Author: Pamela Campagna

As part of ongoing research on female entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), I recently had the privilege of speaking with women entrepreneurs across the MENA region about their experiences in starting and running businesses. While their ventures spanned diverse industries, from fashion to fintech, a shared theme emerged around the key psychological factors underlying business success.

Development of Entrepreneurial Self-Efficacy

Specifically, we sought to examine the concept of entrepreneurial self-efficacy and its development according to first-hand accounts.

Having a strong belief in one’s abilities to perform the roles and tasks of an entrepreneur, known as entrepreneurial self-efficacy (ESE), can help empower women to overcome obstacles and fully pursue their visions. The research reveals ESE emerges from an interplay of knowledge gained through education and experience, mentorship support, particularly through formalized education programs, individual learning orientations, and broader socio-cultural gender biases in the MENA region.

The majority (81%) of participants underscored the value of continually educating oneself across diverse topics to expand their business acumen.

One Dubai founder in the fintech space described her penchant for reading widely: “I like to read, and I like to explore. I put myself in some fields that are not mine.” This thirst for knowledge and willingness to explore the unknown enable these women entrepreneurs to overcome steep learning curves in their industries. However, many felt they didn’t deserve help or weren’t able to ask for it.

Supportive ecosystems play a role in the development of women entrepreneurs in MENA.

68% had participated in structured entrepreneurship development programs, which provide access to networks and tailored coaching. Many discussed how curiosity, continual learning, and surrounding themselves with supportive communities helped build critical knowledge and resilience.

An Amman entrepreneur stressed the importance of “feeling you’re part of a community you can go back to.” However, many noted the need for longer-term mentors who understand gender-specific challenges. One-off accelerator workshops tend to espouse theoretical advice rather than practical guidance.

The lack of support for female entrepreneurs in MENA revealed low levels of entrepreneurial self-efficacy–the belief in one’s ability to succeed as an entrepreneur.

This became apparent to those who had founded companies in the past, such as Tamara Abdel-Jaber and Fida Taher. Their belief in the potential of peer support networks led to the founding of Women in Business Arabia, a Facebook group that demonstrates how high self-efficacy can spread through social learning. With more than 40,000 active members, WiB Arabia has become a source of support for women entrepreneurs in MENA.

Capitalizing on a management consulting background (Tamara) and startup experience (Fida), they were joined by Jenny Atout, a seasoned VC. Building on their complementary strengths, they incorporated Amam Ventures with a mission to develop self-efficacy in others through gender lens investing and entrepreneurial education programs. Three years later, Amam Ventures continues to empower women in the MENA region by investing in their ideas and potential. Their model shows how entrepreneurial self-efficacy can emerge through social and experiential learning, fostering resilience even in challenging contexts.

Resilience and Learning from Challenges Overcoming business failures was also a critical experience for strengthening self-efficacy for 64% of respondents. Reframing risks and mistakes as learning tools built resilience, according to a startup founder in Riyadh: “My dad was my biggest supporter…although my brother was also there. I always felt that I could learn from them.” Surmounting challenges helps entrepreneurs apply lessons learned to future decisions.

Entrepreneurial self-efficacy does not develop in a vacuum.

While they demonstrated profound perseverance, the social headwinds these women entrepreneurs faced also emerged. From presumptions of being less financially savvy to doubts about their commitments outside work, combating stereotypical views in Middle Eastern contexts remains an unfortunate reality during the ESE journey.

By delineating the specific mechanisms underlying entrepreneurial self-efficacy for MENA female founders, I aim to research tailored policy and program recommendations that foster spaces for knowledge sharing, mentor guidance, and confidence building. Supporting more women in MENA to bridge efficacy gaps will be instrumental in diversifying the regional entrepreneurship ecosystem.