Boom in MENA parenting and family startups defies pandemic pressures

Despite the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant boom in parenting and family startups in the MENA region. (Shutterstock)
Despite the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant boom in parenting and family startups in the MENA region. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 14 May 2021

Boom in MENA parenting and family startups defies pandemic pressures

Despite the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant boom in parenting and family startups in the MENA region. (Shutterstock)
  • Funding for MENA startups is creating opportunities for more niche ventures to flourish, particularly in family and parenting 
  • Five MENA startups share their insights on how they adapted and remained profitable during the COVID-19 pandemic 

CAIRO: Entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa region has been growing rapidly over the past decade, with a record $1 billion in funding pumped into local startups in 2020 alone, according to MAGiTT’s MENA Venture Investment Report.

This growth is creating opportunities for more niche ventures to flourish, particularly in the family and parenting spheres.

Five such startups share their insights, offering a glimpse into the reasons for their success.

As a PR professional, Shamim Kassibawi knows the value of market research. She did plenty of it and tested her concept before launching Play:Date in 2017. This app helps parents connect their children with like-minded friends.

“We’ve really taken the time to prove our concept,” Kassibawi said. “We’re three years old. The average startup at this point would be booming, but because we’ve been testing and perfecting it, we’re ready to use investment money the right way.”

Simona Agolini also relies on being customer and data-centric. She is the CEO and co-founder of QiDZ, an online marketplace for children’s activities in the UAE and Egypt.

“We speak with customers on a daily and weekly basis. We have data analytics, and we customize based on what customers are telling us,” Agolini said. “Some people fall in love with a concept, but it’s not validated.”




Clockwise from top: Ozlem Erbas Soydaner and Katerina Papatryfon, the founders of Sprout; Simona Agolini, the CEO at QiDZ; Dina Abdul Majeed, the founder and CEO of 360 Moms; and Karim Beidas, the founder and CEO of Kidzapp. (Supplied) 

Agolini advises startups to test their ideas to make sure they are viable, not only for customers, but also for financial resilience.

Kidzapp, an online family guide for activities in the UAE and Egypt, had to find ways to stay relevant when the emirates went into lockdown last year.

“We knew that our core business was mostly going to have to be on hold for a while,” said Karim Beidas, CEO and founder of Kidzapp. “So, we thought about how we could help and engage parents, and also strengthen our relationship with our partners.”

As a result, the company decided to develop its digital content arm. “Because of the lockdown, we ended up building much stronger digital content capability in video, and we’re now heading in that direction,” Beidas said.

Jordanian interactive parenting platform 360 Moms is another startup that had to make lasting changes in its business.

“We turned our workshops into webinars,” said Dina Abdul Majeed, CEO and founder of 360 Moms. “Our webinars covered everything — from parenting to dealing with stress and marriage.”

THENUMBER

* $1bn - Funds invested in MENA startups in 2020.

To date, the company has organized 40 such events, making the format an integral part of its platform.

Sprout, a producer of ready-to-heat, nutritionally rich foods for children and families in the UAE, launched its website during lockdown, which forced the team to make changes quickly.

“We had to rethink our marketing in no time,” said Sprout co-founder Katerina Papatryfon. “We launched at a time when people were wary about ordering in, so we just had to jump at things that made sense to us as parents.”

Instead of using a third-party service, the founders decided to deliver the food themselves.

“We would be in the kitchen cooking all day, and then, on weekends, we would be going door to door to do the deliveries. It was exhausting, but it added an element of trust,” Papatryfon said.

This trust helped the company establish a solid relationship with its customers.




In 2020 alone, some $1 billion was invested in MENA startups. (Shutterstock)

Attracting the right backers is essential for successfully expanding any startup. Play:Date recently secured funding from an investor providing financial support and expertise to help the business grow.

“This is absolutely amazing because they give you money and services, so they are going to be giving it their all,” Kassibawi said.

The timing of investments is equally important. While Beidas is ready for Kidzapp to enter Saudi Arabia, he is cautious about scaling up too soon.

“Many investors encourage startups to grow quickly, which is great, but if you grow too quickly and need the next round of funding and don’t get it, you die,” Beidas said, adding that growing sustainably is key.

“There are these two tensions, and you have to be somewhere in the middle,” he said.

  • This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.

Iraq arrests two generals on suspicion of bribery at key port

Iraq arrests two generals on suspicion of bribery at key port
Updated 12 June 2021

Iraq arrests two generals on suspicion of bribery at key port

Iraq arrests two generals on suspicion of bribery at key port
  • In Iraq, every port and border crossing has its corrupt placemen appointed by political parties or armed groups
  • In Umm Qasr, it is mainly pro-Iranian armed groups who dominate through their nominees in the customs department and the security forces, officials say

BAGHDAD: Iraq announced Saturday it has arrested two generals on suspicion of taking bribes to waive customs duties, a practice estimated to cost the state $6.3 billion a year in lost revenues.
Both men worked at the Gulf port of Umm Qasr, a key entry point for imports of foodstuffs and medicines which is reputed to be the most corrupt in Iraq.
The sums allegedly found in their position were tiny given the scale of corruption in Iraq, which is estimated to have cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars since the US-led invasion of 2003.
"$1,000 were found in the office of the general in charge of Umm Qasr North, while the other general had hidden $2,100 in a waste basket in his office," a source in the state anti-corruption body, the Commission for Integrity, told AFP.
"These were bribes intended to facilitate the smooth passage of cargos," the source said.
In Iraq, every port and border crossing has its corrupt placemen appointed by political parties or armed groups, who ensure a steady flow of illicit revenues to their patrons.
In Umm Qasr, it is mainly pro-Iranian armed groups who dominate through their nominees in the customs department and the security forces, officials say.


Algeria votes for new parliament for first time since Bouteflika’s exit

Algeria votes for new parliament for first time since Bouteflika’s exit
Updated 12 June 2021

Algeria votes for new parliament for first time since Bouteflika’s exit

Algeria votes for new parliament for first time since Bouteflika’s exit

ALGIERS: Polling stations opened Saturday in Algeria's first parliamentary election since a popular uprising forced longtime autocratic president Abdelaziz Bouteflika from office in 2019.

The vote is meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and turn a new leaf for the troubled, albeit gas-rich, country — but which many activists plan to boycott.
Authorities have tightened the screws on the Hirak protest movement in recent weeks, and police arrested a politician and journalist who are prominent opposition figures in the run-up to the voting.
The early election is supposed to exemplify President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s “new Algeria,” with an emphasis on young candidates and those outside the political elite. A huge number of candidates — more than 20,000 — are running for the 407-seat legislature, more than half as independents and the rest on party lists.
It’s the first legislative election since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced from office in 2019 after 20 years in power amid protests over corruption, joblessness and repression.
But the threat of boycott, worries about the coronavirus and general frustration with the political system mean Saturday’s turnout may be low.
Women make up half of candidates for the first time, among efforts to make a fresh start. But women have been largely invisible from the campaign — and in some cases their faces were blurred or concealed in campaign posters, according to newspaper El Watan.
Candidates had just 20 days to campaign, and Algerian media said real debate on major issues of concern, like unemployment, was mostly absent.
“With such a slew of candidates, the calculation of power is simple: to elect a patchwork assembly, without a majority, which will allow the president to create his own parliamentary majority with which he will govern,” said political scientist Rachid Grime.
A new election authority was formed to run the vote, and its chief said results may take up to 10 days to tally given the large number of candidates and the new system.
Many candidates couldn’t afford campaign posters. Independent candidates like Djamel Maafa, a former TV producer, used social networks to spread his message for lack of access to the funds and logistical structure of big parties.
Parties supporting the Hirak movement called for a boycott because they want a more fundamental political transition.
“Elections in Algeria have always proved that they are not the solution. The solution lies in democratic transition, it also lies in a dialogue around a table in order to solve the crisis,” said activist Sofiane Haddadji.


Abu Dhabi to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to those with expired residency or entry visas

Abu Dhabi to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to those with expired residency or entry visas
Updated 12 June 2021

Abu Dhabi to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to those with expired residency or entry visas

Abu Dhabi to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to those with expired residency or entry visas
  • Prior to the decision, only those with an Emirates ID or valid residency could register to take the vaccine in the capital

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi will provide free coronavirus vaccines to people with expired residency or entry visas to ensure their safety, Abu Dhabi Media Office said in a tweet on Saturday.
“To receive the free COVID-19 vaccine, any type of formal identification, even if expired, can be used to register at the designated vaccination centers,” it added.
Prior to the decision, only those with an Emirates ID or valid residency could register to take the vaccine in the capital.
The decision comes days after the emirate announced the implementation of the ‘green pass’ system of entry into most public places in the emirate.
Starting June 15, visitors to places including malls, large supermarkets, gyms and hotels must show their color code on Al Hosn app to be allowed entry.
“Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee has approved usage of green pass on Al Hosn app, based on the emirate’s 4-pillar strategy to combat COVID-19 focused on vaccination, active contract tracings, safe entry and adopting preventive measures,” it tweeted.
The Al Hosn color-coding system has six categories, including fully vaccinated, second dose recipients and first dose recipients waiting for a second dose appointment, Abu Dhabi Media Office said.
The decision covers individuals aged 16 and above.


Gulf, Arab states and organizations hail UAE election to UN Security Council

Gulf, Arab states and organizations hail UAE election to UN Security Council
This United Nations handout photo shows a view of the Security Council meeting at the UN in New York. (AFP file photo)
Updated 12 June 2021

Gulf, Arab states and organizations hail UAE election to UN Security Council

Gulf, Arab states and organizations hail UAE election to UN Security Council
  • The UAE is one of five countries elected to sit as non-permanent members on the Security Council in 2022 and 2023

DUBAI: Gulf and Arab states and organizations hailed the UAE’s election to a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2022-2023.
Ali bin Saleh Al-Saleh, Bahrain’s Shura Council Chairman, expressed his pride in the UAE’s achievement.
This confirms the country’s dedicated efforts to promote global peace and security, the official added, in a report from state news agency BNA.
Adel bin Abdul Rahman Al-Asoumi, speaker of the Arab Parliament, expressed his full confidence in the UAE’s ability to face major challenges, wishing the country success, Saudi Press Agency reported.
Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen congratulated the UAE, Gabon and Albania for their achievement. He said their winning of seats in the UN Security Council reflects their role in consolidating international peace, SPA added.
Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah meanwhile discussed with UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan during a phone call his country’s full support to the UAE in achieving world peace and security.
Jordan’s foreign ministry, likewise, expressed its support for the UAE in serving common Arab issues and interests and preserving international stability and security, according to state news agency Petra.

The UAE is one of five countries elected on Friday by the UN General Assembly to sit as non-permanent members on the Security Council in 2022 and 2023. The others are Brazil, Albania, Gabon and Ghana, and the new arrivals could potentially shift the power balance within the world body, diplomats predicted.

“The UAE’s campaign for Security Council membership was based on its commitment to promoting inclusiveness, stimulating innovation, building resilience and securing peace at all levels,” state news agency WAM reported.

The country affirmed its firm belief in the importance of building bridges to strengthen relations between members of the Security Council, and rebuilding the confidence of member states in the council’s ability to respond effectively to challenges to international peace and security.

“The UAE has always been ready to assume its share of the responsibility to confront urgent global challenges, in cooperation with the international community, and this was the primary motivation for our campaign for Security Council membership,” said Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation.

“The UAE has committed itself to multilateral action, international law and the UN Charter since its establishment, and the country will continue to adhere to these principles during its membership of the Security Council.

“I am confident that our history and our role as a reliable partner and mediator will enable us to make an effective contribution during the two years that we will serve on the Security Council. We are aware of the great responsibility associated with the membership, the importance of the challenges facing the Security Council, and with determination and perseverance the UAE will be keen to maintain international peace and security.”

Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, the UAE’s permanent representative to the UN, said her country’s role on the Security Council “stems from our belief that our values and principles can help advance progress toward our common goal of international peace and security.”

She added: “During the two years that we will serve on the council, our team here in New York, Abu Dhabi and around the world will work constructively with our colleagues from the member states to overcome divisions and make tangible progress in addressing the most serious challenges, from building resilience to climate change to addressing global health crises and epidemics, and taking advantage of the potential of innovation to achieve peace.”

The UAE will be committed to working as part of the Security Council in a spirit of cooperation and partnership, she said.

FASTFACT

The five new UN Security Council members will start their terms on Jan. 1, replacing five countries whose two-year terms end on Dec. 31 — Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Vietnam.

Nusseibeh also congratulated Albania, Brazil, Gabon and Ghana on their election to the council and said she “looks forward to working together to build a more peaceful, secure and inclusive future.”

The five countries will take their seats on the council in January, replacing Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Vietnam, Estonia, Niger and Tunisia.

The shift will change the balance of power within the Security Council, diplomats predicted. One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Brazil and the UAE have strong positions in foreign policy, and Albania, which will sit on the council for the first time in its history, is also a member of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.”

Of the 193 available votes, Brazil received 181, the UAE 179, Albania 175, Gabon 183 and Ghana 185.

The Security Council has 15 members. Five (the US, the UK, China, Russia and France) are permanent members with a right of veto, and 10 are elected, non-permanent members, half of whom are replaced every year.

The UAE joined the UN in 1971, the year the country was founded. The only time it has previously held a seat on the Security Council was in 1986-1987.

– with AFP


15-year-old Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers

15-year-old Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers
Palestinian women mourn during the funeral of Mohammad Hamayel, 15, who was killed during clashes with Israeli security forces in Beita, West Bank, on June 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Updated 12 June 2021

15-year-old Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers

15-year-old Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers
  • Violence in the West Bank increased in early May, with at least 30 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli forces and in alleged attacks

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian teenager died on Friday after the Israeli Army shot him during clashes in the West Bank, Palestinian medics and the Health Ministry said.
“Mohammad Said Hamayel, 15, died in clashes” with Israeli forces near Beita, south of Nablus, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said six others had been wounded by live gunfire.
The Israeli Army did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.
According to Wafa, the Palestinian news agency, the violence took place during “a public protest against Israel’s construction of a colonial settlement outpost near the village,” to which the army responded with live fire and teargas.

BACKGROUND

The teenager’s death comes a day after three Palestinians were killed by Israeli special forces on a mission to arrest suspected ‘terrorists’ in the occupied West Bank.

Violence in the West Bank increased in early May, with at least 30 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli forces and in alleged attacks.
That came amid a flare-up in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem that led to 11 days of airstrikes launched by Israel against Hamas fighters in the besieged enclave of Gaza.
West Bank villages often hold Friday demonstrations against land confiscation, house demolitions and Israeli settlements deemed illegal under international law.
The events are often punctuated by clashes with the Israeli army.
Some 475,000 Israeli settlers live in the occupied West Bank, home to more than 2.8 million Palestinians.