Adapted from Changemakers
Finding work in the Arab World is a daunting task. Battling the highest rate of unemployment among youth in the world, nearly a quarter of men and 42 percent of women aged 15 to 24 were unemployed in 2012. In contrast, youth unemployment in the European Union and the US are 18 percent and 16 percent respectively.
The World Bank estimates that almost 100 million jobs would need to be created in the Middle East by 2020 in order to close the employment gap and cater to the growing youth wave and talent in the region. Virtual skills marketplace Nabbesh.com, however, is determined to make the search for freelance work and jobs in the Mena region a little easier.
Launched in April 2012 by co-founders Loulou Khazen Baz and Rima Al-Sheikh, Nabbesh.com helps more 30,000 skilled men, women and youth find flexible job opportunities in more than 100 cities within the region using a skill set search that matches them with suitable jobs. The website is especially useful for women looking to start a family, students or anyone seeking part-time opportunities. According to a regional study by Bayt.com, 75.2 percent of respondents in the Middle East consider freelancing to be a good option with better pay and a more flexible work-life balance compared to a full-time position.
Now, Nabbesh has launched the “Work that Works for Women initiative” or “www,” a project aimed at creating high quality, private-sector job opportunities for women in the UAE, diversify and expand the private-sector and bring about social change in the region through economic empowerment and knowledge transfer. Their promising initiative has also been selected as a finalist in the Women Powering Work: Innovations for Economic Equality in the MENA Region competition, launched by Ashoka Changemakers and GE. We had a chance to speak with co-founder Loulou Khazen Baz about the impact of Nabbesh and the promise it holds for the Middle East and North African region:
Elan: Tell us a little about Nabbesh’s “www” initiative. Why is it crucial for women in the UAE and the Middle East?
Loulou Khazen Baz: Nabbesh’s www Initiative stands for Work that Works for Women which is an initiative aimed at promoting flexible work solutions for Middle Eastern women in the private sector. Our plan is to begin with the women of the UAE and expand from there.
There is currently no large scale effort to promote flexible work for women in the UAE. Local women account for less than 5% of the private-sector labor force in the UAE and they cite lack of flexibility and mobility as the major reasons preventing them from joining the private-sector workforce.
Elan: There are more Emirati women in higher education than men, yet these numbers do not translate into the work force. Why is that?
LKB: Many people don’t know that women in the UAE account for more than 70 percent of the students in higher education, one of the highest proportions in the world. Women clearly make up an invaluable brain trust that Nabbesh is trying to tap into in the Middle East. The www Initiative is about increasing options that work for women — wherever they are in life.
As Middle Easterners, we desire to help our society grow in a way that is consistent with the cultural principles of this region. We are proud to live in a place that values families and communities, and that is why Nabbesh’s framework for employment –which offers flexibility through freelance, part-time, and distance-work options — is well-suited to the women of this region in particular.
Elan: Tell us about the types of jobs available for women via “www.”
LKB: The types of jobs available through our initiative range from graphic design jobs to highly technical jobs in accounting, project management, etc. for small companies to larger corporations.
Nabbesh is a regional platform in nature, and with the security and simplicity of our new online payment services, women can work for companies almost anywhere in the MENA region and beyond.
Elan: What are some of the barriers you have had to face with the launch of this initiative? How did you overcome them?
LKB: There are always barriers to new ideas and revolutionary ways of thinking. Challenging the boundaries of the traditional labor market is one of those areas, but Nabbesh is accustomed to overcoming barriers and challenging the status quo. We have a great team in place to overcome many of those boundaries, and the government of Dubai has been very supportive of our women’s initiative which helps tremendously.
Some of the barriers we are facing are the challenges associated with gathering the right support within private sector companies and the commitments which can be difficult to secure due to navigating bureaucracies of large corporations. Many companies are very supportive of this model of work as both a cost-savings measure (allowing them to save in overhead), while participating in an initiative aimed at investing in local talent and communities. We are still actively speaking with potential partners and sponsors of the initiative, so companies can still contact us to learn more about how they can participate.
Elan: What’s next for www?
LKB: We are launching this initiative in the UAE, but we have had great interest from private-sector companies and women throughout the region to bring this initiative beyond the UAE. And so we are excited to implement this initiative and to potentially expand beyond the UAE and into places like Saudi, Lebanon, and Jordan.
Elan: Why do you think economic equality is so important in the Middle East?
LKB: At Nabbesh we believe economic empowerment of women in the Middle East has the power to transform the Middle East towards prosperous and stable communities.
Elan: What advice would you give to women who are seeking employment in the MENASA region?
First, register with Nabbesh.com (it’s free) and search for a job that way.
Second, we would tell women there are other options for work that work around and with their lifestyles and families. Don’t limit yourself to only seek traditional paths of employment. The world has changed. With MENA’s first virtual skills marketplace, Nabbesh is helping people break free from the confines of outdated work models. Technology has already revolutionized the ways we connect with friends, search for music, and now the way we search for and find work.