Part of the “Women To Watch” featured in the November issue of Inc. Arabia. Contrary to popular belief, the Middle East and North Africa region is home to millions of highly educated, driven and successful women who stand shoulder to shoulder with men. Here are some of those inventors, change agents, business leaders, educators, innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors are no longer okay with the status quo.
If there is one word you could use to describe Joy Ajlouny, it would have to be ‘firecracker’. The Palestinian-American businesswoman is outspoken, a feminist, and also on a mission to disrupt the old guard that currently dominates the regional shipping industry.
And she is super confident of that last bit. After making an exit with her e-commerce platform, Bonfaire, in Silicon Valley three years ago, Ajlouny has the experience and the risk-taking appetite to take Fetchr, her Dubai-based on-demand shipping startup, into a market dominated by the likes of Aramex right now.
The idea for Fetchr, as it is for many entrepreneurs, came to her when she was out and about shopping for herself after moving to Dubai.
“I remember the first week I got here, I went to go buy a pair of Nike sneakers but they didn’t have my size,” she says. “So I said, ‘I’ll get it online.’ And the guy looked at me and said, ‘We are not online.’ And I was like…What?”
While the MENA region has many e-commerce companies sprouting up, not many have jumped into the area of last mile fulfillment–delivering the package to the doorstep. Along with her co-founder Idriss Al Rifai, Ajlouny started Fetchr to target this segment of the e-commerce game—in the simplest, most tech-driven way possible—via an app.
Many of us are familiar with the five phone calls in a row, trying to establish your location with your delivery guy, giving directions, and fighting through language barriers to finally find that the package was delivered to another office or is happily sitting back at the firm’s warehouse.
Fetchr uses the GPS technology from mobile phones to allow almost pin-point accurate deliveries to customers from local retailers and e-commerce firms as well as from other individual customers aka peer-to-peer packages. “Our drivers don’t need to call you. Just press the button [on the app] and we know where you are,” explains Ajlouny.
Although it’s keeping a firm eye on the e-ecommerce sector, with the size of the pie there being huge, Ajlouny is also seeing a growing place for Fetchr in the peer-to-peer shipping space, almost like a concierge service. “If you’ve forgotten your sunglasses at your friend’s place…if you need to go and have some documents signed and delivered…if you need to have concert tickets picked up…we want Fetchr to do that for you,” she says.
Still in its initial days, Fetchr is making rapid strides towards growth. To build a team to achieve that goal, Ajlouny says that she has surrounded herself with driven people who understand what it’s like to work for a startup. “I think that’s really the hardest thing. The number one most challenging thing for a startup in Dubai is definitely the red tape and the costs. But the second most difficult thing is hiring good people. Because people don’t understand that a startup is ownership,” she says.
Predictably, for that team, Ajlouny is an advocate for hiring smart and driven women from around the world, as well as getting more women into the workplace.
For her, it’s more than about creating jobs. It is but about creating self-worth.
“I think that there is a culture here that, you get married, you look pretty, put on the fake eyelashes, learn how to line your lips, so you can look beautiful to attract a man, because your success story is that you got married,” she says. And if those marriages don’t work, such women “don’t have anything to show for themselves, because they’ve relied their entire life on a man for their future.”
“That needs to change—for there to be more women in the workforce. When men get divorced their lives go on, because their entire identity was not wrapped around you. It’s wrapped around accomplishing things at their jobs and I can tell you, there is a great feeling that you get about accomplishment and self-worth when you are creating something.”
Photograph by Gabriela Maj