A Jordanian Entrepreneur Brings Audiobooks to the Arab World

07.02.2018

Alaa Suleiman and her brother started the first Arabic-language audiobook company. Alaa is a member of the Business and Professional Women of Amman (BPW-A) business association. BPW-A helps women like Alaa start and develop their businesses.

CIPE’s work described in this story was made possible by a grant from USAID LENS to support and upgrade the services of business associations in Jordan to better serve their micro and small business members.

Alaa Suleiman is co-founder and CEO of Masmoo3, the first audiobook company in the Arab world.

Alaa Suleiman clearly remembers when she decided to start her audiobook company. She and her brother, Ala, used to drive to work every day, listening to audiobooks on the way. Later, when Alaa took time off work to care for her sick father, she relied even more on audiobooks for entertainment. But, to her frustration, the only audiobooks she could find were in English. One day, Alaa, a trained sound engineer, asked her brother: “why wait for someone else to do this?” In 2010, she and Ala started Masmoo3, the first audiobook company in the Arab world.

Alaa readily admits the road to success has had its ups and downs. She and Ala raised seed money to launch their company in 2011, but production was costly and raising awareness in Jordan and the Arab world about audiobooks was a time-consuming process. The company ran out of money in 2014. They had to dismiss all their staff, Alaa’s brother returned to work, and Alaa became the CEO and sole employee at Masmoo3. Alaa was very discouraged. “I did not feel I had the skills and confidence to go on.” Then she heard a speech by a female business leader who recommended “invest in yourself, not your company,” and she decided the way forward was to focus on her professional development in order to become the CEO she needed to be.

One of the places Alaa turned to for help was the Business and Professional Women of Amman (BPW-A) business association. BPW-A is a nonprofit, member-based association whose mission is to open pathways and provide platforms for Jordanian women to contribute to the national economy and society in general.

Left: BPWA presents their strategic plan, which was developed with USAID support, to members at their Annual General Meeting. Right: Ala Suleiman (far left) is recognized for her company’s success at the BPWA Annual General Meeting. Alongside Alaa (left to right) are BPWA Chair Rana Abweh, Board Advisor member Haifa Najjar, and Executive Director Thana’a Al-Khasawneh.

BPW-A’s business skills trainings have helped Alaa develop the knowledge and confidence to take her company from a start-up to a more established entity. Meeting other women who have the same challenges has opened her eyes to solutions and possibilities. Being a part of BPW-A’s supportive community has boosted Alaa’s confidence. “Many of my contacts today are women I met through BPW-A.”

The USAID Jordan Local Enterprise Support Project (LENS) awarded a grant to the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), who has been working with BPW-A to help the association develop its strategic planning, enhance its governance capacity, improve member engagement, and diversify the association’s revenue streams. Through strengthening BPW-A’s organizational capacity, USAID LENS and CIPE is helping enrich the support structure for women-led micro and small enterprises (MSEs) in Jordan.

BPW-A’s Executive Director, Thana’a Al-Khasawneh, says that with assistance from USAID the organization has enhanced and expanded its support services for MSEs and attracted more members. “The support from USAID helped us refine our strategic direction and create a communication strategy, and also worked with us to assess our members’ needs and create new services based on our members’ priorities. As a result of this support, we have almost doubled our membership over the last year or so, and improved our overall financial and organizational sustainability.”

Alaa Suleiman tests one of Masmoo3’s audiobook MP3 players.

Alaa Suleiman says that focusing on her professional development and using the resources available through her BPW-A membership have resulted in her company “turning the corner.” She expects to achieve substantial growth in 2018. She has contracts to sell MP3 players loaded with audiobooks to Emirates Airways and Qatar Airways, and to public libraries in Jordan and Qatar; she is also working on a contract to provide the devices to a school for the blind. In addition, Alaa developed a training program on how to read audiobooks, a new skill for professional voiceover talent in the Middle East. She is also working with BPW-A to develop audio content for women on how to be successful in business and their legal rights.

Despite the heavy workload of running and growing her company, Alaa says that making time to continue developing her business management skills is essential for her company’s growth. “I’m working on building my own studio, improving my website for visitors seeking audio content, and on creating a new Android application. I can feel the momentum building for the company and I’m very excited about the future.”

Read more about the work CIPE has carried out in Jordan through the LENS Project:

CIPE has worked with 11 business associations in Jordan since 2016 to help them improve their capacity to provide much-needed support to their members.

CIPE has supported women entrepreneurs by helping the Women Access to Entrepreneurship Development and Training Society (WAEDAT) develop its membership services and expand member outreach.