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‘The sky’s the limit’ for female Emirati entrepreneurs
Nama Women Advancement found that females in the UAE are far more likely to open a business than a decade ago

Ten years ago, when Tala Badri decided to launch her own business, the pathway to opening was anything but easy.

“When I came into the market to set up my own business and I applied for a loan, for example, I was told it was a wonderful idea, ‘but you need to have your husband or your brother sign off on it’,” she told AGBI.

“I was an Emirati female and they didn’t trust me to be able to run a business.”

Fortunately, a decade later, and with Badri’s Centre for Musical Arts in Dubai hitting all the right notes, the situation is a lot easier for Emirati female entrepreneurs.

“There is so much support from the government, from financial institutions for women to set up their own businesses,” she said.

“And a lot of it is because so many women are going through education and doing really well and graduating.

“So many are studying not just bachelor degrees, but masters courses and PhDs. I think that in the last ten years has made a huge difference.

“But there has also been an acknowledgement from the rulers in the country that women are a force to be reckoned with and they form such a big part of the country.”

Smile, Person, Head
Tala Badri opened her music centre 16 years ago when opportunities for female founders were slim

A recent survey conducted by Nama Women Advancement, in partnership with UN Women, found that the number of female entrepreneurs is rising significantly, with 25,000 Emirati women owning 50,000 trade licences valued at AED 60 billion in 2021, compared to 23,000 running businesses worth AED 50 billion in 2019 and 11,000 with companies worth AED 12 billion in 2010.

The survey revealed that 77.6 percent of women-owned businesses in the UAE are led by those under the age of 40. Of the 1,000 who took part in the survey, 48.8 percent are CEOs and 61.4 percent are sole proprietors.

Asma Darwish, founder of Dubai-based interior boutique design firm Concepts Decor, started her company 10 years ago. At the time she admitted there were few female designers, never mind Emirati female designers.

But she is now promoting entrepreneurship with all her young female family members.

“They see that we’re so independent,” she said. “In the family we’re raising all the girls to be entrepreneurs.

“I’m already teaching my niece to have a business idea and start thinking about how she can make money. To be independent because you don’t know where the world takes you.

“It’s not like the old days in my culture where you got married and rely on the men to financially support you. That’s no longer the case now. The girls are more financially stable than the men.”

Smile, Head, Face
Asma Darwish is encouraging entrepreneurship among all her young female family members

Dina Masoud, owner and founder of Totes and Tokens, which provides eco-friendly gift wraps and decorative tokens, said Emirati females “naturally gravitate towards setting up our own businesses”.

“As female Emiratis we are far more ambitious as we wish to put our stamp in this male dominated sector and show the world that there is no limit to what we can do and achieve,” Masoud said.

The Nama survey was part of the report Women-Owned Businesses in the United Arab Emirates: A Golden Opportunity.

It highlighted the UAE’s sustainable and resilient entrepreneurial ecosystem, pointing out the progress the country has made to ensure gender parity through a series of legal, policy and institutional measures over the past decade, including the simplification of access to finance. 

The UAE was ranked top in the 2021-2022 Global Entrepreneurship Mentorship report in terms of countries that allow for better ease of doing business.

Nooran Albannay, CEO of Coffee Architecture, said: “For me, as an Emirati woman, I feel it’s my duty to help debunk stereotypes and to show the world how forward-thinking, innovative, creative and supportive our country is.

“We are given so much opportunity to thrive in the UAE – and every industry needs more female representation and leadership as we bring a sense of care, support and understanding to any work environment.”

Nooran Albannay, CEO of Coffee Architecture believes that every industry needs more female representation and leadership

Significant women-focused initiatives for SMEs and home-based activities have provided access for thousands of females to set up their businesses, including the launch of Badiri Education and Development Academy and Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council by Nama in Sharjah, Sougha and Mubdi’ah by the Abu Dhabi Businesswomen Council, and Intilaq by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce.

Jen Blandos, founder of Female Fusion in the UAE, said: “Thanks to all of the initiatives offered by the UAE government, we are seeing more and more Emirati women set up businesses.

“This is ranging from music academies and training businesses to robotics, and AI to e-commerce, F&B, fashion and art.  

“The sky really is the limit, and Emirati women are seizing upon all of the opportunities offered to them to create the business of their dreams.”

The UAE’s British Business Group, recorded a rapid rise in female business owners as a proportion of its membership, from 27 percent in May to 30 percent in September this year.

There are “many potential reasons,” according to Katy Holmes, general manager of the group. 

“We have collaborated with all female business groups like Female Fusion; we have hosted events with topics that have naturally attracted more female delegates.

“We also ran a campaign in the summer for referrals and found that more women referred their contacts to the BBG than men.”