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NUSACC and Embassy of Bahrain Co-Host GCC Women Entrepreneurs

posted on: May 26, 2024

Women Innovators (WIn) Fellowship is committed to supporting women entrepreneurs in the MENA region by providing them with the necessary tools and resources to excel and lead

“The work ethic that these women entrepreneurs exhibit is a blessing and is indicative of our home culture.”  – H.E. Abdullah Bin Rashid AlKhalifa, Bahraini Ambassador to the United States

Washington DC: The Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain, in partnership with the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce (NUSACC) – America’s top commercial gateway to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) recently co-hosted a delegation of 20 women entrepreneurs from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. 

The high-level dinner for 75 business and government leaders took place at the residence of Bahrain’s Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Abdullah Bin Rashid AlKhalifa.  (A short video of the evening’s activities may be found here.)   

“NUSACC is proud to support these future leaders of the Arab world,” said David Hamod, NUSACC’s President & CEO.  “Our Chamber is pleased to connect these entrepreneurs with established business leaders in the USA, and we are very grateful to H.E. Shaikh Abdullah and H.E. Shaikha Aisha for hosting such an extraordinary gathering.” 

The keynote speaker for the evening was Dr. Muneera Khalifa Al Khalifa, Director General of the Mohamed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa Academy for Diplomatic Studies in Bahrain.

The MENA entrepreneurs are part of the Women Innovators (WIn) Fellowship, which was launched in March 2022 by the Atlantic Council’s empowerME initiative in collaboration with Georgetown University.  This year’s program was held in partnership with the U.S. Embassies in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as well as PepsiCo, a corporate sponsor. 

This year’s cohort of women entrepreneurs visited Washington DC and New York City for leadership training at Georgetown University and for meetings with U.S. business and government leaders.

Bahrain: Taking the Initiative

In his welcome remarks, Ambassador AlKhalifa highlighted steps that Bahrain is taking to make the Kingdom an even more attractive destination for business.  “His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s leadership and vision has led to the implementation of reforms and dynamic management throughout the Kingdom,” he noted.  “In turn, this vision led the Heritage Foundation in recent years to rank Bahrain as #1 in the MENA region for finance, investment, and trade freedom.”

In this same spirit, Amb. AlKhalifa said, the Agility Emerging Markets Logistics Index in recent years ranked the UAE #3 in their overall rankings and Saudi Arabia #3 in business fundamentals.  He concluded, Bahrain is a “place of warm hospitality and always available to receive friends, both old and new.  The work ethic that these women entrepreneurs exhibit is a blessing and is indicative of our home culture.”

According to the latest Country Commercial Guide (CCG), published in May 2024 by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bahrain is considered one of the most open economies in the MENA region.  With several free trade agreements, excellent infrastructure, and strong financial institutions, the CCG says, the Kingdom is well positioned to provide traders and investors access to regional and international markets.  This position was enhanced in September 2023, when the USA and Bahrain signed the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement, which includes growth in telecommunications and emerging technologies.   

In most sectors, Bahrain permits 100 percent foreign-ownership of a business or branch office, without the need for a local partner, and the Kingdom currently has no tax on corporate income, personal income, wealth, capital gains, withholding, or death/inheritance.  Moreover, Bahrain has no restrictions on repatriation of capital, profits, or dividends.

InterNations, a global network of people living and working overseas, ranked Bahrain as the ninth most favorable place to live for expatriates worldwide in 2023.  InterNations considers Bahrain to be the best place to live and work in the MENA region.

Entrepreneurship in the Arab World

NUSACC’s David Hamod noted that entrepreneurship in the Arab world is moving in the right direction.  “In the MENA region,” he said, “57 percent of STEM graduates are women.  Nearly $4 billion in venture investment poured into the MENA region in 2022, according to Wamda,” and the biggest winners were the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.  In 2023, Hamod pointed out, Saudi Arabia secured 52 percent of all regional startup funding.

At the same time, Hamod suggested, there is room for improvement.  According to Wamda, of the almost $4 billion raised by MENA startups in 2022, only $51 million (1.3 percent) went to companies founded by women.  Women-led businesses in the region still constitute a minority, Hamod noted, with less than five percent of businesses being led by women.

Chambers of commerce need to take a hard look at these challenges, Hamod said, and work to devise strategies that will improve startup conditions for all entrepreneurs, men and women alike.

Overall, Hamod expressed optimism about the growing importance of women business leaders in the MENA region: “Tonight, we celebrate Arab women entrepreneurs.  Tonight, we dispel stereotypes.  Tonight, we gain an understanding of what the future of women’s empowerment looks like in the Middle East and North Africa.”

“Women have always done great things.  Arab women have always done great things,” Hamod concluded.  “And now that they have a platform like the WIn program supporting them, these women will do even greater things!”

Keynote Speech: Dr. Muneera bint Khalifa Al Khalifa

Shaikha Muneera, who heads the Academy for Diplomatic Studies in Bahrain, talked about the Kingdom’s recognition of women’s contributions to society.  In 2001, she noted, a Supreme Council for Women was established, headed by Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka, the wife of His Majesty the King.  “This move was a signal that women’s advancement was now a top priority,” Dr. Al Khalifa noted, “as well as a priority for those at the top.”

Fast forwarding to today in the MENA region, she said, “There simply has never been a better time to be a woman.  From industry to civil society to politics, and in all spheres of life, public as well as private, women – across the region – are making headlines.”

She continued, “It would be nice to think of all that we have been able to achieve as women, how far we’ve come in our societies, to think of all of that as a spontaneous flowering.  But it took effort – deliberate and determined effort – to prepare the soil, to plant the seeds, and to water the ground.  Only then did the desert bloom.”

In her concluding remarks, Dr. Muneera commended the Win Fellows: “You are worth celebrating.  Not only because you shine, and so brightly at that, but also because you are shining the light for those who will come after you . . . Those who need that light so desperately, who need role models, pioneers, innovators, like all of you.  That’s why you ladies belong in the limelight, and why all of us need to do our utmost to empower you in every way that we can.”

Celebrating the WIn Program

The Women Innovators (WIn) Fellowship was launched by the Atlantic Council’s empowerME initiative to support women entrepreneurs in building leadership and in scaling their startups.  Increasing female entrepreneurship leads to more inclusive, prosperous, and equal societies. 

In the words of the Atlantic Council, “To fully leverage the economic and social benefits of increased female entrepreneurship, policymakers must take steps to establish an enabling environment for these women to prosper and grow.”  The WIn Fellowship is designed to do just that.

“We are grateful to NUSACC and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain for co-hosting our WIn Fellows for an incredible evening of connection and growth,” said Lynn Monzer, Deputy Director, WIn Fellowship, empowerME Initiative.  “The WIn Fellowship is committed to supporting women entrepreneurs in the MENA region by providing them with the necessary tools and resources to excel and lead. We are immensely proud of our Fellows, who continue to grow and thrive despite challenges, and we are thankful to our partners and supporters for their invaluable assistance.”

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