Young Egyptian entrepreneurs make a global difference

Young entrepreneurs in Egypt are launching successful businesses and expanding them globally.

When Doaa Aref underwent cancer treatment in 2016, she had a hard time filling her prescriptions in Cairo with the correct dose of her medication.

She identified the need for a mobile app — one to enable patients to order and refill medicine from the closest pharmacy.

Aref and her friend Rasha Rady, a pediatrician, applied to the USAID-funded business accelerator Flat6Labs for funding, and the pair were able to launch their mobile app, Chefaa.

Headshot of Doaa Aref in hijab, smiling (Charles Copeland/USAID)
Doaa Aref, a young mobile app entrepreneur, at her office in Cairo (Charles Copeland/USAID)

Already, the app supports hundreds of thousands of patients in Egypt. Aref and Rady aim to bring it to other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Chefaa offers support by licensed pharmacists and is the first Arabic-language pharmaceutical blog to educate the public about medication.

Heba Assem and Samar Assem shared a dream to empower African youth and alleviate the poverty that results from unemployment in their countries. The Growth Formula initiative, launched in 2019, helps develop young professionals’ job-market readiness through education and experience.

Heba Assem is an entrepreneur with 17 years of experience. She bolstered her business skills with online certifications from U.S. and U.K. universities and understands the importance of business mentors for young businesspeople.

She wanted “to contribute to African youth and economic development by introducing job-market needed skills for the economy of 2030,” she says, “so our continent is capable of reaching the needed global economic goals by then.”

Group of young people standing on steps in front of sign that reads "#TGF" (Courtesy of Heba Assem)
Students and young professionals met with U.N. officials and representatives from government, financial, tech and legal institutions at the launch of The Growth Formula in 2019. (Courtesy of Heba Assem)

Even the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t hold The Growth Formula back. In the past year they’ve trained over 27,000 young African students and professionals online. The program — offered in Arabic and English — resulted in the development of 120 startups across Egypt.

“We managed to reach this number by introducing digital and marketing skills in 17 Egyptian governorates, as well as reaching Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda and Kuwait,” she says. “We are very hopeful that with more funding partners and support we will be able to reach our target of 1 million digital gurus in Africa.”

Riham Adel launched Job Nile, a recruitment and human resources consulting company, in Alexandria, Egypt, in 2000.

Thanks to her experiences as a participant in the U.S. Department of State’s 2012 International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), A New Beginning: Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation, Adel could scale up and network with international organizations.

Since her IVLP participation, Adel has expanded her company to Halle, Germany, with the help of a fellow IVLP alum.

Job Nile has also worked closely with the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Together they host an annual job fair that connects the local community to thousands of job opportunities.

“Your empowerment is generated within yourself,” Adel told a Meridian International Center women in business conference in 2017.

With another friend, Adrienne Palmer, whom she met through the IVLP program, Adel co-founded the Global Women Leaders Circle (GWLC) in August 2020 to advance women’s leadership locally and internationally after the pandemic. Members include IVLP alumnae, with women leaders from Morocco, Namibia, Haiti, Costa Rica, India, Papua New Guinea, Burma, Bolivia, Egypt, Jordan, Switzerland, Poland and Georgia.

“At GWLC we are building a strong network of women leaders who are shining in their professions and communities and who can empower each other,” Adel says.