Building Equity for Women Business Owners in the MENA Region with Support from Google.org and Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth

March 4, 2021

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, MicroMentor, an innovation of Mercy Corps, is proud to continue our expansion to empower women entrepreneurs in the MENA region with the support of Google.org. Since launching our Arabic language platform in January 2020 in collaboration with Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, our community has grown to nearly 5,000 entrepreneurs and more than 1,500 mentors in the MENA region. 26% of these entrepreneurs are women, a far greater proportion than the 4% regional average for female entrepreneurship.

For women business owners, the last year has been especially challenging, with women disproportionately bearing the burden of home and caregiving needs that have been exasperated by the pandemic. At MicroMentor, we know that when women entrepreneurs have access to a mentor, they are 10% more likely to access financial resources and nearly 20% less likely to see reduced revenue due to COVID-19. That's why we are committed to supporting women-owned businesses around the globe through mentoring, overcoming geographical barriers with our scalable model.

Through this initiative, supported by Google.org and Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, we are harnessing our global community to empower 10,000 small businesses in the MENA region through business mentoring.

Read three inspiring stories of women building successful businesses in the Middle East with the support of MicroMentor.

Building a Sustainable, Community-Driven Solution in Lebanon

With Lebanon already experiencing a devastating economic crisis, the compounding factors of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Beirut port explosion have left many in an especially difficult situation. Looking for a way to support their community, lawyer Marie Elia and her sister launched their social enterprise in September 2020.

Shop La Fripe takes high-quality, donated clothing items and resells them at affordable prices on Instagram, donating all proceeds to local charities. With Lebanon facing intense inflation, Shop La Fripe provides access to needed items at an affordable rate while encouraging reuse and supporting charity: “Basically we are just a link between people who donate stuff they no longer need...and people who want to buy these things at affordable prices.”

Marie knew they would need advice to build and grow their social enterprise to maximize their impact: “After we successfully started our initiative, we wanted to improve ourselves and reach a wider audience but we did not have the experience nor a business plan to do so.” After seeing an ad for MicroMentor on Instagram, Marie signed up and initially connected with three mentors who were excited to support their project.

Marie and her sister connected with their first mentor, Youssef Noor Eddin, who helped them build their first business plan. A second mentor, Mustafa Jumma, shared books and video resources to help them grow their social enterprise. Their third mentor, Basem Dweri, had an idea to connect Shop La Fripe with sponsors and helped the sisters organize their product and pricing.

With their online presence growing rapidly, the sisters are now in the process of building out an e-commerce site to expand their operations to reach more customers and raise more money for charity. Marie is optimistic about the impact that their social enterprise can have and is planning to expand to offer more product categories. The sisters continue to work with mentors to support the strategic growth and planning efforts of Shop La Fripe.

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Creating a Community of Support in Jordan

Ola Al-wa’i and Jumana Shehadeh founded their online retail platform, Sana’aty, an Arabic word meaning “my craft,” to provide financial opportunities for women artisans in Jordan and throughout the Middle East. Empowering women while preserving traditional craft culture, Sana’aty works with more than 200 women to produce homewares, clothing, and accessories.

Facing challenges in scaling their business, Ola and Jumana joined MicroMentor and met their first mentor, Ayman Sarhan. Based in Amman, Jordan, Ayman came to MicroMentor with over 20 years of experience in communications, marketing, and market research throughout the Middle East. “My experience has become a benefit for others,” said Ayman.

With Ayman’s marketing guidance, Sana’aty’s online presence has been growing rapidly. Ola and Jumana now work with over 200 women crafters from across the region, creating a community of support for women artisans in the Middle East.They have recently launched their e-commerce site and are connecting with other mentors to guide them through other aspects of their business journey.


Turning a Passion into a Business in Cyprus

Student and entrepreneur Masa Alhyari’s passion for baking was sparked when she was just 16 years old. She started making Nutella Swirls in her home kitchen in Jordan. Soon she was selling her sweet treats at school fairs and bazaars to her friends, classmates, and teachers. In 2019, Masa began university in Cyprus and decided to turn her hobby project into a real business.

Masa created a logo for her business and started sourcing her ingredients from the local supermarket. After launching an Instagram page to manage sales and promote her product, students from her university immediately started ordering. To her surprise, the orders began stacking up and she could not keep up with the demand. Masa was overwhelmed, but excited for her growing business.

Looking to build a strategy to keep pace with new orders without sacrificing her margins—or sanity—Masa registered on MicroMentor to find advice. She connected with four mentors who have helped guide her in marketing and business planning.

With her mentors’ advice in hand, Masa began buying her ingredients in bulk for more affordable rates and developed a clear marketing plan for her business. Her product has proven to be popular—students call her swirls “the perfect study snacks.” Masa has begun introducing new flavors and is excited to continue growing her business.


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