Cynthia Helena Rif – Co-founder at Witwork
Born in Lebanon, Cynthia is a co-founder of WitWork which is an innovative solution that enables entrepreneurs and professionals to flexibly work and network. Her idea of making WitWork sustainable was to make it cost-effective by utilising restaurants and dormant facilities across Abu Dhabi and Dubai – indeed a synergy paving towards boosting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the UAE.
Dr. Sara Al Madani – Director & Partner, Social Fish
Who doesn’t know Dr. Sara, a youth and fashion icon not just for the Middle East but the whole world. A global citizen, serial entrepreneur, speaker and influencer. Her consistent contribution towards women empowerment, women entrepreneurship & leadership has been acknowledged globally. She is also a board member at UAE SME Council, Sharjah Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Co-founder of Social Fish, and the director of Sara Al Madani Fashion Design. She has also been featured by Harpers Bazaar Arabia.
Dr. Buthaina Al-Ansari – Founder & Chairperson, Qatariat T&D Holding Company
Awarded Most Inspirational Arab Woman by L’Officiel Qatar and ranked among 100 Most Powerful Arab Women by Arabian Business in 2012, Dr Buthaina is the Chairperson of Qatariat T&D Holding Company which helps Qatari women develop business skills in order to advance in the workplace. Al Ansari is a member of the MENA Business Women’s Networks, an ambassador for Women Leading Change Qatar, a board member of Qatar Business Women’s Association, and a Mentor at the Qatar Professional Women’s Network Circle. She is also the Sr. Director HR of Ooredoo Qatar, an international telecom company.
Elissa Freiha – Co-founder, Womena
Elissa founded Womena in 2014 to support women entrepreneurs by bringing onboard a blend of initiatives, accelerator programs and funds. Its Women Bossladies Network has the largest number of female entrepreneurs in the whole Middle East today. The company also has an award-winning angel investment group that has backed 10 companies with over 3 million AED in total.
Helen Al Uzaizi – CEO, BizWorld UAE; Founder, Future Entrepreneurs
Helen possesses over 17 years of experience in supporting major brands, non-profit organizations, and startups as a mentor, board member and advisor. Her company Future Entrepreneurs has a leading basis of empowering young entrepreneurs in the MENA region. Helen is also the CEO of BizWorld UAE & BizWorld Jordan. She is recognised as UAE’s Smartest 100 people and 50 most influential women in the Arab World by Arabian Business.
Joelle Mardinian – founder, Joelle Group
Known for her beauty empire Joelle Group, hailing from Lebanon, Joelle is recognised among 30 most influential women 2019 by Arabian Business. A self-made entrepreneur, a mother of two known for inspiring the Arab women through her TV show ‘Joelle’.
Joy Ajlouny – Former Co-founder & CMO, Fetchr
Who doesn’t know Joy when it comes to business and entrepreneurship? Born and raised in California to Palestinian refugees, the serial entrepreneur and advisor has built a reputation for her success in startups and ventures worldwide, and disrupting the status quo of women in business. Her expertise in funding and investment has gained her a lot of prominence among women entrepreneurs across the globe.
Jumana Al Darwish – Founder, The Happy Box, The Happy Studio and Happy Hearts Global
The philanthropic aims to spread happiness and give back to the less fortunate ones. Founded the Happy Box in 2014 as an educational social enterprise. She considers her daughter Alya as the driving force behind her social initiative. She always encourages and inspires Arab women especially the mothers who are reluctant to pursue their dreams due to family pressure.
Kelly Lundberg – Business Mentor, Founder, S.Academy
Award-winning celebrity stylist, originally hailing from Scotland. Kelly moved to Dubai 17 years ago and has fashioned a number of highly successful entrepreneurs across UAE, UK, US. An in-demand stylist to royalty and celebrities, and also an international speaker. Kelly through S.Academy offers entrepreneurial training to enable stylists to build businesses and back them with high-quality style strategy. Featured on Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Hello!, and The Sunday Times. Also the author of best-selling books Success In The City and The 7-Step Styling Formula.
Karen Wazen Bakhazi – Founder, Karen Wazen Eyewear
Mother of three, a London born Lebanese fashion influencer featured by Harper’s Bazaar, the Dubai-based blogger turned entrepreneur spoke at the Arab Conference held at Harvard in 2019 among Mohamed Hadid and his daughters Gigi Hadid and Bella Hadid. She laid an absolute basis on the importance of being a mother and entrepreneur.
Mona Ataya – Founder and CEO, Mumzworld
One of the most prominent women entrepreneurs of UAE with notable presence across MENA and the world. Mona is on a mission to bring a drastic change in the life of every mother in the region. She was voted as Forbes Top 10 Innovators 2018, Arabian Business World’s 100 Most Powerful Arabs. Beside Mumzworld, Mona mentors startups, entrepreneurs especially women.
Mashal Waqar – Co-founder & COO at The Tempest – Forbes 30 Under 30 – 2-Time TEDx Speaker
A media entrepreneur, startup mentor, and an accessibility advocate. Mashal’s The Tempest is a global women-focused media company that has gained a lot of exposure in the past three years, making it one of the fastest-growing women’s media companies globally. Mashal was awarded 2019 Forbes Middle East 30 Under 30, 2019 Entrepreneur Middle East’s Achieving Women, 19th WIL Economic Forum Young Leader of the Year, RIT Dubai President’s Cup.
Mai Medhat – Co-founder And CEO, Eventtus
Hailing from Egypt, Mai is a computer engineer, tech entrepreneur and the CEO & Co-founder of Eventtus; an all-in-one events platform and networking app that helps startups and businesses recognise relevant speakers for their events; on the other side helps people discover events, get tickets and network. She spoke at Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2016 along with former US president Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg among others. Her presence in GES 2016 contributed towards giving a global exposure to the MENA startup ecosystem.
Mirna Sleiman – founder and CEO, Fintech Galaxy
The fintech startup fraternity in the MENA region eyes Mirna Sleiman as a role model. She is the founder & CEO of Fintech Galaxy, a global crowdsourcing and mentoring platform for fintech startups. Mirna is also a former award-winning journalist, and possesses over 15 years of experience in guiding a number of banks, governments on various digital transformation projects including Dubai FDI, The Union of Arab Banks. She also specialises in public affairs, Strategic communications and a part of various advisory boards including MENA Research Partners.
Najla Al-Midfa – CEO at Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center
The CEO of Sheraa (Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center), a government entity that aims to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and provide them ground for success. She is also the founder of khayarat, a platform that enables young Emiratis to make informed career choices. Najla is a member of the Board of Directors, and Risk Committee; Chairman of the Audit Committee at United Arab Bank; Vice-Chairman at Young Arab Leaders; a founding board member of Education for Employment UAE, and Women Corporate Directors GCC.
Nazanin Daneshvar – CEO & Founder, Takhfifan
The most acclaimed female Inranian female Iranian internet entrepreneur known to date. Nazanin is internationally known for encouraging the startup culture in Iran, especially entrepreneurship among women. She is the founder & CEO of Takhfifan, Iran’s first and leading group-buying website. She is also the founder of Tarinan, a popular local reviews website and mobile phone application. She has taken on-stage at a number of prominent startup and tech events giving her exposure in international media. She was awarded the Young Entrepreneur Award CACCI2018, and also got her spot among the top 7 UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women Advocates.
Nour Al Hassan – founder & CEO of UAE-based Tarjama
A lawyer by education and an entrepreneur by practice. Founder & CEO of Tarjama that encompasses many businesses: Tarjama Enterprise, Ureed.com, TarjamaMS, and AdvanceML. Nour is an advocate for women empowerment and started Tarjama on the premise of empowering women with economic opportunities whenever they don’t have immediate access to full-time jobs and office work. She spoke at a session ‘Embracing Disruption’ at the World Economic Forum on the MENA region in 2017.
Noor Al Muhaideb – Founding Partner, Opaal Interiors and Detay Living
She graduated from the American University of Sharjah, with a Bachelor of Interior Design degree in 2002. With fifteen years of professional experience, she built her impressive portfolio by implementing and delivering countless residential, hospitality and commercial developments for Emaar Properties. Noor was awarded Achieving Women award in Design 2019 by Entrepreneur Middle East – setting inspiration for Middle East’s women in the design sector.
Randa Bessiso – Founding Director, The University of Manchester Middle East Centre
Recognised by Forbes Middle East amongst the 200 Most Powerful Arab Women. Randa is a regular speaker at executive forums in the UAE and especially on her special interest area of women in business. Randa has spent much of her career working on market entry strategies, company startups and channel development programmes, and building profitable regional businesses. She holds over 20 years of experience in management education which includes the founding director for Manchester Business School (MBS) Middle East Centre.
Rama Chakaki – Co-Founder at Mint+Laurel
Syrian American from Hama and Damascus, Rama applies 25 years of technical and communications experience towards social development for Arab youth. She runs the VIP.fund, a venture philanthropy fund investing in youth programs and technology startups. She also serves the board of the Syrian International Business Association, and the founding member of Arab Women in Computing and MENA’s first regional Women Angel Investment Network (WAIN). She has also served on the board of TechWadi, PCRF, PACES, The Impact HUB, UAE; Challenge to Change and Nakhweh.
Rania Ayman – Founder & Managing Director, Entreprenelle
Rania is a serial social Entrepreneur & the founder of Entreprenelle which is a mission driven enterprise that strives to bridge the gender gap economically by educating, training and linking women to all the resources possible impacting more than 50,000 women. A former Global Shaper Community at the World Economic Forum. UN Women Gender innovation Agora member, Best Female Entrepreneur by YE! Award winner, Injaz award winner, and Women Entrepreneurship Network board member.
Saana Azzam – Founder & CIO, MENA Speakers
A speaker, performance coach and the founder of MENA region’s leading speakers’ bureau MENA Speakers that provides world-class speakers for a variety of events across the globe. She was awarded the prestigious title ‘Female Economist of the Year’ in 2010. She has undertaken public speaking assignments in Europe on leadership and leading Generation Y and is listed as one of Sweden’s 101 Super talents in 2012, and recognized as a “Top 30 Under 30 influencers” in 2015.
Sahiqa Bennett – CEO & Co-founder, Searchie
Also the Senior Advisor for The Office of HH Sheikh Sultan, Sahiqa specialises in building business in the UAE. She is the Senior Board Advisor at the Lead Ventures to help companies accelerate their plans internationally and set up offices in Dubai. She focuses on scaling businesses and empowers people especially women and the youth; funding projects that involve poverty-ridden people, villages and towns across the globe. Sahiqa has been selected by Amazon’s reality series ‘The Social Movement’ to represent UAE and help solve socio-economic problems.
Sarah Arbi – Co-founder & CEO, G-Dice
Sarah aims to transform the way advertising is done in the Middle East by augmenting every campaign that her agency G-DICE creates with a flavour of social impact. Hailing from Tunisia, Sarah has set up herself as a role model for young entrepreneurs in the Middle East who struggle to gain trust of the big corporates. Sarah also hosted a TEDxTalk at TEDxCarthage, Tunisia around the topic ‘believing in yourself’ in 2013.
Samia Haimoura – Founder at SEON GmbH
She co-founded Seon Gmbh (formerly Securella Gmbh) in 2017, an app that connects people in danger with the fastest and closest security response in South Africa, at the push of a button. At the age of 23, Samia Haimoura successfully set the Moroccan flag at the top of Kilimanjaro, the highest summit in Africa, becoming the youngest Moroccan to do so. Earned a number of prestigious awards: Seedstars Africa in 2016 (Casablanca), top 10 at Global Mobile Challenge at World Mobile Congress 2017 (Spain), Top 5 Female founders at Vodafone Accelerator “F-Lane” (Germany), She Entrepreneurs 2018 (Sweden), Westerwelle Young Founders Fellow (2017-2018).
Sonia Weymuller – Founding Partner, VentureSouq
Sonia co-founded VentureSouq in 2013 to help early-stage technology companies both regionally and globally. Venture Souq is a network of over 1000 angel and institutional investors that makes it one of the largest venture platforms in the GCC with a portfolio of 115 investments. The company also develops rich educational content and organises a number of programs for startups across MENA. Besides this, Sonia is also a board member at e7 Daughters of the Emirates which is a year-long program that brings together young women ages 18-25 of UAE to develop and implement team projects that benefit their communities.
Shereen Mitwalli – Founder & CEO, The Female Network
A renowned International Presenter, keynote speaker and author, Shereen is also the Director of Onstage International – the leading celebrity and talent agency based in Dubai and UK. Shereen is an entrepreneur with various businesses in Media and Production, and the founder of The Female Network which is an online content platform for women that also organises regular networking sessions for women in business.
Thea C. Myhrvold – Founder of TeachMeNow and GetBee
An advocate for women and diversity and how technology is and can be used as a force for good and social impact, Thea has spent nearly a decade in her entrepreneurial journey, and truly knows what it takes to scale and execute from a simple idea to a global business. Securing partnerships with Microsoft to Expo2020 and One Million Arab Coders. Thea has been recognized with numerous awards including being an Expo2020 Global Innovator, The Cartier Women’s Awards, INC. Arabia’s Top Female Startups, Mercedes Benz Brand Ambassador and top 10 Linkedin Power Profile all under the age of 30.
Zahara Malik – Co-founder & CEO, Grosvenor Capital
An experienced investment professional with a demonstrated history of working in the financial services industry with a focus on Impact Investing, Deal Origination, Emerging Markets, Sustainable Development, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Government. Zahara has also worked on key philanthropy and impact campaigns with HRH The Prince of Wales, The Princes Trust and Mosaic International network.
Over to you
So that was the list of Most Influential Women Entrepreneurs of MENA – 2020, but the story will continue next year – bringing another 35 businesswomen, philanthropists, enablers, leaders, and more. If you have any suggestions for the next year’s list, you are most welcome to share that in the comments below.