In the unswerving campaign for social and economic change in the Middle East and North Africa, women are slowly but steadily moving from merely subordinates roles to the center stage. This evolution has the potential to create a new dawn of regional growth and opportunity.
The economic and social stakes are high. If female employment rates were to begin to match male rates, a country’s GDP could likely see a very significant boost. A recent report from management consulting firm, Booz & Company, entitled “Empowering the Third Billion – Women and the World of Work in 2012” provides a ranking of 128 countries based on how effectively leaders are empowering women as economic agents. Karim Sabbagh, a Senior Partner with Booz & Company UAE, said in the report that countries with a strong set of both inputs and outputs are labeled “on the path to success,” and that these are typically developed economies. Moreover, the countries by “taking the right steps,” have implemented a slate of input policies and are just beginning to see their efforts pay off.
Regional companies in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have introduced several types of empowerment initiatives to unlock the potential of women and youth to support economic and social development. Below are a few examples from Saudi, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, and among others:
- Abdul Latif Jameel (ALJ) Co. Ltd. from Saudi Arabia has launched Bab Rizq Jameel (BRJ), an initiative providing job creation services to women and youth. The Initiative leverages job creation assistance through vocational training, recruitment and microcredit to women and has gained a renowned presence today in five regional countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Turkey). BRJ alone has helped more than 350,000 women find jobs. ALJ Community Initiatives also support women in Arabian Peninsula, by supporting local Microfinance Institutes through the Grameen Jameelprogram.
- The Qatar Foundation also promotes several empowerment initiatives. Recently Qatari women seized the opportunity to step up to the plate for their job search efforts at Qatar Career Fair (QCF). A large turnout of young female students and graduates in search of a promising career attended QCF Ladies Day, which took place at Qatar National Convention Centre. “We believe that women empowerment is a key element towards real and sustainable development within Qatar. At KPMG in Qatar, our diversity and inclusion strategy is a significant element of our success, and is a key strength in being able to be successful in a fast growing market like Qatar” said Gopal Balasubramaniam, partner KPMG in Qatar.
- The Women in Technology (WIT) program, a MEPI-funded initiative that empowers women by expanding their vital participation in the workforce, is implemented in Jordan with Shabakat Al Ordon as lead partner. The program provides women in local communities with IT and professional development training and provides training in ‘Business Planning for Sustainability’ for managerial staff at partner organizations. WIT has trained over 250 women in Jordan, and twelve civil society organizations (CSOs) in Jordan’s different governorates, which have successfully planted the seed of volunteerism.
- In a meeting sponsored by the U.S. – Egypt Business Council and the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, Thomas Nides, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, supported social responsibility programs that are bringing actual change to life and boosting the economy. He also pointed out that women-oriented programs – including vocational training and the program designed for developing local health clinics – enhances women’s participation in building the country’s economy.
- Another example is the successful cooperation between the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women (CBFW) and Tomorrow’s Youth Organization in theFostering Women Entrepreneurs in Nablus project. The two parties launched the Women Entrepreneurs in Lebanon Project in the spring of 2011, which provided women with enhanced skills and a platform to become productive members of Lebanon’s labor force. The project aims to bolster the country’s economy as a whole, with a particular focus on refugee and poorer Lebanese communities.
- Finally, Audi Oman, represented by Wattayah Motors, has partnered with Al Mar’a to present the second edition of the annual Al Mar’a Excellence Awards. These awards are a platform to acknowledge the accomplishments and entrepreneurial zeal of women in the Oman Sultanate.
These are but a few examples of what may be a growing tide of empowerment initiatives for women in the MENA region. Increasingly, companies and important segments of society believe in the importance of such initiatives for the economic and social development of the region as a whole. We hope to see this trend open vistas for CRS from a social, economic, and sustainable perspective throughout the region.
Dr. Fatih Mehmet GUL is the Executive Director of CSR Middle East and Country Manager for ALJ Community Initiatives. Dr. Gul is on the prestigious list of “2011 TOP 100 THOUGHT LEADERS in Europe and the Middle East.”