35 Entrepreneurs Making a Difference in the Arab World

Recent decades have seen greatly expanded opportunities for women throughout the Arab world, leveling the playing field as never before.

In Arab Women Rising, Knowledge@Wharton contributors Nafeesa Syeed and Rahilla Zafar share the entrepreneurial journeys of 35 women, from a flower farmer tending her fields in the Tunisian countryside to a Saudi royal advocating for expanded women’s rights throughout the kingdom.

This Knowledge@Wharton collection tells the stories of:

  • Pioneers who are establishing exciting technology companies in a region where mobile usage is on the upswing
  • Small and midsize business owners who started enterprises specializing in everything from public relations to the arts
  • Innovators who have rolled out new products, revamped fashions, and  integrated new services into their industries
  • Visionaries tapping the big-picture potential the region holds in such growing fields as entertainment and science
  • Women effectively spearheading change in their communities by starting social enterprises

Inspiring and powerful, Arab Women Rising is a guide to understanding the modern business environment created and led by a new generation of women entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa.

About the Contributors

Nafeesa Syeed is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has reported from the United States, South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Based in Washington, she is currently producing documentary films with Fault Lines and working on her next book about Arab women in politics. Follow her on Twitter @NafeesaSyeed.

Rahilla Zafar is currently based in New York City working on a book project about women in Saudi Arabia. She began contributing to Knowledge@Wharton in 2007 while based in Afghanistan, covering the growth of the country’s microfinance and telecom sectors. Follow her on Twitter @rahilla.

Knowledge@Wharton is the online business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The site, which is free, captures relevant knowledge generated at Wharton and beyond by offering articles and videos based on research, conferences, speakers, books, and interviews with faculty and other experts on current business topics. Knowledge@Wharton has grown into a network of sites that includes a global edition in English and regional editions in Spanish, Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, and Traditional Chinese, as well as a site for high school students and educators. knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu

Praise for Arab Women Rising

Arab Women Rising tracks businesswomen and social entrepreneurs, new start-ups and well-known female leaders. Their stories are uplifting at times and often instructive of the challenges that new businesses in the region face as they get off the ground.”
Elizabeth Dickinson, Christian Science Monitor, Global Outlook

“With Arab Women Rising, Knowledge@Wharton has launched a seminal work for anyone hoping to understand the evolution of women as business founders in the Middle East and North Africa.”
Nina Curley, Wamda

“The stereotype of the Arab woman in the minds of non-Arabs has often been that she is passive, stays at home and financially dependent on men in her life, either a father or husband. A new e-book titled Arab Women Rising, authored by Nafeesa Syeed and Rahilla Zafar, puts an end to this stereotype, featuring interviews with 35 Arab women that range in age from their 20s to their late 70s.”
Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, Arab News

“At a time when the dominant narrative emanating from the Middle East is one of conflict and instability, Knowledge@Wharton contributors Nafeesa Syeed and Rahilla Zafar have illuminated a different set of stories. From flower growers and clothes designers to web developers and management consultants, the women profiled in Arab Women Rising will change foreign views of Arab women and inject much-needed optimism into projections about the fate of the Arab world.”
Barbara Slavin, senior fellow, The Atlantic Council, and author, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation

“A groundbreaking collection of voices from the front lines of a true women’s-led revolution in the Arab World—one built on innovation, creativity, perseverance, and sacrifice. In their own way, each of these changemakers are redefining what it means to be female and Arab in the twenty-first century and changing the future of business and leadership in their communities.”
Maria M. Ebrahimji, Cofounder, I Speak for Myself, Inc.

“I believe strongly in the power of people’s stories, and this body of work reminds me why. It brings to life tales of women who have dared to be different. In doing so, they are bringing about change not only for themselves, but in the lives of every person who comes in contact with them. Arab Women Rising is a superb effort to document what it takes to be an agent of change, to challenge the status quo, and to lead through example. Well done, Knowledge@Wharton. These stories will be an impetus for many to emulate these agents of change.”
—Nima Abu-Wardeh, founder, cashy.me, and BBC presenter

Arab Women Rising is an important testament to where Arab women stand in the twenty-first century world today. These personal stories documenting their struggles and successes will dispel any previous preconceptions and will encourage support for their global rising and empowerment.”
Alison Wright, photographer and author of Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit and Learning to Breathe: One Woman’s Journey of Spirit and Survival

“If there’s one thing Arab women dislike, it’s being viewed as victims. To know why, read this book. It’s full of fascinating stories of women who overcame obstacles—familial, marital, financial, social, and cultural—to make it in the male-dominated world of Arab business. Whether it was trash, T-shirts, or hi-tech, they grabbed opportunities and rose to the top through smarts, gumption, and determination.”
Caryle Murphy, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, A Kingdom’s Future: Saudi Arabia Through the Eyes of Its Twentysomethings

“A must-read for anyone wanting to know more about the heroic achievements of Arab women in bridging the gender gap in enterprise and business.”
—Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, author, Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign

“Knowledge@Wharton contributors Nafeesa Syeed and Rahilla Zafar uncover women leading business from across the Arab world. The bold women featured here will amaze and inspire you. They are women at the frontier.”
—Kay Koplovitz, Founder, USA Network, and author, Bold Women, Big Ideas

In the Media