Origin of the Network
The idea of a network of businesswomen's associations across the MENA region came from the businesswomen themselves at a regional Businesswomen's Summit in Tunis in 2005, and the Network was launched in October 2006. The Network is comprised of "Network Hubs" which are businesswomen's organizations across MENA.
The eleven Founding Members of the Network are: Association des Femmes Chefs d'Entreprises du Maroc (AFEM), Bahrain Businesswomen's Society, Business & Professional Women Association – Amman, Business Women Forum – Palestinian Territories, Dubai Business Women's Council, Kuwait Economic Society and the Lebanese League for Women in Business, Chambre Nationale des Femmes Chefs d'Entreprises (CNFCE), Qatari Business Women Forum, the Association for Women's Total Advancement and Development (AWTAD – Egypt), and the Association des Algeriennes Managers et Entrepreneurs (AME).
From 2006-2008, Network Hubs created and executed activities reaching over 6,000 businesspeople. These activities were designed by each Hub for the interests of its members. Hubs held over 120 events in 10 countries across the MENA region including: a conference on women and media in Morocco, a panel discussion on starting a business in Lebanon, a lecture on the keys to leadership in Kuwait, a conference on corporate social responsibility Egypt, a workshop on Breast Cancer Awareness in the West Bank, a program on professional management in Bahrain and a panel on the dimensions of leadership in Jordan. In creating and executing their individual plans, Network Hubs built their own organizational capacity, significantly increased the size of their membership, added value to their members and tackled controversial but important issues.
Currently more Hubs are being added, membership is expanding, capacity is being strengthened and program offerings are being added. Each Hub has a dedicated Hub Manager who works with a Regional Coordinator at Vital Voices to expand and strengthen each individual Hub by using state of the art technology to reach more businesswomen. Network leaders, who guide the regional organizations, are in the process of developing a broad regional network to become self-sustaining in 2009.
To support the regional activities of Network Hubs, the program focuses on four areas: (1) strengthen the Network Hub organizations with technical and grant assistance to design and execute country-specific programs; (2) offer a speakers program through which top U.S. and Arab business experts share knowledge and experience with Network Hub; (3) deliver an online, cutting edge Business Education Program; and (4) implement a web-based Portal for an online peer learning and idea exchange community.
Each Hub holds activities each year on a wide range of topics such as access to credit, leadership skills, strategic planning, management, starting a business, work/life balance, marketing and sales, communications skills. The activities are designed to reach over 600 participants during the year. In addition, each Hub identifies an advocacy issues around which they will develop and implement a campaign. Examples of advocacy issues taken on by the Hubs include passage of an SME law, anti-corruption regulations, anti-discrimination, and family law. To support the growth of each individual Hub and the Network as a whole, Hubs are provided with the resources to hire a full time Hub Program Manger to coordinate Hub events, manage membership and work with Hub executives on organization and membership development. Each Hub completes an action plan which identifies its strategies, mission, resources and objectives. The Hubs work closely with Vital Voices and MEPI to develop supporting plans, timeline and monitoring tools critical to ensure strength and sustainability.
In 2007, over 150 prominent businesswomen and businessmen, ministers, ambassadors, royalty, authors and academics spoke at Hub events, bringing their knowledge and networks to the Hubs. In 2008, the program will expand to take delegations of senior women executives as Corporate Ambassadors from the U.S. to each Hub for a dynamic two-day program tailored for the Hub and its members. The program will include workshops, roundtable discussions, one-on-one meetings as well as specialized advocacy training on an issue critical to the Hub. The Corporate Ambassadors program provides a unique opportunity for both Hub members and U.S. executives to network and exchange ideas to help solidify the critical link between businesswomen in the MENA region and the U.S.
In January 2008, a web-based Portal, www.menabwn.org, designed to support the Network members was launched. The Portal provides a forum for peer learning, information exchange, business development and access to resources which support expanding economic opportunities for businesswomen in the region. The Portal features an aggregation of news and educational content from global sources and offers a powerful MENA regional calendar of events targeted to the businesswomen. The Portal has become the place to go to learn about business issues in the region. More features will be added to meet the growing needs of the Network members.
Currently under development is an on-line certificate-based program designed to meet the needs of the Network members and become a resource for Network sustainability. The curriculum will come from leading U.S. universities and will provide a group of topic-based modules in areas such as professional development, marketing, strategic planning, corporate social responsibility, finance accounting and entrepreneurship. Based on input from the Network, emerging businesswomen leaders in the Middle East and North Africa will have the ability to further their professional skills and opportunities through participation in the certificate program.