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The Female Instagram Entrepreneurs of Saudi

The Female Instagram Entrepreneurs of Saudi

The Female Instagram Entrepreneurs of Saudi

The nation’s strict social and religious norms account for the population’s voracious appetite for all things virtual. The kingdom has 11 million social media users, the highest number per capita in the world.

Alicia Buller

 

Conservative Saudi Arabia has spawned a new generation of unlikely entrepreneurs – on Instagram. 

A growing number of women are turning to the photo-based mobile app to start businesses on the side of their full time jobs and skirt red tape or social restrictions. They are part of an informal economy, and are not counted in the 48 percent growth in the number of employed Saudi women to almost 806,000 between 2010 and 2014.

The government should harness this underground entrepreneurial spirit and make it easier for women to officially set up shop, says Khalid al-Khudair, founder and CEO of Glowork, a Riyadh-based organization dedicated to female employment with 38,500 members.

“There are thousands of women that have Instagram businesses selling unique items, from handicrafts, to food, to clothing. The problem with what they are doing is they are balancing between Instagram sales and having full time day jobs. How do you convince these women to leave their steady jobs, create jobs, focus on their business and scale up?” he says.

Al-Khudair suggests the Saudi government could create a simple framework for these Instagram businesses to be legally set up, because “they’re actually operating illegally right now. They don’t have commercial licenses and they are just working from home.”

The bustling local Instagram market is becoming more sophisticated as female entrepreneurs link up with Instagram-listed male drivers to arrange delivery of their goods for a fee. “It’s an Instagram ecosystem that’s more sophisticated than the West.”

The nation’s strict social and religious norms account for the population’s voracious appetite for all things virtual. The kingdom has 11 million social media users, the highest number per capita in the world. The GlobalWebIndex survey found that nearly half of Saudi internet users are members of Instagram, compared with a global average of 23 per cent.

 

Mentorship

GloWork’s Al-Khudair advises that the government should create specialised guidance programmes to give women the courage and conviction to make the leap to being full time entrepreneurs.

“The problem with leaving their jobs is the security element, a lot of people don’t like to take risks so there needs to be this educational awareness campaign that is run by the government and the private sector in order to make a change.”

Women owned 12 per cent of all companies in the Gulf nation of 30 million, according to a 2010 report from Strategy&, formerly known as Booz & Co.

Although women are entering the workforce at a faster rate than men, owing to a push by the late King Abdullah, female unemployment was 33 per cent last year, versus 5.9 percent for men, according to government data.

Al-Khudair says Saudi Arabian entrepreneurs in general lack career support from their family and friends: “Everyone is used to living like their parent’s generation did, which relied on comfort and stability. We need to create an entire ecosystem for entrepreneurship.”

The Glowork CEO, who also runs a female-only gym GloFit, says he is considering creating an ‘eBay’ style site to form a channel for the nation’s Instagram entrepreneurs.

 

“I already have around 500 Instagram businesses on my books and it would be great to start it off with this community.”