Business Today Egypt
Available at: http://businesstodayegypt.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=8391
Photo Credit: AUC
An investment bank and two universities are teaming up to improve Egyptian women’s business skills.
By: Ethar El-Katatney
Hend Mohsen dreamed that one day she would become a famous silver jewelry designer. But her dreams seemed far away when she was working as a saby (apprentice), in a Cairo jeweler’s Khan El-Khalili workshop. And even after joining a wholesale silver manufacturing company in 2003 as a student, her limited funds and knowledge of running a business were holding her back.
Now, thanks to a grant from Goldman Sachs, the world’s largest investment banking, securities and investment management firm, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and The American University in Cairo (AUC), Mohsen and Egyptian women like her can learn the skills they need to succeed in business.
Ten Thousand Women
In March 2008 Goldman Sachs announced that it was launching its biggest charity project yet — a $100 million (LE 559 million) philanthropic initiative titled 10,000 Women, aiming to give 10,000 women in developing countries a business and management education in the next five years.
Why women? Because, as a report by the World Bank states, “girls’ education yields both private and social benefits that accrue to individuals, families, and societies at large.”
At the launch of the 10,000 Women program in Egypt last month — the first country to launch the program in the Middle East — Dina Habib Powell, global head of corporate engagement at Goldman Sachs, said that the initiative began “when we saw reports from the United Nations which saw such a social and economic opportunity in investing in women, an investment with a multiplier effect. And as the poet Hafiz Ibrahim once said, ‘when you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’”
Mohsen, who believes that the program is a godsend to women like her who did not have the finances or the time to invest in a lengthy, traditional business education, agrees that educating women, especially in developing countries, is crucial.
“Women here really want to work but don’t know how. Plus, women have the blessing of spreading information to others: I to my family, others to their children, and some to their societies,” she says.
Goldman Sachs found that among the 50 major business schools in Africa–a continent of 900 million people–only 2,600 women are currently enrolled in local MBA programs. “Expanding the entrepreneurial talent and managerial pool in developing and emerging economies — especially among women — is one of the most important means to reducing inequality and ensuring more shared economic growth,” says a statement on Goldman Sachs’ website. “Investing in girls’ education leads to increased wages for individuals as well as faster economic growth for a country.”
Goldman Sachs began accepting proposals from universities and development organizations around the world in the fall of 2007. It aimed to create partnerships between business schools in the United States and Europe with business schools in emerging economies.
As of last month, Goldman Sachs had a network of approximately 50 academic and non-profit partners who administer the initiative in more than a dozen countries. Every partnership is different, and every university sets its own criteria and curriculum to accommodate local needs. The program curriculum can take weeks or months to complete. The first 10,000 Women group was launched in May 2008 in Nigeria.
Five Hundred Women in Egypt
In late 2007, AUC submitted a proposal to become one of Goldman Sachs’ partners, and last month saw the launch of its Goldman Sachs Women’s Entrepreneurship and Leadership Certification Program (WEL). WEL aims to train 100 women from the Middle East per year for the next five years.
Maha El-Shinnawy, a management professor at AUC and director of WEL, says the program started with a need assessment, surveying 35 women and conducting several focus groups to asses the needs of Egyptian women, who own approximately 12% of Egyptian businesses. The results showed female business owners in Egypt faced three main problems: “access to education, access to financing and networking with mentors.”
AUC then looked for a partner to help develop a curriculum that would provide Egyptian women with tools and resources. They decided on The Wharton School of Pennsylvania, one of the most prestigious business schools in the world.
“We didn’t want to take ‘best practice,’ which is what Wharton would be providing, and [pour] it into this region,” says El-Shinnawy. “We wanted to make it local and relevant. So we started with [research] and moved on to develop the curriculum. So it was an integrative process: We had a curriculum, we looked at our needs, we developed it further — like building a house.”
WEL designed a five-week program with professors from of both AUC and Wharton. The rigorous program, says El-Shinnawy, is centered on creating a business plan, and developing the women’s “professional leadership, management, and entrepreneurial skills.” This is done through teaching them “[basic] accounting, market research and marketing, and how to develop a business plan, secure funding, and hire and manage employees. All this in addition to a number of soft skills and teaching them about work-life balance.”
Goldman Sachs has provided the WEL program in Egypt with $1.2 million (LE 6.7 million) this year. Every year AUC has to submit a proposal to get more funds. The program will cost $6 million (LE 33.54 million) overall.
Who are the Women?
The selection process was rigid. “We put an ad in the newspaper for recruitment day and over 750 women showed up,” says El-Shinnawy. “That was the day, the turning point, when I knew that this was going to be successful. We looked at the women and said ‘you know what? There is a need.’”
The prospective applicant had to own a business or have a very viable business idea, be a female citizen of an Arab country, have a proven need for financial support, be proficient in English and have an undergraduate degree. The criteria eliminated all but 250 applicants.
After filling in an application form, a financial needs form, and taking an English test, the prospective applicant had a panel interview and underwent a background security check. “We were looking for certain attributes, [such as] women who demonstrated leadership capabilities,” says El-Shinnawy.
The panel selected 34 women. “It was extremely hard to find women who had the English necessary to complete the program,” says El-Shinnawy, “who at the same time were underserved and had the certain skills needed to be a WEL participant, so these women are extraordinary.”
“The women […] are not simply students or business owners,” Powell added in her speech, “they are pioneers, and they are builders. They are making the investments and the sacrifices to build a growing business, a prosperous family, and a strong nation.”
The women, who will complete their program on March 5, come from many different industries — manufacturing, trade, and tourism — and have different degrees from many different universities. The one thing they have in common? An almost insatiable desire to learn, says El-Shinnawy, and a drive to succeed.
“You would have never imagined there were so many Egyptian women who wanted to succeed so badly,” she says. “And although they’re learning a lot I can honestly say the most important thing they’re getting out of the program is self confidence, feeling important, feeling wanted, feeling empowered. […] The program is going to transform their lives.”
Twenty-seven of the participants are Egyptians and seven were from other countries around the region. Rana Habasah, from Palestine, is the director and environmental consultant at ORAL for Engineering Consultation, with a master’s degree in water and environmental engineering.
“I wanted to develop my skills to enlarge my business,” she says. “But I always found that programs gave us rules and regulations whereas I’ve always wanted something practical and realistic. This program has lit up spaces in my head that were dark. I have learned so much and I am so grateful for this opportunity.”
Reem El Tonsy, who just started her business Creativedge, a marketing communications solutions firm, is a graduate of AUC. “I had field skills but since I wasn’t a business major I had no idea of how to run a business,” she says. “But this has been such a great experience. Knowledge transfers take place [all the time] and everyone is so talented and amazing. It’s so different to be around a group of women who really want to make a difference and are so happy to be here.”
“This is an excellent, excellent program,” adds Mona Samy, owner and director of True Vine publishing house and an engineering graduate from Ain Shams University.
“What we’re studying here is directly to the point. I don’t have to take lots of courses to learn the things I really need. I finish up here and work between six and nine, then go home to take care of my three children, and then I still have to study, but it’s worth it. I’ve finally understood what an income statement and a balance sheet are and that’s marvelous. We’ve been taught things here that we will use forever.”
Ultimately, the aim of the WEL program is to further train women who have the potential to successfully expand and manage their businesses, as well as to endow them with the confidence to do so. When they do, they will hire more people, stimulating employment and income not only for themselves, but for their communities. Their work will inspire other women — and men — and eventually benefit their countries. bt