Sweden and Saudi Arabia have teamed up to create a new program called SHE-Leads. The initiative uses networking, meetings, and education to train Saudi women that are entrepreneurs or innovators.
The two countries have previously had a rocky relationship on the political front, but have spent the last year or so trying to smooth it over. The SHE-Leads program could be another way to bring the nations together while also empowering women. The women involved in the program all have several years of experience as entrepreneurs, and many also have experience working with Swedish companies.
The first module of the program took place in December, when 18 Saudi women traveled to Sweden to exchange stories and experiences and to hear about Swedish business values and experiences. They visited the Swedish Institute, as well as big Swedish organizations such as Ericsson and Atlas Copco.
The goal of this part of the program was to empower these women as leaders in their field and also improve their relationships with Swedish companies. But there’s still more to be done with this initiative.
“In March next year, these women will meet again, in Riyadh,” Jan Knutsson, Sweden’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said in December. Riyadh is Saudi Arabia’s capital.
Knutsson also hopes that the collaboration between Sweden and Saudi Arabia will extend to other disciplines, calling education a “promising” area for such a partnership.
The SHE-Leads program comes at a time when Saudi Arabia has seen a significant increase in its number of women entrepreneurs, so it is especially important that they are being trained and empowered as leaders and role models.
“Women entrepreneurs are catching up really quickly in Saudi Arabia — almost 33 percent of the owners of established businesses are women,” Ignacio de la Vega, director of Babson Global Center for Entrepreneurship Leadership (BGCEL), said.
Saudi Arabia has also been historically infamous for restricting women. The country made headlines last September when they finally lifted their ban on women driving. Saudi women, however, still need permission from a male relative to get married or divorced and often still need permission to get a certain job or open certain businesses.
Perhaps the introduction of the SHE-Leads program and the shift towards empowering women will inspire changes in other parts of life for Saudi women. Until that happens, we can at least hope that the initiative will train and empower a generation of inspirational and hard-working entrepreneurs and innovators who will inspire change in their own business sector.
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