The US Mission to Saudi Arabia, in partnership with the Atlantic Council, AmCham Saudi Arabia and Quantum Leaps, announces a new program for women’s entrepreneurship
On March 31, the Atlantic Council’s EmpowerME initiative, in collaboration with the US Mission to Saudi Arabia, the Women in Business Committee of AmCham Saudi Arabia and Quantum Leaps, hosted an event to launch their new joint program: IGNITING Women’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Saudi Arabia Arabia. This will bring US entrepreneurs, experts and executives together with Saudi colleagues to build relationships, share knowledge and develop partnership opportunities through hybrid workshops and networking sessions.
EmpowerME Director Amjad Ahmad moderated a discussion on the economic changes in Saudi Arabia that are enabling more women than ever to get involved in the economy. The featured speakers included the CEO of Endeavor Saudi Arabia Lateefa Alwaalan, Deputy Secretary General of the Digital Collaboration Organization Deemah AlYahya, Co-Founder and President of Quantum Leaps, Inc. Virginia Littlejohnand the US Mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Chargé d’Affaires Martina Stark.
Below is a summary of the key points made by the speakers.
Martina Strong, Chargé d’Affaires, US Mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
- Leading US private sector companies have worked successfully with Saudi women: Strong stated that “our companies view these partnerships as their own path to success,” referring to the UPS Exporters Program with General Authority for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (Monshaat), ExxonMobil’s global program for women in management with the ExxonMobil King Khalid Foundation and Lockheed Martin’s investment in STEM education programs in Saudi Arabia and the PepsiCo Foundation’s Tamakani accelerator with INJAZ Al-Arab as an example.
- Saudi women drive progress together with Vision 2030: According to Strong, Saudi women “made sure that women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship, economic opportunity and security were the focus of G20 discussions during Saudi Arabia’s presidency in 2020.” Indeed, the idea for IGNITE grew out of the Women 20 (W20) Engagement Group was born.
- IGNITE is a platform for Saudi women to use their entrepreneurial energy: Strong stated that the new program will feature a series of workshops and networking events with virtual and personal components over the next six months, culminating in an online summit on Saudi women entrepreneurship during Global Entrepreneurship Week in November 2021. The main objective is “to enable US business leaders and their Saudi counterparts to explore opportunities that Saudi entrepreneurs are opening every day in this unprecedented period of profound change and reform in Saudi Arabia.”
Lateefa Alwaalan, executive Director, Strive for Saudi Arabia
- Saudi Arabia has made great strides in supporting new startups: Alwaalan noted that Saudi Arabia recently jumped from forty-first to seventh in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report as the government and the private sector “worked hand in hand to make the ecosystem more supportive to entrepreneurship”.
- Saudi women need encouragement to take on a higher position in startups: Alwaalan noted that her peers in the industry need support and mentoring to “find the courage” to fill C-suite positions.
- Breaking down barriers to networking remains crucial: Drawing on lessons learned at W20, Alwaalan stressed that better access to business networks will allow women to join the venture capitalist and angel investor community and then support more women-run businesses. Gender balance on teams is especially important for tech companies so that the life changing technology they develop is truly inclusive and reflects the needs of men and women.
Deemah AlYahya, Deputy Secretary General of the Digital Collaboration Organization
- Getting jobs in the digital innovation ecosystem is an ongoing challenge for Saudi women: The founder of WomenSpark reflected on her experiences in the IT sector and explained that Saudi women can make a career there easier than two decades ago. Yet there are not enough jobs for women with formal training in IT, which is a missed economic opportunity.
- More women can play a much bigger role as job creators and investors: AlYahya’s experience taught her that “it is not enough to raise a woman”. She highlighted two challenges: women entrepreneurs face problems raising money, and women often hesitate to become investors despite owning 30 to 40 percent of Saudi banks’ assets.
- Economic and social benefits of women’s participation in the labor market: AlYahya argued that more Saudi women should join the workforce to boost GDP in the post-COVID-19 recovery period, to help as the kingdom seeks to diversify its economy, and managerial positions in the office and too To take home so that “Both parents will raise a generation that is innovative by default. “
Virginia Littlejohn, Co-Head of the U.S. Delegation, W20, and Co-Founder and President of Quantum Leaps, Inc.
- The government should change the business and legal indicators to achieve 100 percent alignment: Littlejohn advised the Saudi government to reconsider how professional and university education prepares students for future employment, paying particular attention to the existing “dead zones” where well-educated youth cannot find jobs that match their education are compatible.
- Working internationally with business owners can accelerate the engagement of Saudi women: Littlejohn stressed that STEM, e-commerce and international trade are three areas where greater participation by women is needed. Partnerships between American experts and Saudi innovators can help. For example, the International Trade Center will develop a major initiative to encourage women’s participation in public procurement.
- More research is needed on the financial impact of women’s entrepreneurship: Littlejohn agreed with a point that Amjad Ahmad highlighted that additional data on return on investment by gender can have a huge impact on the ecosystem, especially with recent data showing that female founders achieve better returns than their male counterparts.
Allison Holle is Program Assistant at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for Middle East and Middle East Initiatives. Follow her @AllisonHolle.
IGNITE Women’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Saudi Arabia
A joint project of the EmpowerME initiative of the Atlantic Council, the US mission in Saudi Arabia, the American Chamber of Commerce Saudi Arabia and quantum leaps
EmpowerME at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Middle East Center develops solutions to empower entrepreneurs, women and youth, and to form coalitions of public and private partnerships to drive regional economic integration, prosperity and job creation.