May 21, 2024

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Mena entrepreneurs’ battle for a safer mental environment

3 min read

An article by Omar F. Koudsi, Chief Business Officer & co-founder of Arab Theraby.

The entrepreneurial landscape in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region is as vibrant and dynamic as its diverse cultures. With startups blooming across sectors from tech to finance, Mena entrepreneurs are at the forefront of innovation and economic change. However, the path of entrepreneurship, often romanticised for its potential for success and innovation, conceals a less talked about aspect: the profound mental health challenges faced by founders.

Entrepreneurship, by its very nature, is a journey fraught with uncertainty, risk, and immense pressure. Founders are often celebrated for their resilience and tenacity, but behind this public facade lies a private struggle with stress, anxiety, and often depression. The psychological toll of entrepreneurship has been well-documented in various studies, including a 2013 award-winning article in Inc. Magazine that highlighted the often overlooked mental health crisis among entrepreneurs.

In the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, these challenges are amplified by unique socio-political contexts. Factors such as regional instability, economic volatility, and the impact of events like the war in Gaza and the COVID-19 pandemic have added layers of stress and uncertainty for entrepreneurs. Research from Wamda on the impact of the pandemic on entrepreneurs in Mena revealed a significant uptick in stress levels, highlighting the urgent need for mental health support in this community.

Founders typically endure higher stress levels when compared to the general population and are twice as likely to develop depression. Wamda’s report found that 40 per cent of founders wanted access to mental health support from the wider entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Recognising this critical need, Arab Therapy, a platform dedicated to mental wellness in the Arab world, and Flat6Labs, a leading startup accelerator in the Mena region, have embarked on a groundbreaking partnership. This collaboration aims to bring mental health support to the forefront of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, providing founders with the resources and support they need to navigate the psychological challenges of entrepreneurship.

“Entrepreneurs are the backbone of innovation, but they can only drive change if they are supported holistically,” says Dr. Tareq Dalbah, CEO for Arab Therapy. “Our partnership with Flat6Labs is about recognising the mental health struggles of entrepreneurs and providing a safe, supportive environment for them to seek help in full anonymity “

This sentiment is mirrored by Ragia Abdel Ghaffar, programme director at Flat6Labs, who emphasises the critical role of mental wellness in entrepreneurial success. “We’ve seen firsthand the impact of mental health struggles on founders and their businesses. Our collaboration with Arab Therapy is a step towards changing the narrative around mental health in the entrepreneurial community, making it a priority rather than an afterthought.”

The partnership offers tangible support mechanisms for entrepreneurs, including workshops, one-on-one counseling sessions, and digital resources tailored to the unique challenges of founding and running a startup. This ensures that founders have access to the tools they need to manage stress, cope with failure, and build resilience.

There is a need to change  the culture of entrepreneurship in the Mena region. and break down the stigma associated with mental health struggles, encourage founders to speak openly about their experiences, and seek help when needed.

Entrepreneurs in the Mena region need to know their mental health is as important as their business metrics, and that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. This cultural shift is crucial for fostering a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem where founders can thrive, not just in their businesses, but in their personal lives as well.

As the Mena startup ecosystem continues to grow and evolve, the partnership between Arab Therapy and Flat6Labs serves as a model for how support networks can adapt to meet the holistic needs of entrepreneurs.

Prioritising mental health, paves the way for a new generation of founders who are equipped not only with the skills to build successful businesses but also with the resilience to withstand the psychological challenges of entrepreneurship.

In conclusion, the mental health struggles of Mena region founders are a significant challenge that requires a concerted and compassionate response. The partnership between Arab Therapy and Flat6Labs represents a critical step forward in addressing this issue, offering support, resources, and most importantly, a shift in how mental health is perceived in the entrepreneurial community. As this initiative gains momentum, it promises to inspire a more supportive, resilient, and mentally healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Mena region.


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