University of Iowa launching program to teach Saudi women entrepreneurial skills

The University of Iowa is partnering with Education For Employment and the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to launch a one-year project that will provide entrepreneurial education to women in Saudi Arabia.

Funding for the project comes from a $123,000 State Department grant awarded to the university’s Institute for International Business. The program will teach Saudi women from the western region entrepreneurship skills in emerging sectors like information technology, real estate, and e-commerce.

The project will provide 50 women with professional training and connections to local and international mentors that are necessary to start their businesses. The project is an initiative that provides demand-driven training linked to mentorship by successful Saudi and U.S. businesswomen as a key tool for reducing unemployment and expanding economic opportunities for Saudi women. 

The women will participate in Venture School International, an entrepreneurial education program that guides students through the startup process by teaching them how to identify a market need and build a business to meet it. The university is partnering with the nonprofit Education For Employment to teach the Venture School International training, which will be complemented by contacts at local financing organizations, government officials, and business support services.

The Western Saudi Arabia Venture School for Women project is designed to “put new entrepreneurial tools into the hands of Saudi women,” said Dimy Doresca, director of the Institute for International Business at the University of Iowa in a release. “With the guidance of Iowa professionals, we will train aspiring innovators of business and social enterprise, through the startup process using methods that reduce risk and encourage ongoing innovation. We will nurture and empower women in Saudi Arabia to become examples of social and economic success in their communities.”

Doresca says Iowa women entrepreneurs will work with the Saudi women as mentors, providing support and encouragement while serving as role models. He says they will be recruited from the institute’s existing networks of women entrepreneurs in Iowa. As part of the program, university faculty and Iowa entrepreneurs will travel to Saudi Arabia to provide training and help develop mentor relationships.

“The need to address youth employment challenges has never been greater, and I am pleased by the emphasis on supporting young women in Saudi Arabia,” said Amr Abdallah, director of Gulf Programs, EFE-Global. “Together with the support of the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, we will see the positive impact that preparing youth for success and starting their business can have on these youth and their families. With a focus on entrepreneurship, we hope to not only impact those gaining the training, but open the doors for other young women to follow in their footsteps.”