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Business opportunities for women in the Middle East – is it really in the too-hard basket?

Business opportunities for women in the Middle East – is it really in the too-hard basket?

You might assume from what you see in the media that developing business opportunities across the Middle East is in the too-hard basket. Not so.

Many countries across the Middle East and North Africa region are open for business (think UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Oman) and are home to strong economies with growth potential for companies with the courage and commitment to explore new markets.

What about women?

Creating and building new business opportunities in foreign markets is always challenging and requires a long-term commitment in terms of personal effort, funding and developing relationships. When you are a woman in business – whether you are a business owner, an entrepreneur, or a senior executive in business development – establishing a new market in the Middle East may seem particularly daunting.

How can I get started from Australia?

A couple of events being held in Sydney in the coming months will provide unique opportunities for Australian businesspeople to develop links with the region.

The 2014 Australian Arab Businesswomen’s Forum (AABF) being held in Sydney on March 6 and 7 is an innovative platform for businesswomen (and men) to meet and focus on real business opportunities across the trade, investment and finance sectors, the health economy and the visitor economy in the Arab world and Australia.

Jaqui Lane, co-convenor of the AABF, says that the forum was developed “to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and provide insights into business, trade and entrepreneurial opportunities in the Arab world and between Australia and Arab countries”.

“If you’ve ever considered growing your business internationally, this forum is the ideal opportunity to meet with women business owners, executives and entrepreneurs and hear, first-hand, how they have achieved success,” she says.

Who is presenting?

The eclectic line-up of speakers includes Caroline Montagu, the Countess of Sandwich. Caroline will speak on the variety of challenges facing businesswomen in Saudi Arabia and how some female entrepreneurs have overcome these hurdles to become runaway success stories.

“Saudi Arabian businesswomen are terrific!” she says.

Caroline will also give her insights into how western women can make business in Saudi Arabia work for them. She believes that the most important thing that women considering doing business in Saudi Arabia need to know is that face-to-face contact and long-standing relationships are key.

She also believes in the power of the sisterhood.

“When in doubt, do business with women but not with men!” she says.

Montagu will be joined by an exciting line-up of speakers from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, the UAE and Australia, including:

Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services and Her Excellency Sheikha Dr Hind Al Qassimi, a member of the UAE Royal Family and Chairwoman of the UAE Business Professional Women’s Club (BPW).

Other speakers include:

  • Ms Khlood Aldukheil – Founding Partner, Mohammed & Khlood A. Aldukheil Co. Ltd (MKD)
  • Dr Muhadditha Al Hashimi, director, Higher Colleges of Technology, United Arab Emirates
  • Dina Shoman, consultant and adviser, chairwoman of Oasis One for Training
  • Khalida Azbane, general manager, Azbane Group
  • Talal Yassine OAM, chairman, Council for Australian-Arab Relations and managing director, Crescent Wealth
  • John King, Chairman, Australian Tourism Export Council
  • Annette Owttrim, General Manager - Business Development, Aspen Medical
  • Helen Zimmerman, Group General Manager, Government & Stakeholder Relations, Navitas Limited
  • Prof Kathy Refshauge, Faculty of Health Sciences and Professor of Physiotherapy, University of Sydney
  • Wendy Lapointe, equine veterinarian, provincial trainer, Manager Muskoka Farm, Hunter Valley, NSW

Registrations for the 2014 AABF are now open at the AABF website.

Not just for the girls…

Women aren’t the only ones in the spotlight in March, though. On March 18, the Australian Arab Business Council and the Council of Arab Ambassadors are hosting a trade expo at the NSW Parliament.

The expo will provide information about exporting to the Arab world.

Smart investors and exporters who are keen to make connections in the Arab world with a view to expanding into Middle Eastern markets would do well to get along to these exciting events.

This article originally appeared in Smart Company magazine on 4 February 2014.

About Cynthia Dearin

Cynthia Dearin is an international business expert, business author and keynote speaker on the topic of leadership. She owns Dearin & Associates, an international business consulting firm specialising in fast-growing emerging markets, which provides companies with the commercial intelligence and strategies, cultural skills and trusted contacts that they need to succeed in new countries.

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