Unlocking Female Entrepreneurship for Generation M
Isabel Maguire, consultant at independent brand consultancy The Clearing writes about how young female Muslims are flexing their economic muscle thanks to digital inclusion.
Each year on International Women’s Day, we celebrate the achievements of women and if we were in the office, you might even make it into the obligatory Instagram post showing off all the female faces in the company. It’s an occasion to recognise those women that shatter glass ceilings, win medals, lead change and make a difference. But this gaze is particularly Western despite the “International” title. Can we really say it supports and celebrates all women around the globe?
Generation M, the youth bulge of affluent Muslims, is widely applauded and acknowledged to be changing the way businesses run and operate. Proud of their faith and enthusiastic consumers, the Muslim pound is forcing cultural change by way of hard economics. For these Millennial Muslims, faith and living a modern life go hand in hand. Feels optimistic, feels current. But it’s not the full picture. Despite 55% of the population in the Middle East being under 30, the region is also defined by screamingly high youth unemployment, especially female youth unemployment (48% in Saudi Arabia, 45% in Egypt). Only 1 out of 10 businesses in MENA are run by women.
How can this change, when access to vital resources and interaction with the public sphere often meets huge barriers?
So this year, we’re shifting our focus to ask: how do we support and celebrate Generation M women on IWD 2021?
Three entrepreneurs, who are female and Muslim, are starting to flex their economic muscle:
-Malaysian actress, influencer, and TV personality Neelofa – often called the Kim Kardashian of South East Asia – is a self-made mogul and founder of modern modest wear brand, Naelofar. Built around the liberating promise of “Go Far,” the Naelofar brand challenges the perceptions around modest wear by creating products that don’t require women to choose between tradition and their modern identity.
-Iraqi entrepreneur Huda Kattan was miserable in her finance job, so she quit joined YouTube. In 2010, Huda Beauty started as a blog and today, it’s one of the best-known beauty brands in the world with more than 47 million Instagram followers – that’s more than 15 times the population of Dubai. Refusing to sit on the sidelines of progress, Kattan uses her brand to empower women and change the face of the beauty industry.
- Award-winning graphic designer and founder of Wali Studio, Ghada Wali, is the first Egyptian woman to appear on Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Wali’s project Let’s Play! uses images of Lego bricks to simplify Arabic, the liturgical language of over 1.8 billion Muslims and the lingua franca of more than 300 million people who mostly reside in North Africa and the Middle East. Wali used design to express how crucial effective
Three successful women, three successful brands. What do they have in common? Each brand was created and led by a woman who worked in a modern way within a traditional culture. Through social media, self-empowerment and grit, these women have created jobs, fuelled economies and ecosystems. The power of their brands cannot be understated. More than fashion or false eyelashes – the brands they have created are fearless and feminine.
Digital inclusion is the hero (or the heroine) of the day. Digitalisation gives brands the chance to promote freedom of choice and has the potential to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs. Continuing to support brands like Naelofar eans that young Muslim women are more likely to come across new and exciting opportunities – or even better, be empowered to create their own. Today in the Middle East alone, 1 in 3 start-ups are founded or led by a woman. That’s a higher percentage than in Silicon Valley.
The share of women in professional and technical jobs is set to more than double by 2030 through digitalisation, online platforms/social media, and entrepreneurship. In the face of roadblocks such as education, financial resource and legal protection, digital inclusion is the catalyst that’s needed. And as technology continues to reshape the way we all work in 2021, digital inclusion is boosting female participation and greater job flexibility for young Muslim women.
So, this International Women’s Day, we celebrate breaking boundaries to build on tradition and create global brands that allow women to truly Go Far.