It is undeniable that the pandemic we currently live on has impacted the world’s economics in general. Still, it had a different impact on each region, and even on countries within regions. The MENA region is no exception, and the polar can first be established in public health.
From an economic point of view, the way countries traveled through these extraordinary circumstances were also contrasting, as Norell points out: countries that lack natural resources, such as Morocco, have coped better since their liberalized economies receive more external investment, dirjotected to more diversified assets.
But the economic challenges are real and affected all countries without exception. The region suffered from a drop in demand – leading to a significant loss of jobs, particularly those in the services-tourism fields – in 2019, employment in tourism accounted for 5.3% of GDP growth in the MENA region, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). With it, social issues, already heavily present in the region, only got grim. Such loss will mostly affect an already fragile fringe of the society: the elder, women, and informal workers. An ESCWA brief indicates that 8.3 million people will fall into poverty in the Arab region due to COVID-19.
The pandemic exacerbated some of the economic, political, and social problems preexisting in the region.
But great minds never stopped working, powering through the pandemic to bring long-lasting change, with challenges feeding the pursuit. Seedstars is happy to get the Seedstars World Competition 2020/21 local winners for the MENA region. The winning initiatives are led by people who want to bring innovation and development to the communities they exist in, delivering a positive impact, both economically and socially.
Water & Sanitation
Bara Wahbeh founded Akyas, a startup that aims to bring low-cost sanitation to the base of the pyramid population, regionally and globally. The solution targets communities that lack access to safe sanitation, such as displaced populations, high-dense slum households, or other water-scarce communities. Based in Jordan, the startup looked at the typical sanitation supply chain and realized that it involved costly procedures, as access to safe and affordable sanitation services does not exist, with the current practice being expensive. It provides an onsite treatment that effectively isolates fecal waste to reduce pathogens in the environment by using a specially developed powder mix combined with multiple-use organic compostable toilet bags.
Construction and Manufacturing
Faced with the cyclical nature of construction work, the unregulated pay rates, and the difficulty of finding consistent construction jobs, Rowan Alawi founded Amal. Based in Palestine, this startup bridges the gap between contractors and workers through a SAAS (utilizing machine learning technology). The platform helps create and sustain workers’ access to suitable employment opportunities while ensuring that their safety and dignity remain preserved in their job-hunting endeavors. The solution impacts employees, as it helps workers gain job offers with ease and dignity while giving them the power to review and rate companies and employers. These can select workers based on their rating, wage, availability, and other filters. In Iraq, Zahraa Alabdali understood how difficult it was to find the right maintenance experts to hire. She created Fix it, the first application to provide fast and safe maintenance services for homes and buildings.
In the field of edutech, the winner Alrawi, headed by Hala Sulaiman and Mohamed Ebrahim, targets audiobooks’ publishing. Their platform provides Arabic speakers with audio content easily accessible through their handheld devices. Based on the idea that growth and personal development are vital needs to power forward societies, the Bahrain based platform solves the limited availability of Arabic content in the market. Given distribution and infrastructural challenges, the limited time is given to learning, given life responsibilities and focus on jobs and families and contributes to inclusive and equitable quality education, promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. Still in edutech, starting with rethinking educational systems, helping children overcome obstacles, strengthen societies, and “move mountains,” Aside Altintas, from Turkey, founded Twin Science & Robotics. Twin is a complete educational program that makes learning playful, individual, and wholesome. Learning that teaches old skills, new skills, and future skills, so necessary for the adults of tomorrow, unique in the light of such unsettling, uncertain, and unequal times.
Consumer Services and Supply Chain: Logistics
“Laundry. Simplified.” Quite self-explanatory. That’s what Maid Sadeghi Alavijeh and his team of 21 do on Paklean. Paklean is an on-demand door-to-door online laundry and dry-cleaning service that allows customers to always be one tap away from washing, pressing, spot cleaning, sewing, and coloring their clothes. E-commerce, in general, can be a significant economic lever for the region. And Fulfillment Bridge wants to facilitate it by providing a cloud-based, AI-powered global e-commerce logistic platform offering warehousing, fulfillment, shipping, return management and more, in 4 continents. “If we manage to educate and offer the infrastructure for the young e-entrepreneurs, they could provide their goods and services in both local and cross-border markets,” says CEO Kais Khadhraoui from Tunisia.
On the health-tech side, the winner Tanfees is a startup based in Oman that offers online therapy sessions and matches clients with the right counselors using an algorithm at a fixed price. “In the MENA region, the divorce rate has reached 40%, and this is apart from the increasing rate of mental health issues. We believe that therapy should be discrete and stigma-free and optimized to give as many people in need an opportunity to access it”, says Zainab Alhayki, the founder.
Financial Services: Insurance Tech
Businesses and people are aware of the importance of insurance, and Policyhouse, a UAE based insure-tech startup, came into the market to make it easy for customers to compare and buy insurance policies online. It uses a simple UX-UI and chatbots to ensure even customers who don’t understand insurance terminology can easily find the best choices and purchase a policy online. And when it comes to financial services, reliability is not only important: fastness is also crucial. “Accessibility to banking services today is as important as having a national ID. Digital money is increasing, which requires a person to be banked. Once you bring the digital solution to the hands of people 24/7, they will enjoy banking services”, says Abbas Hijazi, CEO of Finfirst. This Kuwait based app allows customers to open a bank account or get a loan effortlessly. From people to people, access to all, and its internal values reflect this mindset: 50% of the staff is women, with 75% of the leadership roles.
By creating better sanitation systems, facilitating knowledge and education, or building tools that will allow businesses and people to thrive, the Seedstars program winners bring economic power, wisdom, tech development, investment opportunities, and mentality changes. Therefore they create a significant impact and raise the living standards to their countries and the entire region. Through the use of technology and creative approach, these startups shine a light on problems, but their know-how and tech knowledge into the process, and come up with solutions that directly benefit those using them and their entire ecosystem.
17 startups from the MENA region will compete to represent their country at the Regional Finals of the Seedstars World Competition, with support from MADA. Tune in on February 1 to catch these innovative startups go head to head in the Seedstars Regional Stage. Follow Seedstars on Facebook to watch the broadcast online.