Lana Hijazi's Tech Solution Empowers Women in the Arab Job Market
Lana Hijazi was honored as an Ashoka ChangemakeHER, Changemakers's inaugural celebration of the world's most influentual and inspiring women. Find her fellow honorees' voices here.
by Emily Bosland, Ashoka Changemakers
Lana Hijazi knows what it feels like to be doubted; to search in vain for employment; to struggle against economic hardships and myriad cultural barriers.
But she also knows what it feels like to succeed. She has proved her doubters wrong, and offered hope and tangible opportunities to hundreds of women in Palestine and throughout the Arab world.
Hijazi spent months searching for employment after graduating with a degree in business administration from Birzeit University in the West Bank. She was shocked at how difficult it was to find a job – even with a degree – and she started thinking, not just about how to get a job, but also “about ways to help other people have an easier time finding jobs.”
Alongside two of her friends, Mohammed Kilany and Jacob Korenblum, Hijazi founded Souktel in 2006 to help connect unemployed youth with jobs and internships. Today, Souktel has assisted more than 8,000 youth and 150 employers in the Middle East and East Africa.
Hijazi is quick to note it is not just tough economic times that prevent youth from finding jobs – culture also is a key factor in the challenges faced by female youths in Palestine when job hunting.
“Traditional families often don’t allow women to search for jobs in person,” Hijazi said. “And Internet cafés are usually dominated by men, leaving female job-seekers with few resources for finding work – and with a greater chance than men of remaining unemployed” (and entering into unwanted early marriages).
Souktel’s unique SMS platform overcomes these barriers by “giving women a safe way to search for work from the comfort of their homes, or from anywhere they wish.”
Souktel also supports women-led small businesses. “They use our service to find staff more quickly, cheaply, and safely,” she said.
“Most female-run businesses don’t have time or cash to put large job ads in the newspaper. Our service lets them find staff from their mobile phone, so they don’t even need to leave their shop … having more women-led businesses hiring more female workers means greater gender equity and greater economic growth.”
Hijazi was recently recognized for her achievements as one of four 2009 winners of the King Abdullah Award for Youth Innovation and Achievement at the World Economic Forum for the Middle East. She was also the only Palestinian named to Arabian Business magazine's Top 30 Under 30 social venture leaders in 2009.
“I’m a woman, and I know I’m lucky to have a family that is supportive,” she said. “I know not every woman in Arab culture lives like this. I know all the barriers women will face after graduating."
“I always encourage women to work on [their ideas]. They may not have this encouragement elsewhere. I am very excited to tell my story to every single woman here, so [if] she has a good idea she’ll turn it into a real organization.”
|Lana Hijazi is a co-founder of Souktel and oversees all outreach to employers and institutions for their JobMatch service.|
Top image: Moritz Petersen (cc)