WeMENA: Elevating Female Driven Innovation in the Middle East and North Africa

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Amidst talk that we no longer require the World Bank as an institution and could perhaps get along just fine without it, it has created a program that has brought it right back into the 21st century with WeMENA, focused on bringing innovation and prosperity to female lead entrepreneurial pursuits in the Middle-East and North Africa.

Concentrated on an area of the world where women are predominantly viewed as second to their male peers, the program is an expansive and intellectual look at how going forward, the world has an opportunity to change through business formulated by both men and women - regardless of geographic inadequacies or religious practices in the region.

The program is now in its second phase, having successfully completed Phase 1 in 2015, it now opens itself up to a wider span of cities, of which candidates can choose from to concentrate their entrepreneurial plans. How can their ideas foster change and protect the cities of Alexandria, Amman, Beirut, Byblos, Cairo, Casablanca, Ramallah, or Tunis from the frequent knocks they receive - be it natural or otherwise is the big question WeMena have asked, and the women of the world (only females may apply) have responded, in their droves.

Yasmine El Bagarri - Courtesy of Microsoft Office

YouNoodle - tech giant and startup guru, is behind the concept with the World Bank, and together the competition they’ve created has captured minds from all over the globe to come and pitch to the team.

Yasmine El Baggari, founder of Voyaj and an entrepreneur herself, has also joined YouNoodle as an ‘on the ground’ ambassador.

“With the help of this program, women in the region will be able to provide private sector solutions to these challenges, and in doing so create jobs, economic prosperity and a more equitable society.” Said Yasmine

The opportunity to not only work with this team but benefit from financial stimulus toward your business has already been reaped by three women last year who got to share the spoils of $150,000 towards their individual ventures aimed at improving living standards in Beirut and Cairo.

Rawda Romston, Sara Helo and Hoda Mahmoud became the first winners of the elite competition in 2015 of the ‘Women for Resilience Initiative.’ for which they each received $55,00 towards their respective projects in Beirut and Cairo. From modern housing initiatives to improvement of the public transport systems - the practicability of these ladies’ projects was what won them the grand award and why they’ve inspired so many others to come forward and attempt the contest, which can really only benefit you in the long run, even if you do not succeed in winning. The participation will further your ambitions regardless, for, as winner Romston notes - networking really is the very basis of any entrepreneurial pursuit.

“The MENA region is ripe with innovation and many women in the area are leading the effort to develop ideas that will help to sustain local economies and create responsible investment opportunities for investors,” said Olivier Lavinal, Advisor to the Vice President for the MENA Region at World Bank.

The competition is as forward thinking as it is powerful - who else is doing something so new and so boundary breaking in regions such as this where women have always very much paled in comparison to their male peers on the business stage? For those female entrepreneurs coming up in the UAE for example, many comment that while the business opportunities are there, and aplenty, women are nudged into typically feminine directions, such as healthcare, beauty and education. Never before have we seen an institution with the level of reach the World Bank has, and a tech company with the recognition and worldwide acclaim of YouNoodle come together to task the world with a competition such as this. They are daring the women of the MENA regions to forward their dreams; ideas; abstract concepts - to formulate a plan to turn them into a reality, and using feminism as a catalyst for this push.

“By building sustainable innovation ecosystems, MENA countries can make substantial steps towards a knowledge based economy and become a global player in the technology and innovation ecosystem. This program will help to ensure that these efforts work toward continued idea generation and investment in this region,” said Torsten Kolind, CEO of YouNoodle.

The emulsion of organizations as prolific as these for this sole purpose means that while this might be the first of such programs, it most certainly won’t be the last. This sends a global message to those excluding the prowess of the female in the industry of these regions; this wards off ignorance and staves the sexist. These women are ultimately paving the way for better and more sustainable living standards, while removing the stigma behind female-cultivated business at the same time. We salute Rawda, Sara and Hoda and look forward to seeing the next batch of ladies come through from 2017’s finalists. With the span widening to a larger group of cities to focus their efforts on, this year’s competition can only prove more fruitful than the last and excite an entrepreneurial thrust into those places sorely lacking in forward thinkers and innovators.

Female innovators interested in entering the competition can find more information by logging on to: www.we-mena.org.

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7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.