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The 25 most innovative female game-changers in the Middle East

These incredible women are making history, one initiative at a time.

Presented in partnership with Naseba

 These are women who are making a change in the world and paving the way for everyone else.

The Naseba Global WIL (Women in Leadership) Economic Forum is a catalyst for change and has been working for 8 years to empower women and let their voices be heard. The forum works to bring together over 500 global business leaders, policy-makers, entrepreneurs, NGOs, and artists to showcase the women that are taking over. More than ever before, women are flourishing in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

1. Najla Al Midfa, Manager of Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre & Founder of Khayarat

Portrait image of Najla Al-Midfa smiling. She is wearing a golden necklace with chains
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Najla Al Midfa is the General Manager of Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre (Sheraa), a hub responsible for the next wave of entrepreneurs. Sheraa is dedicated to inspiring and supporting young entrepreneurs and has an incredible accelerator program for startups, while the hub offers skills workshops, mentorship, and access to an incredible community. Naijla is also the founder of Khayarat,  aimed at helping young people make informed career choices.

@najla_almidfa is helping young entrepreneurs chase their dreams with @sheraasharjah Click To Tweet

It’s tough when you are still figuring things out, but through her passion for helping others, Naijla is enabling young Emiratis to chase their dreams and find their way.

2. Lina Khalifeh, Founder of SheFighter

SheFighter

Lina Khalifeh is the badass founder of SheFighter. SheFighter is the first self-defense studio for women in Jordan and the Middle East that uses self-defense training to empower women mentally and physically. Lina has set out SheFighter’s mission to be “training and empowering millions of women globally.” This initiative was set up to as the only way Lina could see to combat violence and harassment against women.

@LinO1984 founder of @SheFighter is empowering women mentally and physically Click To Tweet

She is working towards social change by helping women build self-confidence and fight fear.

3. Patricia Letayf, Co-Founder of Five One Labs

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Patricia Letayf is the co-founder of Five One Labs, a startup incubator that aims to empower refugees and entrepreneurs from conflict-affected areas in rebuilding and growing their own businesses. The organization aids people who have great ideas but are unable to pursue their startup ideas due to the politcal climate. By allowing them the opportunity to do so, they are able to contribute to the economic growth of their communities. If that isn’t impressive enough, she is also a volunteer facilitator for the Soliya Connect Program, which is a cross-cultural education programme.

Co-founder @PatriciaLetayf of @FiveOneLabs works to help marginalized people. Click To Tweet

Patricia has dedicated her time and resources to help the most marginalized people in society today, and in our books, that makes her a hero.

4. Thea Myhrvold, Founder of Teach Me Now

Road Warrior: UAE Startup Teach Me Now Wins Hong Kong Pitching Contest
entrepreneur.com

Thea Myhrvold is the founder of Teach Me Now, an online tutoring platform based in Dubai, aimed at making education more accessible.  She works to ensure that this accessibility covers people with learning disabilities. Her website offers many helpful features including a dyslexic button that alters the website, making it is easier to use.

@TheaMyhrvold ensures that accessibility covers learning disabilities at @teachmenow_com. Click To Tweet

Thea is hoping to transform the way that online education is viewed by making it more personalized and inclusive.

5. Sophie Le Ray, CEO of Naseba and Founder of the Global WIL Economic Forum

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Sophie Le Ray is the CEO of Naseba, a global business facilitation company specializing in emerging markets. Sophie also founded the Global WIL Economic Forum which promotes female leadership empowerment, gender diversity, and inclusion. Changes inspired by from the WIL forum involve an inclusive internship program with SEDRA foundation and Roche Diagnostics and accessibility efforts by inviting accessibility advocate Haben Girma.

Sophie is a champion of diversity and is working towards economic development locally and globally. If that isn’t enough she is also the co-author of Game Changers: How Women in the Arab World Are Changing the Rules and Shaping the Future

@sophieleray is a champion of diversity and is working towards economic development. Click To Tweet

Women empowering other women is exactly what we need in this day and age.

6. Rana El Chemaitelly, Founder of The Little Engineer 

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Rana El Chemaitelly is the founder of The Little Engineer in Lebanon, is a scientific foundation for children that empowers them in STEM. Children participate in activities after-school and at a summer edutainment center, where they learn hands-on engineering skills, while also equipping them to become environmentally aware. Rana setup this initiative so the youth of today could  “learn and engage in more practical and sociable activities”.

@tlelebanon allows children to gain basic engineering skills. Click To Tweet

The teachers at Little Engineer are mainly university graduates, to help bridge the gap education and the professional world. Rana also hires women, who are unable to work full-time, for the day sessions.

7. Vilma Jurkute, Director of Alserkal Avenue

Vilma Jurkute, the director of Alserkal Avenue, is speaking at the Women In Leadership forum at Dubai International Financial Centre on how art can inspire social change. Satish Kumar / The National
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Vilma Jurkute is the director of Alserkal Avenue which is an art hub created in 2007 to support the growing contemporary art scene in Dubai. Alserkal Avenue covers 500,000 square feet in Al Quoz and hosts galleries, art studios, concept stores, black box theatre, independent cinema and outdoor event facilities.

@AlserkalAvenue is an art hub created to support the growing contemporary art scene in Dubai. Click To Tweet

Vilma is focused on developing a creative economy and developing the art scene in Dubai.

8. Muna AbuSulayman, Development Philanthropist and Activist

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Muna is a Saudi entrepreneur, philanthropist, humanitarian, businesswoman, media personality, consultant, lecturer, fashion designer and is also a media and public personality addressing important issues such as women’s rights and community development. There is absolutely nothing she can’t do!

In 2007, Muna made history by becoming the first Saudi female Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Program. She has created and developed some of the most important educational initiatives like translation of academic journals and a network of top university academic centers to facilitate understanding between the West and Islam that are proving crucial in providing objective analysis in increasingly polarized times. She is also a Board Member and Partner at Gloworks, a recruiting company dedicated to employing women in Saudi Arabia.

Muna sits on the board of many companies and is an advisor to MISK for Youth Empowerment and Chime For Change and is also the global ambassador of Silatech which aims to create jobs for young Arabs by building partnerships.

There is absolutely nothing @abusulayman can't do! #Bosslady Click To Tweet

9. H.E. Iman Mutlaq, CEO of Sigma Investments & Director of INGOT Brokers

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Iman became the first instructor for the Art of Living Foundation in Jordan, an educational and humanitarian movement engaged in stress-management and service initiatives. Additionally, Iman established the 8×8 Project, a project to support educated women in Jordan and help them to create their own projects. Iman also raised $1.3 mil for cancer research fund by climbing Kilimanjaro. If that isn’t enough, she successfully implemented six programs in Iraq that have supported 400 women in advancing their careers, and contribute to the economic growth of the country.

@ImanMutlaq is a female gamechanger paving the way for women in the financial sector. Click To Tweet

She’s not only one of the most powerful, Arab businesswomen in the world, she’s a female gamechanger paving the way for women in the financial sector as she is creating the first commodity exchange.

10. Helen McGuire,  Co-Founder, and MD of Hopscotch

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Helen McGuire is the co-founder and MD of Hopscotch, which she launched while she was heavily pregnant – proving that women are unstoppable, thank you very much. Hopscotch aims to ensure that women are part of the workplace in the Middle East, regardless of personal commitments. Hopscotch offers training and support to get skilled women back into a workplace suited for them.

The initiative @Hopscotch_ME launched while she was heavily pregnant - proving that women are unstoppable. Click To Tweet

The initiative is centered around empowering women and getting rid of the mentality that a family life somehow limits a woman’s capabilities.

11. Reem Al Fahim, CEO of the SEDRA Foundation

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Reem Al Fahim is the CEO of the SEDRA Foundation an organization working for inclusion for people with disabilities; it’s the hub for research and best practices when aiding the community in creating an inclusive society for everyone. There are 5 key program areas which the SEDRA foundation works by; education, research, awareness & community support, family management and employment. The SEDRA foundation has also worked on an inclusive internship program with Roche and Naseba this year.

.@sedra_uae is a hub for research & best practices when creating an inclusive society. Click To Tweet

Reem has been working for people with disabilities for 15 years and is committed to creating change.

12. Halah Al-Hamrani, Founder of Flagboxing

Arab News

Halah AlHamrani is Saudi Arabia’s first female boxing and kickboxing trainer, and runs Flagboxing, Saudi’s first female boxing/kickboxing gym. This incredible badass has 28 years of experience in practising all styles of martial arts, and she’s encouraging women in the region to be more active while teaching them about the perseverance of reaching goals.

Flagboxing stands for “Fight Like A Girl Boxing”, all power to Halah for paving the way for women in a unique area in the region, and for changing the mindset and perception about women in Saudi.

13 & 14. Eriko Varkey and Yasmine Rasool, Founders of Yerv

Eriko Varkey, left, and Yasmine Rasool, founders of Yerv, the company behind emoji keyboard app Halla Walla which offers fun alternatives to text when using chat apps. Pawan Singh / The National
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Eriko Varkey and Yasmine Rasool are founders of Yerv, the company behind emoji keyboard app Halla Walla. Halla Walla may just seem like a keyboard app but it celebrates the Arab Gulf lifestyle by featuring emojis that are relatable.

Halla Walla is hoping to challenge misconceptions about Arabs through emoji. Click To Tweet

Emojis are second-nature to us in this day and age, and the app is leveraging this fact to challenge misconceptions about Arabs through emoji.

15. Sara Minkara,  Founder of Empowerment Through Integration 

forbes.com

Sara Minkara is the founder Empowerment Through Integration (ETI), an organization to support visually impaired children. She founded ETI from her personal experience of losing her sight at the age of 7 and has since been challenging all misconceptions about disability throughout her career. Since starting ETI, she has continued her work in the social sector while also growing ETI from a summer camp to an organization that reaches over 3,000 across Lebanon and the United States.

Sara Minkara founded @ETIntegration to support visually impaired children. Click To Tweet

16.  Mashal Waqar, Co-Founder and CTO of The Tempest

thetempest.co

Mashal Waqar is the co-founder and CTO of The Tempest, the fastest-growing global media company changing the narrative of diverse millennial women. Mashal is a strong advocate of diversity, inclusion, and Deaf accessibility. Whilst studying at RIT Dubai, she worked to implement Deaf-friendly initiatives and is leading the accessibility pivot at The Tempest.

CTO @arlery is an all-around badass and already starting to conquer the world at just 22. Click To Tweet

Mashal is an all-around badass and already starting to conquer the world at 22.

17. Hayla Ghazal,  United Nations Change Ambassador

Hayla Ghazal, a 20-year-old originally from Syria, is one of the most influential young YouTubers in the Middle East. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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Hayla Ghazal is one of the most influential YouTubers in the Middle East and runs her channel Hayla TV. Hayla is using her platform to promote gender equality and is empowering other girls to use technology to make themselves heard.

Hayla has also been selected to be the United Nations Change Ambassador, and is working on a campaign ith female YouTube creators to turn influence into action.

Unable to find work in the media as a woman, Hayla set up @HaylaTV to empower others. Click To Tweet

18. Afra Atiq , Poet

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Afra Atiq is UAE’s first spoken word poet; she’s an amazing artist and is slamming stereotypes by openly speaking about mixed heritage, love of food, and the struggles and challenges of an artist.

She recently won the ADMAF Creativity Award for her piece, ‘An Open Letter to Cancer’.

She has been featured in 13 cities across 4 countries and proudly gives back to her community through mentorships and workshops with Untitled Chapters, a thriving hub for Emirati female writers.

.@a_afra is the first Emirati spoken word poet and she's inspiring a new wave in the region! Click To Tweet

Afra’s Youtube slam videos are truly inspiring.

19. Butheina Kazim, Co-Founder of Cinema Akil

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Butheina Kazim is the co-founder of Cinema Akil, an independent cinema that’s creating more awareness and developing the film and cinematic arts scene in Dubai.

Co-founder @Butheina of @CinemaAkil, a cinema developing the Dubai film scene. Click To Tweet

The cinema shows festival films, art videos, documentaries and experimental shorts – and is reviving a cinematic cultural scene in Dubai.

20. Eng Ghosson Ghassan Al-Khaled, Founder of Autism Partnership Kuwait

arabianbusiness.com

In 2016, Eng Ghosson Ghassan Al-Khaled set up Autism Partnership Kuwait, a non-profit autism treatment center which spreads awareness of the importance of diagnosis and available treatments for children with autism in the wider community.

Eng Ghosson Ghassan Al-Khaled set up @APK_Center - a non-profit autism treatment center. Click To Tweet

Ghosson hopes that by doing this, it will then be easier to help them integrate into the society.

21. Joy Ajlouny, Co-Founder & Creative Director of Fetchr

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Joy is the founder of Fetchr, a Silicon-Valley backed tech company based in Dubai, aimed at solving emerging market shipping logistics. While only 2.7% of venture capital funds world-wide have been raised by women, Joy has successfully raised funds for two companies from some of the most prestigious Silicon Valley venture capital firms.

Fetchr is the first start-up in the Middle East to be funded by a top venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, putting Joy in the top 1% of female entrepreneurs.

Through @fetchr, @joyajlouny is taking on a predominately male industry & conquering. Click To Tweet

Joy is taking on an industry which is predominately male occupied and inspiring and encouraging other women to do the same.

22. Diana Rayyan,  Founder & Creativator of {Kees Chic}

aminutemarvel.com

Diana Rayyan is the founder of {Kees Chic}, an organization that’s game-changing from the environmental aspect. The organization processes plastic bags and delivers them to passionate women artisans who are producing the items by hand.

Sales proceeds are used to support these women. {Kees Chic} is based in Saudi Arabia and is making a truly positive social and environmental impact.

@DianaRayyan set up @Kees_Chic in order to make a social and environmental impact. Click To Tweet

23. Mariam Farag, CSR program leader at MBC Group

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Mariam is the CSR Program Leader at MBC and brings over 18 years of experience from working in the fields of social development, humanitarian relief, communication, corporate & social responsibility in the MENA region. She started her career with United Nations Development Program, where she managed a nationwide campaign focusing on the social and economic empowerment of female heads of households in 22 governorates in Egypt.

@mariamfarag_04 works in social development, humanitarian relief & social responsibility. Click To Tweet

Mariam followed her passion for humanitarian relief and joined the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as part of the International Protection Legal team where she was part of various regional and international missions working on refugee status determination, protection issues, advocacy and vulnerable cases.

24. Sofana Dahlan, lawyer, social entrepreneur, and a WEF Young Global Leader

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Sofana Dahlan is the founder of many social enterprises and initiatives that focus on developing the creative industries in Saudi Arabia such as Tashkeil,  Kayanspace and the Saudi National Creative Initiative (SNCI). She holds the prized distinction of being one of the first three female lawyers to have been granted the permit to practice law in Saudi Arabia.

@Tashkeilist has founded many initiatives that focus on developing the creative industries. Click To Tweet

25. Kira Jean, founder of The Dreamwork Collective

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The Dreamwork Collective is a boutique publishing and consulting agency specializing in the publication and distribution of personal growth and wellness books that share an inspirational message or story. The company slogan is “Don’t die with a book still inside you” and it was set up to help publish books that offer guidance to others, important books which other publishing houses won’t publish.

Kira also offers online and live training and events to help people, from around the world, build their spiritual muscles and live creatively.

@kirajeandxb Kira offers online & live training to help people around the world. Click To Tweet

The incredible women on this list have made an impact on society through charity work, social entrepreneurship,  movements for diversity & inclusion, and education. Some of these kickass women will also be speaking at the Global WIL Forum and the WIL KSA Forum.

Simply put, they are killing it in every sector and are game-changers in the Middle East.

Mitta Thakrar

By Mitta Thakrar

Science Editor

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