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Strong growth for women-led startups in the GCC

Dubai is known for the superlatives – it hosts the world’s tallest building (the Burj Khalifa), the world’s busiest airport for international passenger traffic and has the world’s most visited mall (Dubai Mall).

Now it can add another feather to its rather full cap – having the world’s biggest vegan restaurant.

Located in City Walk not far from the Burj Khalifa, Veganity features 200 vegan dishes – making it the largest 100 per cent vegan restaurant menu in the world. “It wasn’t our intention to break records, but it was our intention to make noise and create a concept that has never been done before – especially in the Middle East,” says owner Sky Sommers, who opened her restaurant in August.

The launch of the Veganity restaurant follows Sommers launching a vegan meal plan service of the same name in early 2018. At the time, it was the first gourmet vegan meal plan service in the UAE. “Veganism has grown drastically in Dubai as well as the Middle East, especially within the past couple of years,” explains Sommers, who adds she plans to launch more Veganity restaurants in the UAE.

The restaurant is the latest startup in the emirate geared towards a vegan lifestyle, and one of several new women-led startups.

In Dubai Marina, Manisha Advani recently opened Soul Santé, a new vegan and healthy food café. She says she launched her café partially out of a desire to find vegan desserts to satisfy her sweet tooth.

Looking beyond the vegan trend, former Emirati race-car driver Maha Al Shamsi recently launched House of MC, which she says is the first full-service couture rental service in the UAE.

“We are not here to judge – we are here to advise and cater for our clients to ensure they continue delivering their message through their personal style,” she explains of the idea. “A dress or accessory is only as striking as the confidence of the woman wearing it.”

The trend of women entrepreneurs is also rapidly picking up in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which is looking to boost female participation in the workforce as part of its Vision 2030 strategy. One of the recent ventures that has opened in the kingdom is Blossom – the first accelerator that aims to empower and enable women-led startups in the country. As Blossom CEO and founder Emon Shakoor – the youngest Saudi woman invited to the World Economic Forum – says: “This is only the beginning.”

There’s certainly a lot of work that remains to be done. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 says despite progress in some areas, the Middle East and North Africa still trails worldwide, with about 153 years to close the gender gap at the current rate of change.

Globally, the report said stagnation in the proportion of women in the workplace and women’s declining representation in politics – coupled with greater inequality in access to health and education – offset improvements in wage equality and the number of women in professional positions.

However, Veganity’s Sommers is confident of the future of women-led startups in the region – adding it’s vital they receive the support and recognition they deserve. “Spread the word, support, let that person know how amazing they are and help motivate them to strive in what they are doing,” she says.

“There are a lot of us women that have struggled to succeed. Some fail, some don’t, some get tired, and some fight. If someone has a good idea, help them as much as you can.”

Adds House of MC’s Al Shamsi: “I have found what I want and I have figured out who I want to be – and I know what I need to do in order to attain it. Once you realise that you can make any change you want and do anything you want, once you realise how capable you truly are, then you will be unstoppable.”



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