Article by Emily Zhu, intern with the U.S. Department of State, currently studying Psychology and Political Science at the University of Michigan.
As a woman entrepreneur in Egypt, Lamiaa Salah is dedicated to making a difference in a country where women struggle to enter the workforce.
“I knew I always wanted a career and was determined to overcome the challenges of culture and traditions that prevent me from becoming a working woman,” she says.
According to USAID, Egyptian women face stark gender disparities in the workplace. In 2020, Egypt ranked 140th out of 153 countries in women’s economic participation and opportunity. Only 18% of working-age women participate in the economy, compared to 65% of men.
Growing up in the city of Asyut, Lamia says that education and professional opportunities for women living outside of Cairo are limited; most exist in the capital, and are often not accessible to women due to distance and difficulty of travel. She recounts her own difficulties.
When Lamiaa told her family she wanted to go to Cairo to get an internship, attend training and pursue courses to get qualified to join the labor market, her parents at first did not want her to make the six hour trip to Cairo. But she persisted, and asked them to accompany her, which they did. When they saw her passion for learning, their views changed.
“It became easier for them to trust me and share my passion and belief in my dream of becoming a successful business woman,” says Lamia.
While in college, Lamia learned about Sustainable Development Goals and realized she wanted to help her community overcome global challenges and contribute to peace. She started with the question of women’s empowerment, and began interviewing young women in her community.
“The interviews confirmed what I already knew,” says Lamia. “Young women in rural areas are hungry for education and career advancement, but they do not know where to start or how to confront the obstacles posed by traditional beliefs about the place of women in a conservative society.”
This was Lamia’s moment to take a stand. “I knew I had to act, and act fast.”
In 2021, Lamia launched her own company Tamakani, which means “empower” in Arabic – thanks in part to the business skills she learned in the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), an initiative launched by the U.S. government to empower women to fully reach their economic potential.
Tamakani embodies Lamia’s passion for empowering women. Tamakani is a woman-led, custom-designed training and mentorship program using an EdTech platform to teach women skills that help them get jobs in the local economy. The company’s mission is to promote equal access to Egypt’s labor market by boosting women’s chances for getting hired.
When applying, each individual is evaluated on their learning style, personality, technical skills, and even English-language ability. Participants are put into a training track that suits their needs, which may include specific technical courses on marketing and graphic design or more general professional skills like resume-writing and interview skills. The majority of trainers are women – themselves an inspiration to the participants.
Over the course of the sessions, trainers measure participants’ improvements and assess their ability to achieve economic self-reliance. At the end of the training, Tamakani matches women with companies recruiting for jobs, internships, and volunteering opportunities.
Lamiaa said the AWE program was crucial to helping her launch her startup, because it brought together strong women and gave them practical skills and mentoring with local business leaders and alumni of U.S. exchange programs.
“This program covered every detail that a startup entrepreneur must take into account when launching a business, from naming a brand to making a business pitch to the legal aspects in intellectual property.”
Lamia’s focuses on creating strong networks through peer support, online community groups, one-on-one consultations, and networking events such as “Tamakani 4 Women” where former participants share their own personal stories of failure and success as a motivational tool.
Today, Tamakani has more than 7,000 Participants from 9 different governorates of Egypt and has helped 150 women find jobs. It partners with a wide array of local organizations and has created more than 20 programs that teach professional skills to help close Egypt’s employment gap. With its solid social media presence of 60,000 engagements and large network of 50 cultural ambassadors from all governorates of Egypt, Tamakani is helping to shift cultural norms that keep women back.
AWE was crucial for Lamia to get her start in business, and now she says she wants Tamakani to be the first choice for all women in Egypt to give them equal access to learning and development opportunities to start their own careers.
“The cultural and traditional mindset is a huge thing to change, but I believe that any change needs a brave person to take the first step,” says Lamia, who is now herself a U.S. exchange alumna. “Knowing that many women face the same obstacles I did, one of my biggest dreams is to support and empower the women of Egypt.”
The Academy for Women Entrepreneurs has been helping women launch their own business with the DreamBuilder online learning platform, made possible through a partnership with Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation. Since 2020, AWE has empowered more than 150 women entrepreneurs in Egypt and more than 16,000 women worldwide, equipping them with the knowledge, networks and access they need to launch or scale a business.
For more information, please visit: https://eca.state.gov/awe.