The online platform Nabbesh helps freelancers across the Middle East and North Africa search for jobs and communicate with clients. © Dominic Chavez/IFC
|This is the first in a series of stories about entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa who are attempting to create markets and opportunities in the region. IFC and the World Economic Forum are bringing 100 entrepreneurs to the WEF meeting in Jordan this week.|
By Andrew Raven, IFC Communications
Lebanese entrepreneur Loulou Khazen Baz remembers the moment she nearly closed down her business, Nabbesh.
It was late 2014 and the Dubai-based company—a website that connects employers with freelancers throughout the Middle East and North Africa—was struggling. The start-up hadn’t raised any money in a year, which is forever in the start-up world.
But Khazen Baz realized she was committed to her mission: helping freelancers in the region find work that suited their skills and passions. That was especially true for university-educated women like herself—more than 40 percent of whom are jobless.
Her efforts paid off—not just for Nabbesh, but also for more than 100,000 people today who use the platform to search for work with companies such as IBM, General Electric, and scores more.
Khazen Baz is among 100 entrepreneurs who are being sponsored by IFC and the World Economic Forum (WEF) to attend the WEF’s conference on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which starts Friday at the Dead Sea in Jordan. The event will attract more than 1,000 government, business, and civil society leaders. At the conference, the entrepreneurs will discuss how they are creating markets and opportunities throughout the region—as well as the many challenges that they face.
Fadi Ghandour, Executive Chairman of Wamda Capital, a leading MENA venture-capital fund backed by IFC, believes that start-ups have the potential to drive change that can create new industries. IFC’s investment in Wamda is part of a global effort to support venture capital funds and start-up accelerators globally. IFC has invested $400 million in this area over the last five years.
"Entrepreneurship is crucial to the creation of a vibrant 21st-century economy," says Ghandour, whose fund has invested in more than a dozen start-ups in the MENA region. "Government can't do it alone. Traditional businesses are facing challenges. If you want to create jobs in the Arab world, if you want innovation, you need entrepreneurs."
Nabbesh (which is Arabic for searching) proves his point. Since Khazen Baz founded the company six years ago, it has posted 20,000 openings for freelance professionals like copy writers, graphic designers, photographers, and videographers.
Khloud Hassan, a 29-year-old Egyptian art director and photographer based in Dubai, is among its regular users. Since graduating from university with a degree in visual communications, Hassan has struggled to find full-time work. But the freelance contracts she has found through Nabbesh have helped her earn money while building her professional portfolio and meeting colleagues in her field.
Nabbesh “opens to the door to the freelancing world," Hassan says. "Everything is at your fingertips."
Nearly half of Nabbesh's freelancers are women. That fulfills one of Khazen Baz’s goals. “The only way women can really have a say is through financial independence," she says. “Being unemployed leaves women vulnerable and without resources. I started Nabbesh to help these women."
Like most start-ups, Nabbesh still faces an array of challenges, including attracting new financing and expanding its client roster. But Khazen Baz’s earlier doubts are gone. She can't imagine doing anything else.
And she's also planning to help other start-ups get off the ground.
“I have... five years of battle scars,” she says. “That will allow me to help other entrepreneurs.”
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Also available in: عربي
Published in May 2017