Sahar Albaharna and Zahra Ghanbari meet Behnaz Sanjana to talk about how they are enabling women in Bahrain to shine their entrepreneurial light.
Sahar Albaharna, the brain behind Female Founders Middle East, says statistics from the World Bank show the literacy rate of women in Bahrain to be higher than 90 per cent. “Every year we see a high percentage of top female graduates from schools and universities. However, the labour force of women in the region is less than half that of men. In order to retain these talented and intelligent females in the workforce, we need creative solutions,” she says.
Sahar firmly believes that women in Bahrain have a lot of talent and want to be role models for future generations. But their other commitments – home, family and motherhood – keep them from taking on full-time jobs. With this in mind, she started Female Founders Middle East, with the sole purpose of pushing women to use their skills and talents in a beneficial way. “We are not a recruiting agency. We just help generate jobs amongst women. We build networks for entrepreneurs and jobseekers, leaving it up to them to use this network effectively,” she says.
Six years ago, Sahar motivated women to break the proverbial glass ceiling in the corporate arena. “We worked with women in banks and other financial institutions to encourage more women into management and senior management. Being a working mother myself, I wanted to help others who were in the same boat.”
She soon realised that the time to push women into entrepreneurship was ripe. “A lot of women came to me asking how they could start their own business, to have a better work-life balance and also to follow their passion and convert it into a successful venture,” she says.
Female Founders is proud to associate with CH9, a newly opened business accelerator at the Lagoon in Amwaj. Hub director of CH9, Zahra Ghanbari, says: “We work with start-ups and scale-ups and are passionate about helping innovative enterprises grow through knowledge, investment support and access to local and regional markets.”
CH9 is a platform that supports local and expatriate entrepreneurs to see their business idea achieve fruition. “Members can get in touch with over a hundred investors, mentors and coaches, as well as the MENA Business Angel Network. We also have door-opening services that give scale-ups access to the wider MENA region, and put them in touch with leaders in their business realm,” says Zahra.
Believing in the potential of women, CH9 encourages them to blaze their own trails. The organisation has welcomed Female Founders under its umbrella, to conduct talks and seminars addressing the concerns of women who are already in business or toying with the idea of starting one.
The recent Female Founders event held at the CH9 premises touched upon the basics of entrepreneurship and freelancing, and connected start-ups with women freelancers and jobseekers. “Women were advised on how to tackle some common business problems such as managing finances and refining their business ideas. Apart from seminars, we plan to have workshops teaching women essentials like financial management for small companies and hiring solutions for start-ups,” says Sahar.
The pair are very proud that all their event sponsors are local businesses founded by women and they look forward to organising more events in the near future as well as generating more opportunities for women go-getters in Bahrain.