• | 9:00 am

The slow but steady growth of home businesses in the Middle East

From bakers, make-up artists, fashion and lifestyle influencers – the women homepreneurs have access to resources, technology, and government support

The slow but steady growth of home businesses in the Middle East
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

In a world where consumers are spoilt for choice by reputed brands competing for your attention, home-based businesses offer refreshing alternatives. From home cooks dishing out family heirloom recipes to beauty specialists formulating their soaps and creams, creative small businesses in the region have no scarcity of opportunities. 

Buying homemade products is a more personal experience that lets us connect with owners and makers. Supporting home-based businesses (HBBs) can fuel an ecosystem of unique, sustainable, and creative products and services. Since the pandemic’s beginning, we have witnessed a global surge in start-ups as both a means of survival and seizing of opportunities. 

HBBs IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Family-run businesses are often conglomerates with exclusive licenses to manage retail and automotive brands, real estate, and hospitality chains in the Middle East. At the other end of the spectrum, the need to nurture small businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit to build and grow them is now recognized in the region, especially by countries choosing to reduce dependency on income from oil and petroleum.

A report by McKinsey highlighted the untapped potential of entrepreneurship in the region by stating, “Local entrepreneurs have demonstrated they can be innovative and bold to meet changing demand. With the appropriate adoption of best practices in venture investing, significant value can be created for investors, promising new businesses, and the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the region.”

RULES, REGULATIONS, EASE OF DOING BUSINESS 

Licensing regulations are usually different for nationals and expatriates in each country. The Saudi Vision 2030 Blueprint acknowledges the bureaucratic challenges SMEs face regarding laws and regulations, access to funding, and administrative procedures. To increase SME contribution to GDP from 20% to 35% and increase women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%, the kingdom is focusing on nurturing a start-up culture. 

The Dubai Economic Department and other free zones in the United Arab Emirates, like Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone, Creative City Fujairah, and Sharjah Media City Free Zone (Shams), provide comprehensive trade license packages to support HBBs.

In Israel, food-related home-based businesses require kashrut (kosher) certification. Obtaining this certificate is a cumbersome and expensive process. Critics are pushing for reforms and relaxation of rules to help businesses and consumers. 

Qatar also recognizes HBBs as a growing economic sector and offers initiatives like the National Home Business Advancement program, Souq Nama, and Encouragement award for productive families. 

MAKING THE MOST OF E-COMMERCE AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Social distance as a measure of safety has spurred the growth of eCommerce, particularly in the MENA region. This momentum can trickle down to small businesses and help them make the most of the value chain.

The social networking app, Instagram, has become a popular channel to build brand stories, evoke interest, engage with customers and even sell. Providing insights gives a comprehensive picture of global and regional trends, target audiences, and what’s going on with competitors, offering affordable and effective marketing strategies. Facebook Marketplace works well, too, especially for an older demographic. 

Whatsapp Business was created primarily to cater to the needs of small business owners. It helps them manage customer interactions, track orders, and even provide a shopping interface – carts. These convenient solutions are easy to learn and use, require minimal investment, and give owners more control.

WOMEN HOMEPRENEURS

As part of the Sustainable Development Strategy: Egypt Vision 2030, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and UN Women collaborated to increase women’s participation in a date palm plantation, medicinal and aromatic plants, handicrafts, and information and communication. Through training and upskilling, several women have set up their home businesses. 

In 2018, women in Saudi Arabia won the right to register a business without the consent of a male relative. Abeer Al-Hashim, the owner of a chain of ice-cream outlets called Nine Soft Serve, says, “The entire commercial process is easier now, especially in terms of tech applications – it’s so simple to communicate with the government online.”

This recognition and support of women’s capacities to run successful business ventures while managing their domestic obligations are reflected in the growth of women homepreneurs in the region. From bakers, make-up artists, fashion, and lifestyle influencers – the women homepreneurs of today have access to resources, technology, and government support to build their confidence. 

MARKETS AND COMMUNITIES

To thrive, small businesses must build strong communities of patrons who will encourage and stay faithful to the values represented in their products or services. It also helps a great deal to foster relationships with other entrepreneurs. Egypreneur is a Facebook community of nearly 40,000 entrepreneurs and business owners who share resources to “galvanize the movement towards entrepreneurship and technology start-ups.” 

The Ripe Market and Manbat in the UAE bring together artists and makers in green public spaces to connect consumers to homepreneurs. Derwaza and Souq Nama are similar market spaces in Qatar. The UNHCR- funded Jordan Livelihoods Project helps entrepreneurs build skills and expand their markets. 

In 2019, the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Supply organized the My work is from my home exhibition to promote established home-based businesses and raise awareness of licensing and other legal requirements. 

Access to such interactive markets and co-working spaces can facilitate networking opportunities and credibility for home-based businesses.   

THE ROAD AHEAD

With the assessment of regulations to allow convenience for SMEs and the Covid-induced shift of using technology to connect people and products better, the future of HBBs in the Middle East looks promising. Prolonged lockdowns, redundancies, and economic slumps have propelled individuals and governments to adapt and innovate. 

The potential for growth in the HBB sector can be maximized by providing access to funding, building supportive training programs for skill development, and creating effective communication channels with business owners. 

FROM OUR PARTNERS