She Entrepreneurs – 10 years of connecting female founders for sustainable development  

Since 2011, the Swedish Institute’s leadership programme She Entrepreneurs has supported impact-driven female founders from the Middle East and North Africa region to expand their operations and impact.    
A photo collage of portrtaits of various women, all former participants in the leadership program She Entreprenuers.

We are celebrating the programme’s 10th anniversary with a large online alumni meeting to which all 270 previous participants have been invited.  

– It is inspiring to reconnect with former participants, to learn about their progress and how their work is making a difference. These women have created services and solutions that among other things are contributing to better health, education, housing, sanitation and employment opportunities. We are happy to hear that for many, She Entrepreneurs has been a vital part of growing their impact, says Maria Henoch, Programme Manager at the Swedish Institute. 

The participants are all founders of businesses, organisations and projects that are contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals. To help them expand their operations, the programme has offered regular mentor support and training on topics such as business development,  innovation, partnerships, funding, leadership and team development.  

The importance of networks and inspiring role models  

Through She Entrepreneurs, participants get access to an active community of likeminded women. Bita Baghestani from Teheran took part in the programme in 2019. She is the founder of Levva – a company that produces menstrual cups for the Iranian market. When reflecting about her experience of She Entrepreneurs, she talks about the value of getting connected to inspirational role models from the region:   

-I hadn’t seen many women entrepreneurs in Iran but through the programme I got to see how women can be successful in business and in their lives. 

Taking the business to the next level 

The time and support offered by She Entrepreneurs to work on a company’s long-term strategic vision and to set ambitious goals for the future is also highlighted as particularly important by many participants.  Noha El Taher is the co-founder of Kiliim an Egyptian social enterprise and lifestyle brand that aims to revive and sustain local Egyptian crafts and their communities by introducing modern designs to time-honored techniques. She took part in She Entrepreneurs in 2018. Up to now, they’ve mainly been selling their popular products online. 

-Before the programme we just went with the flow, taking things day by day and improvising. We didn’t know what we were moving towards. A month from now we are going to be opening our first physical store here in Cairo. That’s a huge milestone for us and it was after She Entrepreneurs that we started planning for it.  

Sharing the experience

The impact of She Entrepreneurs doesn’t end with the participants’ own companies. Alumni are now role models and mentors for a younger generation of entrepreneurs with whom they are sharing experiences from the programme.  Najwa Sahmarani from Lebanon took part in She Entrepreneurs 2016. She is the co-founder of Tripoli Entrepreneurs Club that aims to build an ecosystem to support Lebanese entrepreneurs at any stage of their journey.  

-A lot of the different tools we learned during the two modules were interesting and I had not previously been exposed to them. I use them now in my own programmes. 

For full stories with She Entrepreneur’s alumni  

Reem AlFranji,  

Basma Uraiqat: