Transforming the Middle East and North Africa Region through Flexible Work for Women


Asim Bharwani
In 2013, the World Economic Forum found that for the MENA region, men are 60 percent more likely to be economically empowered than women.

The 21st century is a pivotal moment of tremendous historical and technological changes and overwhelming challenges in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. While this era will bring difficulties for some, at Nabbesh, we believe that for the women of this region, this can be a golden moment of prosperity, which is why we have launched our www Initiative: Work that Works for Women. Nabbesh specializes in bringing the tools of economic prosperity to the MENA region, offering not only economic empowerment, but also transforming the Middle East towards lasting peace and prosperity. Through our online platform, www.nabbesh.com, women can search for, find, and get paid for flexible work without necessarily leaving their homes, a simple concept, which has the power to positively transform this region.

In 2013, the World Economic Forum which tracks the Global Gender Gap found that for the MENA region, men are 60 percent more likely to be economically empowered than women. Although education is thought to be one of the key indicators of labor force participation, the region’s women are increasingly well educated. In the UAE alone, where Nabbesh is based and has the largest number of members, women make up more than 70 percent of university graduates. Overall, the World Bank reports that women in the Middle East are more likely to be better educated than men. In the UAE, for example, one of the most progressive places in the region, local women make up less than 5 percent of the private sector workforce. Polling by the Dubai Women’s Establishment, a local government entity, indicates that the lack of flexible work opportunities and mobility are some of the main reasons preventing more Emirati women from joining the labor force.

In the overall region, there are distinct and vastly different local challenges affecting female labor participation. For example, in war-torn countries, where traveling by roads may not be safe or in other countries where females may not be able to easily commute to work or to work long hours because of family obligations. However, an overall chord runs amongst all the women in this region—there is a lack of flexibility in traditional labor markets. And, in this region, where our culture and families are special to us, although work and careers are important to us, the latter has tended to take a clear second place for most women.

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Chris Schuepp
Nabbesh is not only providing flexible work for women, but women are using Nabbesh to grow their own businesses.

What Nabbesh’s women’s initiative offers to women is the freedom that they no longer have to choose between the two; now they can have both. Why can the women of the Middle East not lead the world in this way? Nabbesh is creating a new work paradigm that we believe will resonate not only in this region, but throughout the world. It is about increasing options that work for women wherever they are in life, whether they are students looking for experience, or women with young families that cannot commit to a full-time schedule.

Nabbesh has brought our www Initiative to the UAE, but we are reaching out to women throughout the MENA region and have members across the region from the UAE, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Qatar, and beyond. Our goal is to reach and provide flexible employment opportunities to every woman throughout the MENA region.

Through Nabbesh, a young mother in Lebanon can have the flexibility to be there for her children, but also to make a difference in her community. Nabbesh member Khawlah Madoudi, a young Saudi woman holding an MBA, who provides consulting services in Saudi Arabia uses Nabbesh to hire talent on a project basis. Nabbesh is not only providing flexible work for women, but women are, in fact, using Nabbesh’s talent to grow their own businesses. Employers looking for talent ranging from highly technical skill sets, such as accounting or engineering, to more creative and artistic skills, such as photography and graphic design—skills and projects that can be done in a flexible way that works for women.

Increasing options for women also makes economic sense. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, recently noted that narrowing the labour force gap between men and women in the MENA region would have resulted in enormous economic gains of nearly $1 trillion, or 6 percent of the GDP.

When westerners think of the Middle East, they see our limitations, from war and turmoil to high rates of unemployment and beyond, but what Nabbesh is trying to do is to think beyond the limitations of this region. We think better 21st century tools for creating more work opportunities for women include efficiently and effectively using the internet to create and fulfill almost any project-based job opportunity. It can often be easier to gain access to a computer and to the internet and work from home. If flexibility and lack of mobility are preventing women from entering the labor force, Nabbesh is breaking down those barriers. If women worry about getting paid for freelance labor, Nabbesh is ensuring safe and secure online payments. Nabbesh is doing everything possible to break down barriers to success and streamline the process, benefiting those hiring with overhead cost savings and fulfilling jobs more quickly.

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Moyan Brenn
Through the website, women can search for, find, and get paid for flexible work without necessarily leaving their homes.

One of our biggest challenges in a marketplace as large as the MENA region is in reaching the talent and job volumes necessary for Nabbesh’s overall success. In the Arab world, where there are vastly different languages, dialects, cultures, and ways of doing business, there is no perfect one-size-fits-all model, so our challenge is to provide local solutions to satisfy local needs and to monetize our business at the same time (Nabbesh currently charges a commission fee for each job transaction). Sharing our challenges with others also reinforces our identity as Arab women who have overcome very big odds, and that propels us forward to continue to make a difference for other women, hopefully making their challenges at finding work a little less difficult.

What we have done is tap into 21st century technology to do something transformational in this region. Now a woman can search online for work that works around her lifestyle; she can negotiate the contract, get paid, and receive ratings for her work all at the simple click of a mouse. We have already fulfilled thousands of jobs in over 108 cities through Nabbesh, showing that Nabbesh’s impact on this region can be profound. Every day a woman gains economic empowerment through tools like Nabbesh, peace and prosperity become much more plausible in the Middle East.

Nabbesh co-founders, Loulou Khazen Baz, a Lebanese national, and Rima Al-Sheikh, a Syrian national, both grew up in neighboring countries, but did not meet until they were both living in Dubai. Khazen Baz was the original architect of Nabbesh, but Al-Sheikh brought Nabbesh to life online as the platform it is today. As women from the Middle East, they grew up seeing firsthand the lack of opportunities for many women and youth in the region, so they created Nabbesh with the goal of providing equal access to opportunities for everyone in the MENA region.

Nabbesh is the Middle East’s virtual skills marketplace. Home to over 30,000 skilled freelancers, Nabbesh connects freelance talent with project-based and flexible (i.e. virtual and part-time) work opportunities. Nabbesh’s ‘Work that Works for Women’ or ‘www Initiative’ is a finalist in the Ashoka Changemakers Women Powering Work competition sponsored by GE.