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More than 350 of the region’s leading business owners and entrepreneurs – all women – gathered in Dubai recently for the inaugural forum of the Middle East North Africa Businesswomen’s Network, designed to ignite regional economic growth.

These women are not waiting for peace or democratization – they are producing the future they imagine for their families and countries – through their companies.

They are pragmatists. They are leaders. They want trade and investment, not aid or assistance.

These women are not employees, they are employers.

They are determined to modernize local and regional economies, expand access to markets and supply chains and launch new ventures.

The global economy remains the entry point to real influence.

Regardless of culture or geography, stability or unrest, economic clout endures as the universal currency of power.

If real progress is to come to the Middle East, economic growth must be sustainable, it must be equitable, and those who know how to build and rebuild economic foundations must lead it.

The women of this network are not asking anyone’s permission – they are simply claiming their place among peers as leaders of economic development. These women already practice self-determination.

They know how to turn start-up enterprises into multinational corporations.

If we mobilize women’s leadership as a force for economic growth, political and social returns will follow. The women of the Middle East and North Africa Businesswomen’s Network did not enter business to improve lives – it was an unintended consequence.

Since its founding in 2005, the leaders of the network have connected with peers to form 478 new businesses, which means real opportunity for 478 new business owners and stability for thousands of their families – a huge multiplier effect. Why not harness women’s power as economic agents to guide social progress? Why not leverage the influence of an innovative network to foster political stability?

Women’s leadership accelerates development. The World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report endorses this view, and studies from the World Economic Forum further confirm a strong correlation between an increase in gender equality and an increase in gross domestic product per capita.

This global recognition must be met with serious financial commitment. We need public and private investment in the scaling up of tested initiatives and practical solutions.

We cannot overlook the catalytic role of economic factors such as widespread unemployment in the search for regional reform – the Arab Spring.

Financial stability will lead to political stability; economic development will lead to social development.

The Middle East and North Africa Businesswomen’s Network is one solution. The women of this powerful collective body know what needs to be done to move the region forward – they are already leading the charge.

Read this piece in Arab News

Watch Alyse Nelson on CPI Financial TV on April 15, 2012:

Alyse Nelson, President and CEO of Vital Voices Partnership at the MENA Businesswomen’s Network Forum from CPI Financial TV on Vimeo.

Pictured above, left to right: MENA BWN President Afnan Al Zayani, Vital Voices President and CEO Alyse Nelson, H.E. Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi, UAE Minister of Foreign Trade, Vital Voices Board Chair and Chairman of Susan Davis International, Susan Davis.