Women Innovators Fellowship gears up for 2023 cohort

Women Innovators Fellowship gears up for 2023 cohort
Women Innovators Fellowship gears up for 2023 cohort

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: The WIn (Women Innovators) Fellowship has returned with its second cohort, as part of PepsiCo’s commitment to empowering female entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa region. 

First launched in Saudi Arabia, the fellowship was established in 2022 through a partnership between the Atlantic Council and Georgetown University, with support from the US Embassy in Riyadh, and PepsiCo. 

PepsiCo held an in-depth panel discussion on the evolving landscape of the Kingdom’s private sector during a recent event, “The Rising Female Workforce in Saudi Arabia and its Impact on the Private Sector.”

Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar commended last year’s inaugural program during her opening remarks, and said: “Judging by the women who were selected for this year’s program, I’m sure this will be another great year.”

She thanked the collaborators for their support on the fellowship program and for “helping shape the leaders of tomorrow.”

She added: “Support like this for women entrepreneurship is just so important and not just for the women who are here today, but for all of us in the future.

“Half of the world’s population are women, and yet we still make up a fraction of leadership positions, of business owners, of middle management, and still too small a part of the overall workforce. That needs to change because when women succeed, we all succeed.”

She added that a “more inclusive and equitable society” would result in actual advancement, and spoke about the multiplier effect women’s leadership participation had on leading economic and societal gains.

Building on the success of the inaugural cohort in Saudi Arabia, the fellowship has expanded to Bahrain and the UAE, focusing on the rising prominence of female talent and leadership.

Princess Reema noted that the Kingdom is undergoing a substantial socioeconomic transformation under Vision 2030, and that women’s empowerment is a cornerstone of today’s changes. 

US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Michael Ratney said: “The idea was to have 30 percent female workforce participation by 2030 in Saudi Arabia. Now, in 2023, the Kingdom is already at 37 percent with a third of the tech sector comprised of women, which is higher than that of Silicon Valley.” 

The exceptional upsurge of Saudi women’s participation in the labor force has signaled a significant shift in government policies to foster rather than hinder their involvement.

Dena Elkhatib, the general counsel for Riyadh Air, shed light on the integration of women in the aviation sector as she has been an expert in the industry for the past 20 years. 

She said: “The aviation sector is a male-dominated industry worldwide, not just in the Kingdom. Today we have engineers, pilots, and air traffic controllers.”

Hattan Ahmed, entrepreneurship director at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, said that women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics was significant.

He said: “Our female concentration of the student body at the university’s graduate level is around 39 percent, which is way above the global average in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.” 

He said there was much work to accomplish, and women had delivered amazing stories in their move forward.

He added: “From there, if we cascade to entrepreneurship, we also see staggering records in terms of women’s engagement in different flagship programs.”

Ahmed added that in one of the university’s accelerator programs in partnership with a Saudi British bank: “We see 49 percent female founders engaging into the portfolio that we run into those kinds of programs, with 55 to 60 per cent engagement outperforming that of men in those activities.”

Elkhatib spoke of looking beyond genders and advocating for more involvement from women, with male support.

She said: “Allyship is anybody who can be your ally, whether it’s somebody you know, a different gender, different nationality, younger or older. It is about opening your mindset.”

She added that it was all about creating friendships and breaking boundaries to lift each other, despite gender. 

Elkhatib also explained that it was crucial to witness allyship and mentorship without gender, adding: “It’s crucial to think of that person at the table as being just a person, and not being gender specific.” 

The fellowship believes in substantially increasing women’s economic participation, entrepreneurship, and leadership, which will contribute toward positive consequences for the overall economic prosperity of the region.

The year-long program, from June 2023 to March 2024, will give the opportunity to 34 Saudi women entrepreneurs to extend their networks, gain practical knowledge, and develop meaningful US-Saudi relationships and business ties.

Its goal is to assist them in scaling their businesses at local, regional, and global levels.

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