Social media helps women demonstrate they mean business
Facebook partnership hopes to train 10,000 women a year regionally
‘When women succeed, we all win,” says the Facebook page of the company’s latest campaign to inspire and help women to become entrepreneurs.
Some of the wolrld’s most powerful businesswomen work for Facebook including the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, and the vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Nicola Mendelsohn, a 45-year-old British woman. Facebook leads by example – but it wants to do more than that.
A campaign called #SheMeansBusiness which aims to inspire women entrepreneurs was recently launched in the Mena region, with ambitions to train 10,000 women in a year. For the campaign Facebook partners with organisations in the UAE and in Egypt to train thousands of women and girls.
The training includes online resources, workshops and work with NGOs. Inevitably it has a strong emphasis on marketing using Facebook and Instagram.
Jonathan Labin, the regional director for Facebook in the Middle East and North Africa, says that the firm’s natural territory is championing small businesses to grow, as well as highlighting the importance of encouraging women into the workplace.
He points out that there is a big push in to reduce unemployment among Emiratis by half by 2020.
“A lot of businesses in the region and governments want to increase the representation of women in the workplace, so we are very aligned [with the local governments] on this one,” Mr Labin says.
According to the #SheMeansBusiness page, if women’s participation in labour markets in the Mena equalled that of men’s, the regional GDP could rise by 47 per cent over the next decade. That would translate to a US$600 billion more wealth in the region annually, making a huge difference to many less wealthy families.
Women do play a vital role in the small business sector in the region, with 300,000 owning businesses. But there is scope for them to do more and technology provides powerful tools for women to use.
Iman Ben Chaibah is one of the female entrepreneurs featured on the website. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sail magazine, an online publication that aims to provide content relevant to a young Middle Eastern audience.
The magazine is proudly staffed by Emirati writers, editors and illustrators covering topics including cultural interests, society, lifestyle, parenting and fashion.
She uses Facebook and Instagram to reach her readers, but also to reach people that can be useful in her networks. “It’s much easier to reach people on Facebook and Instagram, because we all follow each other and we all know about each other’s work. So it’s much easier to ask for advice or say ‘let’s grab a coffee’,” she says.
Sarah Beydoun, a businesswoman from Lebanon, is also involved in #SheMeansBusiness. Her whole business began with a desire to help underprivileged women better themselves when she started a social enterprise in 2000 that showcased the craftwork of female prisoners to make beautiful handbags. Sarah’s Bag is now an international-selling brand, seen in the hands of Queen Rania of Jordan and Amal Clooney, the Lebanese-British barrister married to the US actor George Clooney.
Both Facebook and Instagram are invaluable tools for driving the business’s growth, Ms Beydoun says. “Being connected has literally opened up the world to us and vastly expanded our client base outside of the Middle East. The rise of social media coincided with a time when we were gearing up to go international. Being able to engage and reach not only new clients but also inspirational and influential people from the fashion industry has been priceless.”