• Female Entrepreneurs in the Middle East & North Africa

    Posted by Dannielle Noonan

    Nicholla Henderson.JPG

    What does it mean to be a 'Third Culture Kid'? Are you an expat wondering how your children will benefit from their international experiences? We interviewed expat podcast presenter and self-professed 'third culture kid' Nicholla Henderson about her displaced life in the Middle East.

    Find out about Nicholla's The Learning Curve Podcast.


    You describe yourself as a ‘third culture kid’ – what does that mean for you?

    I wouldn't be the person I am today had I been brought up in the UK and never left.  Being a third culture kid, or in my case adult, has been an amazing cultural opportunity. As a kid you don't really see it as an opportunity, it's just the way it is.  Your friends are from different countries, you play and have tonnes of fun because of how you are connected.  I don't think my parents saw it as a cultural opportunity.  Their reasons for living abroad were based around work opportunities, paying off the mortgage and creating savings. For my sister and I it was how life was.  It was fun!

    Today, having multinational friends has helped me be a good connector and people person.  I love to hear about where people come from, what their home is like, their values, beliefs, what they think about where we live now... I'm very culturally nosy!  I feel comfortable in many settings and quickly adapt to new environments.  All of this experience now helps me connect with amazing women for my podcast.  One funny side of my multicultural identity now is the ability to copy many accents.  I can quickly change my accent to a collection I have honed and practiced over the years.  

    The down side of all of this though is that BIG question , 'Where is home?' and that general feeling of 'rootlessness'. I have lived in the UAE all my life.  We visited the UK for short breaks but spent most of our holidays visiting other places. It's been three years since I last visited the UK.  When people ask where I'm from, I do say I am British but quickly follow it up with, 'I was brought up in the UAE'.  Is that misplaced loyalty?  Home isn't necessarily the UK but I also know that the UAE is my temporary home.  Where would we go if my husband lost his job?  As an adult third culture kid with my own daughter now, 'where is home?' is a tough question.  Luckily my daughter is too young yet to question her status but I know it will come and I am worried about 'her identity'.  How will she see herself? Will she feel the same 'lost' feelings that I do?  My husband is more comfortable with saying home is where we are now, but for me home means something and I don't know where that is.  On the upside it can be anywhere I want it to be.  I don't think I am alone when adults like me questions where home is.


     You went to the UK for university but then returned to the UAE – what were your reasons?

    I returned home.  My family still resided in Dubai and I wanted to reconnect with my friends, work and live there. It seemed right. I was going home, much like my university friends were doing except I got on a plane and flew 3000 miles away. I also didn't feel I fitted in well with UK life.  'THE' place where I'm supposed to feel connected and whole and yet I felt sliced up and confused. I've learnt though by speaking with other people like myself that the feelings of confusion and lack of connection with your root country is normal and so I haven't battled with it too much, yet! My family are still in Dubai today and I live in Abu Dhabi with my family.


    Are you entitled to healthcare in the UAE? Can you tell us a bit about any experiences you have had with medical facilities in the region and insurance issues?

    Yes.  By law all companies are required to give healthcare insurance.  Its always part of the remuneration package. The  levels of that healthcare varies depending on the seniority of your occupation.

    Speak to Medibroker's health insurance advisors about whether your UAE renumeration package caters for all of your specific health insurance needs.

    Health care and medical facilities are a very high standard.  I had my daughter in Muscat, Oman and the hospital services were great.  My mum has had surgery here a few times in the private hospitals and the doctors are excellent. I believe that in the UK if you want to be referred you have to go via your GP but here if you have an ear infection you go straight to the specialist.  In saying all that our health care is predominately private so that is why we don't have to wait.  


     Tell us more about your podcast!

    We are a young show aimed at sharing the stories of awesome Arab and Expat entrepreneurial women working and living in the MENA (Middle East & North Africa). We share their business stories and find out about how they achieve their goals and what motivates them.  We find out what has inspired them and where their business ideas come from.  The women of the MENA are strong, vibrant entrepreneurial women who have a strong belief that they can achieve success in their work.  They work through walls, barriers and red tape and see opportunity, possibilities and outcomes. They have this innate desire to be the best they can be and make their dreams come true. 


    What issues do female entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa face?

    The media tells us gender is the BIG issue and yes in the Middle East and North AFrica it is critical. Women struggle to generate funds for financing projects in MENA, or miss out on opportunities because they are female or perhaps because their family want them to be married with children. However, in the UAE and Oman; gender equality is very much evolving. The leaders of these two nations very much encourage women to be part of the economic development of these nations. Thus today you are seeing some incredible women take the helms of some fantastic projects and making great strides. I think my parents would have moved a long time ago had the opportunities for my sisters and I been limited.


    What are the positives of being a female entrepreneur in North Africa and the Middle East?

    Opportunity. I've met many women who have come out as trailing spouses, spotted a niche in the market, started a business and made it happen.  We are  also a small market so it is easy to quickly create a platform for yourself and start making money. With social media to help us there is no reason why any female entrepreneur with a great idea can't make it happen.  The female business minds I speak to on my podcast are always ecstatic that they took the plunge to entrepreneurship.  We are lucky here to have the additional support of helpers too.  We can do our work and manage a family because we have nannies and people to help with managing the work load. As women we all know that we have to multitask and so we can create the team around us we need to get things done and still find a life/work balance.  Now I've made that sound rosey but it is hard sometimes.  


     Do expats encounter many different problems in business than their local counterparts?

    It's probably more difficult to get business loans as an expat if that is what you need. Also, we still don't have proper bankruptcy laws here. Those are two big problems but starting a business in the UAE can be done in a few days if you are working with the Free zones, or a bit longer with a more onshore business. However, there are organisations out there that will help and support you. They will guide you through what you need and how you need to do it. Let me know if you need an organisation and I can help direct you.


    What advice would you give somebody thinking of coming to the UAE or North Africa to set up a business?

    Decide if you want to be in a free zone or an 'onshore' company. The difference being is in a free zone  you are the whole owner of your business while 'on shore' you need a local sponsor who owns a proportion of you business.  They both have their pros and cons and obviously will have an effect on the type of business that you are.  Use social sites like LinkedIn to connect with people that have businesses here so you can ask questions.  

    Do visit the city you want to work in and see if it fits your lifestyle.  Its not often something people speak about but all cities have a personality which you may /may not like.  Life isn't always about work and if you want to work somewhere you have to also feel you are part of the place.  There are always loads of Facebook Groups you can join to find out more about a place and get the 'word on the street'.  I have a number of community pages to help residents with questions and answers but  my key ones are 'Muscat - where can I find' and 'Abu Dhabi- where can i find'. 

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