The Recap: Women SME Leaders Awards 2022

The inaugural Women SME Leaders Awards 2022, staged by Mastercard and Entrepreneur Middle East, celebrated some of the region's most enterprising women-owned and run SMEs across the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region.

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The inaugural Women SME Leaders Awards, a virtual event staged by Mastercard and Entrepreneur Middle East on March 29, 2022, celebrated some of the region's most enterprising women-owned and run SMEs across the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region.

Mastercard and Entrepreneur Middle East

Hosted by emcee Jessy El Murr, the event honored the achievements of women in 22 different categories from across the region, with the winners selected by a panel of judges consisting of Amnah Ajmal, Executive Vice President, Market Development, Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa for Mastercard, Mona Zulficar, Chairperson of EFG Hermes Holding, Nejoud Al Mulaik, Director of Fintech Saudi, and Tamara Pupic, Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

The Logistician Siddhi Joshi, CEO, Emovers LLC

For Siddhi Joshi, CEO of Emovers, winning the title of The Logistician at the Women SME Leaders Awards 2022 is an indication of how she has managed to stand out in the male-dominated logistics industry. "With the rise of female entrepreneurs and more and more women entering the business sector, and having employed many women in our verticals, I firmly believe that nothing is stronger than a broken woman who has recreated herself," Joshi says. "She can overpower everything that is meant to destroy her. She can evoke who she was, and she can transform the game. She never dreams of success, but works for it. She is strong enough to stand for herself, and for everyone else. I wish success to not only women but everyone, and remember, you are the most valuable investment you will ever make."

The other shortlisted nominee for this award was:

  • Sanja Lazic, Associate Director Business Excellence, FortyGuard Tech Ltd

The F&B Leader Erika Doyle, founder and Managing Director, Drink Dry

As someone is who is blazing a trail of her own in the industry that she operates in, Erika Doyle, founder and Managing Director, Drink Dry, didn't hesitate to share her insights for other female entrepreneurs wanting to follow her lead. "My most important message to other women is to be brave and put their fears aside," Doyle said. "We are naturally brilliant at multitasking, and that is such a vital skill to have when running a startup business. Trust yourself, and be authentic in everything that you do- you will be surprised to learn that what you consider to be your biggest weakness will turn out to be your biggest asset. For me, a lack of experience in the F&B industry turned out to be my biggest strength, because I did not have any preconceived ideas, and we had no limitations to what we thought we can achieve!"

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Jennifer Mansour, founder, Little Melly
  • Tahany Taher, co-founder, Hayawiia
  • Panchali Mahendra, founder, Atelier House Hospitality
  • Saubhagi Veer, COO, Mint Leaf of London
  • Selassie Atadika, Chef, Midunu
  • Silvia Budova, Business Development Manager, Badia Farms

The Real Estate Leader Helen Chen, co-founder and CEO, Nomad Homes

Helen Chen, co-founder and CEO of Nomad Homes, believes that one of the reasons for the success she has seen in her business is thanks to the fact that she has the backing of powerful women, which include some of her enterprise's board members who, besides having the funds to support her endeavor, also have incredible operational expertise in building and scaling technology companies. That should explain the answer she gave when asked about advice she'd give other female entrepreneurs like herself. "Surround yourself with people who are aligned with the vision and mission of your company, and who are in it to build the company," she says. "When you start your own company, it's important to focus on your own business, and listen to your customers. An eager attitude to learn forms the core of any business, and helps to constantly evolve and learn from those around us, as well as from our teammates, internally."

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Sunet Muller from Leapfrog Property Group
  • Fibha Ahmed, Director of Sales, Bayut & Dubizzle
  • Sahar Khan, Director of Marketing, Bayut & Dubizzle

The Hotelier Judit Toth, founder and CEO, Vivere Hospitality

"Despite the uncertainty of the business and instability of the market in recent years, this achievement is a confirmation of hard work and focus on my goal of creating my own hotel brand paid off in the best ways." That's the sentiment shared by Judit Toth, founder and CEO of Vivere Hospitality and General Manager at Ink Hotel, after winning The Hotelier title at the Women SME Leaders Awards 2022. "My message to all the ladies out there is to dream big, find your support system, and collaborate with each other," Toth adds. "Use your intuition and emotional intelligence, teach your ways to your peers and stakeholders, and bring people together. The hospitality and tourism industry has a long way to go in terms of development in our region, especially in the fintech area, and disruption is what will enable change, and what the industry truly needs. If you dare, disrupt to the maximum!"

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Cyrine El Klifi, Digital Marketing Manager, Dukes the Palm
  • Meron Berihun Melaku, Meron Coffee

The Techie Oluwadamilola Soyombo, founder and CEO, Skooqs Creative

While she appreciates the validation that winning The Techie title at the Women SME Leaders Awards 2022 gives to her and her company, Skooqs Creative, Oluwadamilola Soyombo would rather use the spotlight to encourage more women to enter the STEM field. "The technology field is growing, and women deserve an equal opportunity to take openings within STEM," she says. "My growth strategy has always been around leveraging the community, I am a part of several women-focused tech communities, and I also have my own community of women in tech. With that, constant learning and accountability is inevitable, hence allowing for growth. Drive or vision is also a key sustainer for me, and therefore, I advise other women to have a vision greater than yourself. Doing a greater good for the world at large, while building a successful profitable business, is something I'll always come back to."

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Shayda Sharfaei, Head of Professional Services, Bridge Medical
  • Lindiwe Matlali, CEO, Africa Teen Geeks
  • Aya Hariri, co-founder and CBDO, Diwama
  • Dr. Maryam Fouladirad, founder and CEO, fundii
  • Aya Elgebeely, founder and Managing Director, Talents Arena
  • Fatema Fathnezhad, Group VP Legal, Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa

The Professional Services Leader Shayda Sharfaei, Head of Professional Services, Bridge Medical GPO

Shayda Sharfaei, Head of Professional Services, Bridge Medical GPO, believes that female entrepreneurship is a critical foundation of any successful economy. "As someone who has spent the last few years in leadership roles, I am well aware of the hurdles that women face in the workplace, and my advice to women who are on the same path is to remain self-confident, as hard work and perseverance lead to success," she says. "Don't be afraid to make mistakes; however, make sure to own your errors, and let them fuel your growth. Successful leaders are transparent with themselves and others about their failures in order to create a learning environment. It is critical to develop resilience, and acknowledge that negativity and rejection are not gender-specific in this industry. Finally, have faith in your team and support systems, because they see your worth and will work with you to achieve your goals. I believe that female leaders are paving the way ahead, and the future will be bright for us in business."

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Sanja Lazic, Associate Director Business Excellence, FortyGuard Tech Ltd
  • Yosr Hamza, Director of Legal, Gartner
  • AlAmira AlBash, founder, Constal
  • Sheida A. Chumba, CEO, Woodside Africa Group Limited
  • Sairis lucia Bugeraha, founder, Pugu Hills Eco Cultural Tourism

The Investor Maryam Fouladirad, CEO, Fundii

Having won The Investor title at the Women SME Leaders Awards 2022, Maryam Fouladirad, CEO, Fundii, urged other women to follow in her footsteps in terms of going after the ambitions they have for themselves. "I would like to encourage other women to pursue their dreams and passions, and knowing the fact there is no limitation for them in the world to be successful if, and only if, they truly believe in themselves, their knowledge, and their capabilities," she says.

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Sheila Mallowah, Principal Consultant and founder, Zoel Capital Limited
  • Yavi Madurai, Executive Director, Pan African Business Women's Agency

The Media Leader Menna Farouk, journalist, Thomson Reuters Foundation

According to Menna Farouk, a journalist at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, winning The Media Leader title at the Women SME Leaders Awards 2022 has motivated her to aim for greater success in her career, and she hopes her peers in the industry will follow suit. "Recognizing my work at the Thomson Reuters Foundation is not only a great push for me, but it can also inspire other journalists across the Middle East to continue their reporting amid difficult circumstances," she says. "I encourage every journalist across the world to continue to be unapologetically professional in their reporting about hot topics, especially when it comes to women rights, freedom of expression, and poverty."

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Shraddha Barot Amariei, founder and CEO, White Label Media Group
  • Noha Jaheen, founder and CEO, Click Media
  • Stephanie Farah, founder and CEO, Empyre Communications
  • Jacqueline Lawrence, journalist, Mwakyambiki Highlands FM Radio

The Artist Nadine Abdelghafar, founder, Art D'Égypte

There can be no mistaking the joy Nadine Abdelghafar, founder of Art D'Égypte, had on receiving The Artist title at the Women SME Leaders Awards 2022. "This award is a recognition of our last four years of hard work, sleepless nights, tears, and joyful memories that will last forever," she says. "It wasn't easy for me nor my team, but we believed that we could do it and we did it! Yet, this is not the end; it is the start of a new era for Art d'Égypte, the beginning of a new path that will always keep us challenged!" And that's the sentiment Abdelghafar echoes in her message for other women in business: keep going, and never stop dreaming. "Believe in yourself, and although it is hard, don't give up!" Abdelghafar says. "Face all your fears, find solutions, stop blaming [others]! This award gives all women hope and motivation to keep going, and definitely one day, she will shine in her own way."

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Ally Zlatar, founder, Starving Artist
  • Maya Al Omary, founder, Maison Mishmashi

Home-Based Business of the Year Hadil Al Khatib, founder, The Broth Lab

"I don't believe a woman's drive is to be socially recognized, because in our innate DNA, we give unconditionally, whether as partners, mothers, or sisters, we give and give more expecting no return," says The Broth Lab founder Hadil Al Khatib, who won the Home-Based Business of the Year title at the Women SME Leaders Awards 2022. "Hence, to be recognized by Entrepreneur and Mastercard is so refreshing, and I am truly grateful and honored to be part of this celebration." When asked to share her advice for other women who want to build their own entrepreneurial trajectories, Al-Khatib replies, "My message for every woman wanting to launch her own business or concept is to collaborate and connect with like-minded people in your industry, and focus on collaboration over competition. Please connect with me, and let's work on creating some magic together. My Instagram is @healwithhadil; my page is always open to women! Let's support one another."

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Mariam Hakim, founder, Espand by Maz
  • Agnes Olagoke, founder, Home of Laurels Nature Living

Momtrepreneur of the Year Jennifer Mansour, founder, Little Melly

As the recipient of the Momtrepreneur of the Year title at the Women SME Leaders Awards 2022, Jennifer Mansour, founder and Mom-in-Chief at Lebanon-based baby food brand Little Melly, believes the win to be more proof that there's really nothing stopping mothers like herself from being successful businesswomen too. "Little Melly is our platform to raise awareness that mothers no longer have to sacrifice their careers for their family, or vice versa," she says. "We're here to balance the two, and empower mothers to achieve their dreams. We're here to be the link that connects both sides."

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Shilpa Mahtani, founder and COO, BNB Holiday Homes
  • Priscila Mielli Abrahao, Head of Legal, Vivo Smartphones
  • Sarah Saieed, founder, La Verte Official

The Leader of Tomorrow Wafa Alobaidat, founder and CEO, Playbook

While Playbook founder and CEO Wafa Alobaidat is glad to have been declared the winner of The Leader of Tomorrow title at the Women SME Leaders Awards 2022, she admits that the journey she's had to reach this accolade has been a tough one. "It can get really lonely as an ambitious woman, whether you're a female founder or a young corporate executive, as you raise funds and grow your team," says. "Also as a corporate executive, it's extremely challenging to be over qualified, and not get those leadership positions. So, in my experience, I've always thrived by joining a community of likeminded women, mentors, and advisors." As such, Alobaidat's advice for other women wanting to realize their professional goals is to be proactive in building what she calls a personal advisory board. "You should always dream big, and set bigger goals for yourself, where you model what you see," she adds. "Spend at least a few hours a week connecting to your customers, advisors, and mentors, asking for feedback, so that you can constantly be improving, enhancing, and elevating yourself. And lastly, we need women supporting other women, and being more embracing and open to amplifying each other's voices."

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Nour Al Hassan, founder and CEO, Tarjama
  • Shraddha Barot Amariei, founder and CEO, White Label Media Group
  • Loide Dawid, founder, K-12 EdTech Inc.
  • Rose Keffas, Special Assistant, Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs
  • Marianna Piccolo, founder and CEO, MyPickOne

The Humanitarian | The Changemaker Gehad Hamdy, founder and Managing Director, Speak Up

Having won two different titles -The Humanitarian and The Changemaker- at the Women SME Leaders Awards 2022, Gehad Hamdy, founder and Managing Director, Speak Up, believes that celebrating the achievements of women will empower other women "until we defy all these stereotypes, and reach to a point when there will be no female leaders, there will be just leaders." That sentiment would thus explain Hamdy's answer when asked to shared her advice for other women in business. "My message to other women is that there is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish," she says. "Believe in yourself, help others whenever you can, and try to build a community where women of all races can communicate and continue to support and take care of each other."

The other shortlisted nominees for The Humanitarian award were:

  • Omolola Salako, Lecturer, College of Medicine, University of Lagos
  • Leah Imaita, co-founder and Managing Director, Jazza Centre
  • Soraya Beheshti, Director, Crimson Education
  • Jennifer Sault, founder and Managing Director, Thrift for Good
  • Mokwe Welisane, founder and President, Nkeng Welisane Foundation
  • Blandine Umuziranenge, founder and CEO, Kosmotive
  • Nokuthula Ncube, founder and CEO, SPA Community Trust

The other shortlisted nominees for The Changemaker award were:

  • Meher Mirchandani, Managing Director, Palmon Group
  • AlAmira AlBash, founder, Constal
  • Yulia Klimacheva, co-owner and Director, JPD Agency
  • Basma Tawakol, founder, Mahrati

The Executive Sheila Mallowah, founder and Principal Consultant, Zoel Capital

As happy as she is to win the title of The Executive at the Women SME Leaders Awards 2022, Sheila Mallowah, founder and Principal Consultant, Zoel Capital, says that she feels awarded every time she helps families secure financial freedom and build wealth that is transferable to generations using non-traditional ways. To every woman attempting to transform their specific fields of work, Mallowah urges them to remember that it is "our duty to be role models and champions for other women." "Do not doubt your abilities, do not feel guilty about pursuing your gifts, or progressing in your career," she adds. "You have it within you to explore all the gifts within you, while balancing all else in your lives. Indeed, there will be challenges; however, each experience challenges our thinking, takes us out of our comfort zones, and makes us stronger, allowing us to rise up, and stand tall, once again."

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Priscila Mielli Abrahao, Head of Legal, Vivo Smartphones
  • Nida Sumar, founder, 60 Day Startups
  • Ifeoluwa Olatayo, Chief Visionary Officer, Soupah Farm-en-Market Limited
  • Soraya Beheshti, Director, Crimson Education

The Fashion & Beauty Leader Salama Mohamed, founder, Peacefull


For Salama Mohamed, founder of Peacefull, launching a skincare brand has been a deeply rewarding experience in that it led her to see firsthand that "we could make a difference in people's lives, and then, as their relationship with their skin grows stronger, to know that we played a part in that." And it is this feeling of satisfaction that Mohamed urges her fellow female entrepreneurs to look forward to as they pursue their goals, especially in a nation like the UAE, "where anything is possible, a country that is not afraid of putting itself out there as the first and the innovator." "As you know, the hardest path is the road not travelled, the one you have to create for others to follow along the way," Mohamed explains. "So, when you're surrounded by leaders, and people who are growing and striving to become better every single day, it trickles down to the very way you live your life. Even when they reach the top, they remind you that excellence is an ever-growing, ever-evolving construct, so it inspires you to work at being the best you can be, to work harder, dream bigger, and not be afraid to try new, unexplored, and unexpected things."

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Haifa Addas,founder and CEO, Instaglam
  • Dr Siama Qadar,founder and CEO, Hybella
  • Heidi Shara, founder, Wear That

The Designer Maz Hakim, founder, Espand

Espand means so much more than just fashion to its founder Maz Hakim, as the brand pays homage to her Afghan heritage and her family's refugee journey, allowing her to showcase what her country is really about. "It is color, creativity, positivity, art, poetry, music and fashion," Hakim explains. "I want to continue promoting Afghanistan's culture and history, and be a part of its healing." While Espand began as a small project during the COVID-19 crisis, it has since grown very quickly, and Hakim advises other women to remember this as they chase after their own hopes and dreams. "If you have an idea or a dream, don't overthink it– just start," she says. "The hardest part is starting, but once you start, the universe paves the way for you; doors and opportunities will open up. Always work in your dharma and your purpose, and the rest will fall into place."

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Nisreen Shahin Hatch, founder, Concept Studio
  • Nadine Abdelghafar, founder, Art D'Égypte
  • Esra Lemmens, founder, Esra Lemmens Agency
  • Zainab Aliyu, CEO and Creative Director, AABOUX
  • Anuradha Venki, founder, Anu Art Store
  • Marianna Piccolo, founder, MyPickOne

The Educator Abimbola Ogundere, CEO, Learning As I Teach Foundation


The Learning As I Teach Foundation works on improving the quality of education received by the average African child by empowering and equipping teachers, school leaders, and edupreneurs across the continent, and that in itself feels like winning an award every days, says Abimbola Ogundere, CEO, Learning As I Teach Foundation. But Ogundere says that winning the title of The Educator Award at the Women SME Leaders Awards 2022 is especially special as it could bring increased interest in what her enterprise does. "The education sector needs all the support it can get to deliver the future of our world," she says. "As Ed Markey rightly stated, "Education is not only a ladder of opportunity, but it is also an investment in our future.' And to other women around the world, I want to say: know yourself, know your passion. Think of how you can make impact with your passion. Be clear, be committed, be consistent, be collaborative, be gritty, and most importantly, have faith."

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Loide Dawid, founder, K-12 EdTech Inc.
  • Sabrine Keza, founder, Autism individual Care Center
  • Dina Shoman, founder, Verity
  • Haya Bader Alsenafi, founder, ToddlersTown Child Development Center

The Retailer Carole Kinoti, founder, Carole Kinoti Brands

Carole Kinoti, founder, Carole Kinoti Brands believes that with the right environment and the right support, women can create businesses that sustainably solve society's problems while also giving opportunities to the most vulnerable. "One example is our Mavazi Elevate Program, whose guiding ethos is 'Turning Talent into Trade,' which has shown that creatives can design and manufacture appealing clothing using sustainably sourced materials. This reduces the carbon footprint while boosting economies at the local community level. Plus, the program has encouraged the youth to harness their talents, continuously improve on their designs, and manufacture clothing and other items to acceptable standards." While this is her enterprise's story, Kinoti hopes other female entrepreneurs will be inspired to create projects of similar social importance and impact. "We hope to inspire other women-owned SMEs to positively change the lives of others," she says.

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Heidi Shara, founder, Wear That
  • Tarfa Alfarhan, co-founder, Souffle Beauty
  • Sara Chemmaa, founder and CEO, Citron

The Health Custodian Sophie Smith, founder and CEO, Nabta Health

The mission of Nabta Health is to empower women in emerging markets to effectively manage their health, and its founder Sophie Smith considers fulfilling this mission not just her occupation, but her vocation. In line with that, Smith's advice for other enterprising women is to find the space they are meant to be playing in, and then own it. "To women who look at things we have achieved as a company, or things I have achieved personally, and wonder about their own success trajectory, I say: focus on doing, not on being," Smith says. "True success is found in the things we accomplish, in the things we build, and the difference we make. Whatever we become -good or bad- is a byproduct of that doing."

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Olubanke Ilo, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Choice Eye Clinic
  • Omolola Salako, Lecturer, College of Medicine, University of Lagos
  • Meriem Tamarzzit, co-founder, Klaim

The Visionary Jennifer Sault, founder and Managing Director, Thrift for Good

Dubai-based Thrift for Good aims to rehome beloved clothing and accessories to reduce waste and help children around the world by donating 100% of their profits to local non-profit Gulf for Good. And now, having won at the Women SME Leaders Awards, Thrift for Good founder Jennifer Sault hopes that the visibility from the accolade will help the company achieve its vision of having a Thrift for Good store in every community in Dubai and beyond. "It is a truly needed social enterprise to put a new face to fashion in the UAE, making quality clothing not only accessible, but also sustainable," she says. And for other women wishing to follow in her footsteps, Sault has one piece of advice: just don't take no as an answer. "There are always challenges, but what is more, there is always a way to evolve, to implement, and to succeed," Sault says.

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:

  • Pakiza Abdulrahman, Head, Investor Aftercare, Bahrain Economic Development Board
  • Hanan Wehbe, founder, Maison Mishmashi
  • Salama Mohamed, founder, Peacefull
  • Gehad Hamdy, founder and Managing Director, Speak Up
  • Charul Chaturvedi Jaitly, founder, Mātiti Group

Relalated: The Recap: Achieving Women Awards 2019