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In the mainstream US-Euro centric and other literatures, Saudi Arabia is associated with oil, wealth, Islam, and gender inequalities, leading the reader to imagine a kingdom stuck in its 90-year-old origins, when oil was discovered there in 1938. Saudi Arabia however has been undergoing a rapid socio-economic transformation initiated in 2016 and widely known as ‘Vision 2030’. This initiative has heralded unprecedented legal and institutional reforms, leading to the creation of a strategic framework to reform, modernize and develop the Kingdom’s business, health, education, recreation, and tourism sectors amongst others. It also contributes to reducing the dependence on oil and to diversifying the economy. In parallel, efforts have been made to activate the entrepreneurship ecosystem across all sectors. According to Saudi’s General Authority for Statistics, 67% of the overall population is under the age of 35, and therefore investing in its entrepreneurialism becomes necessary to determine the future social and economic fabric of the Kingdom. To do so effectively, a gender inclusive approach, along with policy and practice to support entrepreneurship is pertinent. However, this only works when top-down strategies are complemented by grassroot synergies, both recognizing and making visible the role and contribution of women entrepreneurs.
Contrary to contemporary mainstream entrepreneurship research, within this article we explain how supporting women entrepreneurs to thrive in Saudi Arabia requires us to learn from the past…


While Saudi Arabia’s ongoing economic diversification strategies are breaking down the institutional barriers to women’s entrepreneurship, they are also changing the gender segregation that previously enabled some successful outcomes for women entrepreneurs. To understand how women entrepreneurs can thrive in the forward-looking, “new,” gender inclusive Saudi Arabia, we need to reflect upon the “old,” gender-segregated Saudi Arabia. We carried out a qualitative study with thirty women entrepreneurs to explore this transition from old to new. We pinpoint five managerial and entrepreneurial implications of the gender reforms that are taking root. Furthermore, this country-specific focus on a unique entrepreneurial place challenges the mainstream US-Eurocentric approach to the treatment of gender issues in terms of segregation and inclusivity.

Haya Al-Dajani
Professor Haya Al-Dajani is a Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Mohammed Bin Salman College for Business and Entrepreneurship (MBSC) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Haya’s award-winning research focuses upon the intersectionality of gender, entrepreneurship and empowerment, and their collective impact on sustainable development.
Mashael Alsahli
Dr Mashael Alsahli is Associate Professor in Gender and Entrepreneurship at the Business School of Taif University in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. She gained her PhD in 2020 and her research focuses upon gender and entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia.
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This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
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