Despite the crucial role that women play as social entrepreneurs nationally, regionally and globally, women in the Arab World face numerous challenges in becoming empowered Changemakers in their communities and reaching their full potential as established social entrepreneurs. Among these challenges are laws and social norms that hinder women’s mobility and access to social and capital resources, the high female illiteracy rates forming an obstacle in front of creating their own initiatives, the poor fit of girls’ education with business-sector needs, and the generally low presence of women in the labor market. While it is true that changes in legislation, education curricula and quota systems are a part of the solution, none of these changes will be effective without a critical support on ground, accelerating these women’s progress and a corresponding change in mindsets. At Ashoka Arab World, we have decided to challenge that!
AAW believes that advancing women’s status and promoting their active role in leading social change and development in the Arab region begins with the work of individual women as social entrepreneurs, who drive the sector forward, and respond to new challenges and changing needs. Of our 64 Ashoka Fellows, 28 are women. These Fellows are powerful Changemakers who are working on issues that include: changing the societal perception of unwed mothers, creating agricultural co-ops for women in rural areas, and mentoring female athletes. By doing so, these women social entrepreneurs become examples for other Arab females to reach their potential and grow their impact as social entrepreneurs.
Ashoka Arab World (AAW) created the Women’s Initiative for Social Entrepreneurship (WISE) as a platform for cooperation among women social entrepreneurs at all stages, fostering an environment where Arab women are inspired and empowered to change to the world. WISE addresses the unique challenges that women face in a comprehensive, holistic and inclusive program. The initiative aims to empower and equip Arab women with the necessary tools to become leaders, innovators and Changemakers. In addition, WISE takes into account the economic, social, and cultural factors that inhibit women’s ability to thrive as social entrepreneurs in the Arab world.
WISE targets 3 female groups in the Arab World: 1) Young females, as Arab girls can not vision role-models to follow their lead due to prevention of proper access to education, in addition to disproportionate high illiteracy rates; 2) aspiring female social entrepreneurs, who lack access to social and capital resources, information and guidance, and a social safety net; and 3) established female social entrepreneurs, who face additional strain of social and family obligation put on women in Arabic society, and who need more advanced support to achieve their goals.
Through WISE, AAW works on coaching young women through a specialized Youth Venture program to develop and start their own initiatives for social change, creating a network of aspiring mid-career social entrepreneurs to promote them as examples of success, and facilitate specialized problem-solving sessions and community-building activities to train the women in management, networking, and leadership. For established social entrepreneurs, AAW is promoting practical collaboration and a sense of community by expanding its network of female Fellows in the Arab world and offering specialized trainings, to help them scale up their work, reach more people, and share their understanding and expertise across the sector. WISE also brings together experts in a variety of fields and from a range of backgrounds to measure and advise Ashoka female Fellows.
Several of Ashoka Fellows are working on empowering Arab women and promoting their leading roles in the region:
Zeinab Al Momany, Ashoka Fellow in Jordan, believes that only women themselves can demand their full economic, social and political participation and they can do this best when organized. As a result, she founded the first agricultural union for and by women in the Arab world. Zeinab’s work liberates rural women, affects the whole society, and encourages other women to create a more just and successful region.
Aicha Ech Channa, Ashoka Fellow in Morocco, is changing societal perceptions towards unwed mothers throughout Morocco, thereby transforming them from a condemned and socially taboo group to an included and wholly recognized population. Over the last quarter century, she has been a tireless advocate for the social inclusion and equal treatment of these women. Beyond directly serving unwed mothers, Aicha has developed a dual strategy to increase paternal recognition and support for their children who were born out of wedlock.
Magda Iskander, Ashoka Fellow in Egypt, has created the profession of home healthcare in Egypt through training a cadre of providers to offer high-quality, affordable services to the elderly and others who are homebound. She trains young uneducated women to be home healthcare providers. In doing so, she is both meeting the needs of the homebound and creating jobs for women who lack other employment opportunities.
Our Fellows are outstanding social entrepreneurs and Arab female leaders who set an inspiring example for other women, show possible opportunities out there, and change collective mindsets about the capabilities of women in the region. Ashoka Arab World’s Fellows and their Citizen Sector Organizations (CSOs) are creating systematic change throughout the Arab world. And Through WISE, Ashoka connects its Fellows and other key individuals in the citizen sector to share expertise, and creates a platform that addresses the complete range of issues that impact women in the Arab world and prevent them from fully realizing their visions. WISE aims to strengthen Arab women’s capabilities and potential to become fully empowered Changemakers and highly impact the communities they serve.
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