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From left, Maha Al Baghli of Business and Professional Women, Kuwait, Azza Al Qubaisi, the vice chairman of the Abu Dhabi Business Women Council, Buthaina Al Ansari, the founder and chairman of Qatariat.org and Sarah Wadi, the head of business development and marketing, business banking group, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, at the Women in Leadership Forum in Abu Dhabi last month. Fatima Al Marzouqi / The National
From left, Maha Al Baghli of Business and Professional Women, Kuwait, Azza Al Qubaisi, the vice chairman of the Abu Dhabi Business Women Council, Buthaina Al Ansari, the founder and chairman of Qatariat.org and Sarah Wadi, the head of business development and marketing, business banking group,  National Bank of Abu Dhabi, at the Women in Leadership Forum in Abu Dhabi last month. Fatima Al Marzouqi /  The National

Women out to bridge gap

The Life: Women drive around a third of the world's entrepreneurial activity, but they tend to struggle growing the size of their small startups. Experts share tips on how to best expand a business.

Over the past decade women have driven about a third of the world's total entrepreneurial activity, experts say.

Yet females earn only about 10 per cent of the income generated globally from businesses.

Part of the huge gap between the creative spirit that drives many to launch their own ventures and the income they receive stems from the types of businesses women tend to start - and how these evolve over time, experts say.

"How do we transform businesses owned, or run by women, into top international companies and emerge as leaders in their respective industries?" says Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansor, the wife of Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak, the prime minster of Malaysia, and who spoke at the Women in Leadership Forum in Abu Dhabi last month and presented the data on female entrepreneurial activity.

"In other words," she says, "moving from micro to macro enterprises."

Many of those who spoke at the event pointed to networking as a key area where women needed to improve to fulfil their potential as entrepreneurs. Those who are starting out a new business can tap these networks while perfecting their idea. They can then grow their business faster while more easily obtaining advice about legal services, licensing issues and securing funding for expansion opportunities.

"Networking is very important," says Nadia Al Dossary, the chief executive of the Saudi Arabian scrap metal company Al-Sale Eastern.

Azza Al Qubaisi is an Emirati entrepreneur who launched Arjmst, a jewellery and sculpture business. Ms Qubaisi, who is also vice chairman of the Abu Dhabi Business Women Council, noted at the forum that young female entrepreneurs in the emirates often struggle in "meeting businesswomen in the industry".

"This is one of the main issues I face every time I meet a young person. They are looking already to being an entrepreneur, but finding a mentor is not easy."

Most networking groups for women in the UAE are geared at existing female executives, says Rasha Nashat Hassani, the founding partner and chairman of Landmark Properties in Dubai. "That's great as well because this is where we all come together and create awareness that can help the younger generation.

"But I do believe the younger generation of entrepreneurs do not have the access to such networks and there is a need for such networks for them," Ms Nassani says.

Some other main barriers for female entrepreneurs looking to grow their business in the Arab world "have to do with managerial and technical skills and training, access to capital, the unavailability of skilled or trained employees and cost of services", says Alia Moubayed, a director and senior economist at Barclays Capital for the Middle East and North Africa.

"Others have to do with gender-based discrimination against women entrepreneurs. That is perhaps most important to us as women."

But experts also cited the importance of starting new businesses within sectors with large growth potential, such as information technology, health and consumer products. Those innovations with an eco-friendly or green angle are particularly promising right now.

Research shows that when it comes to entrepreneurial activity, women lead in the use of computers but they are slower in the uptake of online businesses compared with men, says Ms Mansor.

She says women tend to start smaller enterprises that have a longer start-up period, because these often have fewer financial barriers.

Yet, these such companies are also generally less technologically oriented.

"To overcome risk aversion women need to continuously update their knowledge and skills as well as develop their business plan or strategy with a clear vision, mission and target," says Ms Mansor.

"Innovation must be coupled with technology that can accelerate women and [business] growth."

nparmar@thenational.ae

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