The Most Innovative Solutions of the "Women Powering Work" Competition

Investing in women creates a multiplier effect for society: better health and education outcomes, societal resilience, reinvestment in communities, and national prosperity. While progress has been made globally, women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) still face some of the most daunting barriers in asserting their economic rights.

“Women currently make up half of the world’s population, work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, produce half the world’s food, but only earn 10 percent of the income and own less than 2 percent of the world’s property,” according to Ashoka Fellow Ben Powell of Agora Partnerships. Moreover, the MENA region has one of the lowest rates of female labor participation in the world.

This is why Ashoka Changemakers and General Electric launched an online competition, Women Powering Work: Innovations for Economic Equality in MENA, to surface and support innovations that enable the full economic participation of women.

The Status Quo for Women in MENA

Women in MENA still face disproportionately high barriers to building quality livelihoods and securing economic rights, including inadequate access to quality jobs, skills training, and capital, limitations on mobility, and discrimination in the workplace.

In many MENA countries, just as many women attend universities as men, but female labor participation in the region falls to 21 percent  for women over the age of 15 – the lowest regional rate in the world. When looking at 5,887 company portfolios across a subset of 10 MENA countries, the World Bank found that less than one in seven were female owned.

These entrepreneurship and labor participation rates are low despite the fact that women represent about 40 percent of the entire world’s labor force. The MENA region has a great opportunity for increased economic growth by addressing gaps in women’s economic participation.

In Egypt, if the women’s labor force participation rate matched the rate for males, the country’s GDP could increase by 34 percent. The numbers speak for themselves: investing in women is smart.

Changing the Economic Landscape through Innovation

There are many social entrepreneurs across the MENA regions that are striving to bridge the gap in women’s economic equality. The innovations emerging from the winners of the Women Powering Work competition are creating economic empowerment for women across the region. After searching far and wide, we’re proud to announce the three winners of the competition. Each of the following innovators will receive US $25,000 in unrestricted funding to support their solutions in the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, and Pakistan:

1. Busanti is a bus service that provides safe, affordable transportation for women, and access to a 24/7 health hotline. The organization meets women where social and technological innovation meet, bridging two unaddressed market needs: safe transport and healthcare for women.

2. DoctHERS-in-the-House is a healthcare marketplace that connects home-based, female doctors to patients through telemedicine. By creating opportunities for female doctors—who cannot access the workplace—to practice their profession from home, the organization provides a platform for entrepreneurial activities, training, and mentorship.

3. is a virtual platform that enables Arab female engineers to telecommute. So far, it is offering the opportunity for hundreds of Arab female engineers to use their qualifications from home.

If you like these innovations, you can get a more in-depth perspective about them and other social innovations that turn challenges into opportunities, sparking hope for a better future, by visiting the Women Powering Work competition page, and by checking out discovery framework and changemaking toolkit.

Follow the #womenWork hashtag on Twitter to get the latest trends about women’s economic equality in MENA.

Featured Image: smilesoncloud9 via Compfight cc