One word can perhaps best describe the mainstay of the economy of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region since the midpoint of the twentieth century: oil. Of course, this is a huge simplification of the complex and diverse economies that make up the MENA region, but it is recognised that the Middle East currently accounts for almost half of the world’s total reserves of recoverable crude oil.
It is possible, though, that the MENA region’s reliance on oil is slowly shifting. The move towards greener technologies is not going entirely unnoticed in the region with a rise in the number of startup companies focusing on cleantech, and improved Internet communications is opening up new opportunities for a previously neglected sector of the workforce.
SOAS alumna Julia Eberhard (MSc International Management) specialises in Future Studies in the Middle East. She has been interested to witness the region look beyond traditional petrochemical industries and begin to invest in solar power, water technologies and the IT sector.
“Currently, I am interning for Wamda in Beirut, which is a grassroots platform of integrated programmes that aims to accelerate entrepreneurship ecosystems throughout the MENA region. I have been working on an article related to the state of innovation in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). I am also involved in data analysis with relevant startups.”
Rise of social media
“It is difficult to judge the MENA region as a whole in terms of future market possibilities, but there is definitely a lot of potential regarding social media and communication technology in the GCC region, as the consumers are heavy users of media in general. Also, there is a lot more business done via Instagram and WhatsApp than through traditional channels, for instance sales of clothes, cosmetics or self-made products.”
“The Internet is definitely opening up more opportunities for women in the region.”
“First of all, it is easy for a woman to contribute in information technology, because it’s a flexible sector. This means that working from home and at convenient times is possible. However, female entrepreneurs have to fight for their work-life balance, as the predominant role of women is still being a mother and a wife.
“Marketing products and services through social media is very popular. Successful examples include the Jordanian startup Ekeif, which offers over 5,000 ‘how-to’ videos in Arabic to date, on topics such as makeup tutorials or food recipes. Moreover, the Internet offers a new and previously unexplored possibility for networking. This opens up opportunities for exchanging advice, mentorship, but also for crowdfunding, as receiving venture investments or loans are still more difficult for female entrepreneurs.
“The main challenge women entrepreneurs face is to break the association with beauty, healthcare or education sectors, as well as to increase possibilities outside of the remote working situation.”
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