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This UAE Leadership Program Is Helping Women Entrepreneurs To Kickstart Their Business Idea

The e7 Daughters of the Emirates summit last year. (Photo courtesy e7)

Pitching for mentorship and funding can be an intimidating business, especially when you’re a young woman at a testosterone-fuelled event for startups and your idea is a social enterprise to clean plastic waste in the oceans or help women drivers on basic vehicle maintenance.

To address those challenges, e7 Daughters of the Emirates, a leadership program, is making it easy for a growing community of aspiring women entrepreneurs and leaders — aged 18 to 25 years — in the UAE to solve social, environmental, cultural or economic problems. “Women in the UAE, both nationals and expats, have tremendous potential as business leaders and change makers. They just need some motivation and the right environment to realize what they can achieve,” says Adela Acevedo Sarna, e7 co-founder.

The biggest hurdles faced by women entrepreneurs is not only coming up with a great model that is both financially sustainable and socially useful, but also getting access to the sort of peer networks they need for support, Sarna says. The leadership program is created to give these young women the training they need. The program stems out of Promise of a Generation (POAG), a UAE-based community forum of over a thousand women achievers, which established itself as an open majlis (in Arabic majlis means “gatherings” or “councils”). Both e7 and POAG are volunteer-led and run organizations.

“Given that the UAE has a high proportion of women ministers — 27.5% of the cabinet ministers are women — we see quite a few applicants to the program who see themselves as ministers in five to ten years’ time,” adds Sarna, who is also a co-founder of POAG.

“In the Middle East, where ministers are typically older men, this is an extraordinary thing we are experiencing in the UAE. Shamma Al Mazroui, who was appointed Minister of Youth last year, is an inspiration to them.”

Linking young women to local development, e7, in its second cycle now, is a first of its kind in the country. Every year, it organizes a four-day summit, attended by young aspirants and women entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders from the region. In the summit, aspirants — Emiratis and expats — pitch their projects and the mentors help them for a year to execute it and navigate the complexities of starting a small enterprise. “The program kicks off with the summit that brings together selected participants from across the seven emirates to be inspired by community leaders and get connected to mentors. Following this, the participants form teams and then develop and execute projects in consultation with their mentors and e7 board to benefit the community,” says Sarna.

POAG founders Esther Tang, Aysha Al Hashimi, Adela Acevedo and Aida Al Busaidy. (Photo courtesy e7)

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Some of the promising team-based community projects under e7 that are on their way to establish into socially-responsible businesses are Green Clean, Mootary and Masaari.

Clean Green is developing a machine — currently on their fourth prototype — to clean plastic waste in oceans and experimenting with solar solutions; Mootary organizes motoring workshops for women drivers and Masaari is an internship programme for high school students.

“Masaari enables high school students to explore myriad careers and discover their strengths through short internships that would otherwise only be available to university students or fresh graduates,” says Sarna.

Other community projects initiated by e7 include Taqa, which aims to promote renewable energy by building portable solar mobile chargers, We Feel provides support to cancer patients, and Let’s Lead empowers young girls to break gender stereotypes through interactive workshops.

“The direct beneficiaries of these projects include students, women of all ages, the marine environment and cancer patients, among others,” says Sarna. “Each one of our projects has immense potential, and are addressing diverse cultural and societal challenges. Some have found success early, such as our Mootary and Masaari, while others are still developing and growing.”

One of the biggest hurdles is access to capital. Rather than finding investors or securing a loan, e7 helps women who come up with best community projects to receive seed funding from its sponsor Emirates NBD. The aspiring social entrepreneurs are allowed to seek additional funding from other sponsors as well. “We are happy to connect them to relevant partners from our network of supporters,” says Sarna. “For instance, Mootary is delivering their vehicle awareness workshop utilizing the funding received from our sponsor, while they are working with Audi Nabooda Automobiles to deliver the actual workshop content.”

Although there are no numbers at present to show how many of these young women are more likely to launch social enterprises or for-profit companies, Sarna says that engagement with aspiring entrepreneurs who often lack solid knowledge of the industry in which they want to operate is as important.

“Over 90% of the women recommend the program to their friends and peer groups, which, considering we are only in the second cycle of the program, is a very positive response. Now, we want improve the program and extend the duration beyond a year.”