Arab Women Rising

At the end of 2010, I began contributing stories toKnowledge@Wharton on women entrepreneurs in the Middle East. My co-writer Nafeesa Syeed and I began to spend more and more time in the region, witnessing how ripe for opportunities it is as well as being filled with innovators. When the Arab Spring came along, it appeared to open up new opportunities for women’s participation in social and political spheres as well. In addition, the literacy and gender gap in the region has greatly improved over the decades with more woman now holding graduate degrees than men in several countries. On top of that, social media and smart phone penetration is skyrocketing, even exceeding figures in the United States. Nafeesa and I spent much of that past three years in the region exploring these trends and eventually produced the eBook ‘Arab Women Rising’ published through Knowledge@Wharton (price: free).

Esra’a Al Shafei is one of the women I profiled who has become a leading Internet activist in the Middle East. She’s received support from organizations such as the Omidyar Network, along with being an Echoing Greenand a TED fellow as well.  She is the founder of Migrant-Rights, which aims to improve the quality of life for domestic workers in the Middle East. Based in Bahrain, Al Shafei grew up appalled by the mistreatment of foreign workers and by how little was being done about the problem. She decided to use the power of the Internet to make a change, and since then has launched several sites, including CrowdVoice.org, a user-powered platform that tracks voices of protest from around the world by crowd-sourcing information. She is also the founder and director of Mideast Youth, an organization that aims to amplify diverse and progressive voices advocating for change throughout the Middle East and North Africa using digital media. Most recently she’s launched Mideastunes.com, a platform for underground musicians in the Middle East, and the iPad application Making of a Century, highlighting 100 years of revolutions and social movements.

In Egypt, Nafeesa profiled Hanan Abdel Meguid, the CEO of OTVentures, where she oversees nearly 1,000 employees who specialize in online and mobile technologies. A subsidiary of Orascom Telecom, the company has exclusive partnerships with outlets like Facebook. A pioneer in Egypt’s tech scene, she founded her first tech company out of college in the ’90s, but learned hard lessons when she lost her first company in a merger. She’s candid about how she bounced back and became among the first to be exposed to the Internet in her country. After building large companies that have withstood upheavals, she says technology holds the key to improving education, health and other sectors. She now mentors young entrepreneurs and says they will serve as “saviors” in the country’s future.

These are just two of the women Nafeesa and I profiled in our book. The other 33 are just as amazing.

Visiting from Saudi Arabia, Reem Asaad who wrote the foreword to Arab Women Rising will be giving a keynote at the upcoming Wharton MENA Conference on April 12th

Bio: Rahilla Zafar received a Master of Environmental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 where she was also a member of the Wharton Venture Initiation Program. She is currently based in New York City and working on a follow-up book focusing on women in Saudi Arabia.

The anticipation builds for months.  The information sessions of the fall semester give way to the submission deadline of late January. Next come the Semifinals, when 25 teams pitch to panels of judges in their industry track. The winner of the Wharton Social Impact Prize is chosen (Congratulations, Susli Lie WG’14, team leader of Dana Cita!). And then, at long last: the Finalists of the Wharton Business Plan Competition, the “Great Eight,” are named.
 
The competition is friendly, but fierce. Teams compete for over $125,000 in cash and prizes. The Perlman Grand Prize winner will take home $30,000, plus another $10,000 in legal services, $5,000 in accounting/strategy services, and opportunities to represent The Wharton School at other business plan competitions around the world. The second and third place winners leave with substantial cash and in-kind prizes as well. These prizes are more than numbers—they’re tools to help founders develop and scale their businesses.
 
May 1, 2014: Venture Finals. That’s the day these teams are gearing up for, and we hope you join us for the culmination of this thrilling competition. Cheer on your favorite teams, network with members of the entrepreneurial community, and cast your vote for the Michelson People’s Choice Award! Register here.
 
Every year, we see ventures, teams, and individual entrepreneurs from the Wharton Business Plan Competition who go on to greatness. Come to the Venture Finals, and you can say that you “knew them when.”
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