Q&A Series #2: When Women Do Better, Countries Do Better

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Rama Kayyali at Global Innovation Week in September in Washington, D.C.
Rama Kayyali at Global Innovation Week in September in Washington, D.C. (Nic Corbett, USAID)

Q&A Series #2: When Women Do Better, Countries Do Better

Women entrepreneurs have come up with extraordinary innovations that are transforming millions of lives around the world. In this series of blogs, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) introduce you to some of the women whose ideas they has supported. These women are having an outsized impact in the developing world — and beyond — proving that when women do better, countries do better.

Second in the series is Rama Kayyali, co-founder of Little Thinking Minds, a children’s education company that creates engaging digital Arabic literacy tools to improve language acquisition, fluency and literacy — supplementing classroom learning.

How did you come up with your innovation and how did you turn it into a business?

My partner Lamia and I were frustrated with the lack of engaging Arabic educational content for our young sons. As professionals in the media and content space, we decided to create 20-minute videos that address preschool basics. We set up a company called Little Thinking Minds and the very simple videos we produced — some filmed in our backyards with our kids and their friends — became very popular (we have over 30 million views on YouTube). We then moved to app production, and now we create Arabic digital literacy and numeracy solutions for primary school children in both the public and private sectors.

What struggles have you faced as a female entrepreneur? 

At first, our biggest struggle was our lack of experience when it came to running a business. We then joined an incubator in Amman, Jordan, where we underwent boot camp training and countless mentorship sessions that were extremely helpful. Of course, trying and failing again and again also developed our business skills and taught us many lessons — from revisiting our business model to pivoting our direction to building the right team. Our struggles today are mostly funding related as we want to reach more children and more schools while developing new products.

What advice would you give to girls who dream of becoming entrepreneurs when they grow up?

Go for it! It is liberating and exciting and frustrating and stressful and the most fulfilling thing we did personally and professionally.

What’s been the most gratifying part of this work for you personally?

Seeing students totally engaged in reading while using our literacy app, smiling, reading aloud, feeling proud of their improvements and confident in their classrooms.

Photo courtesy of Rama Kayyali

Photo courtesy of Rama Kayyali

What advice would you give institutions like USAID that want to help entrepreneurs like you succeed?

In our region, there are many challenges when it comes to starting your own business and we need all the support we can get. Although the sector is finally beginning to grow, there needs to be a push in all directions to accelerate this growth, encourage the young to take risks, be innovative and disruptive, to fail and try again, without having any restrictions.

Follow USAID on Twitter and Facebook as we head to the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit Nov. 28–30 in Hyderabad, India, where women entrepreneurs and their role in fostering economic growth will take center stage.

Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared in USAID's 2030: Ending Extreme Poverty in this Generation publication on Medium.com.