Bahraini entrepreneur Wafa Al Obaidat has always played by her own rules. Now she’s created a ‘Playbook’ for women across the region…
Educational platform Playbook is on a mission to bridge the gender gap and get more women into leadership roles.
Launched in January 2022 by Wafa Al Obaidat, it has over 14 masterclasses delivered by some of the Middle East’s most successful women including HH Sayyida Basma Al Said, the founder of the first mental health clinic in Muscat, Oman; and Emaan Abbass, former product developer at Huda Beauty and founder of KETISH, amongst others.
Through the platform's digital academy and engaged community features, it is encouraging women to keep learning and leading in both their professional and personal lives. With more than a decade of experience in running her own PR and communications agency ‘Obai and Hill’, Al Obaidat became passionate about gender equality and economic inclusion soon after participating in the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2017, as part of an official delegation from Bahrain.
“I was exposed to the data, and the data was hard to swallow,” she says. “I understood that it was going to take around 257 years to close the economic gender gap, which meant that only my great grandchildren will get to live in a world where women will get equal opportunity to men. And that upset me.”
Instead of seeing this as a setback, however, Al Obaidat saw it as an opportunity to help close the gender gap in MENA, one of the most affected regions in the world. According to the 2022 Global Gender Gap Report by WEF, MENA is the world’s second-largest gender gap after South Asia, closing only 63.4% of its gender gap this year.
“So, I began asking myself ‘what can I do?’,” says Al Obaidat. “We know that in schools women perform better than men, but when they cross over to the real world, something happens. There is a drop off in women present in leadership roles. So, why do we go from being the best or being great performers to being out performed by our male counterparts?”
It was then that she decided to create a dedicated platform for women, enabling them to take control of their careers and embrace their full potential. “I was like, can we find the most incredible women in the region who have hacked this or are trying to hack this, so they can tell us what their playbook to success was?” Hence, Playbook was born.
Less than a year old, the Bahrain-based startup already has over 1,000 members, 40% of whom are C level executives and founders, and a 16-member team. It has also expanded to Riyadh, and soon plans to enter new markets across the GCC.
The concept of Playbook first started off as an annual summit for a period of three years, before transitioning into a digital platform in 2022. Although the two-day annual summit was successful in attracting more than 6,000 women over the years, Al Obaidat came to the realization that she needed to create something more sustainable, particularly after the pandemic hit. “The events became too sponsorship focused, and after those two days, you’re unable to network,” she says. “So, if you couldn’t make it for whatever reason or if you missed a session, you missed the content. I was thinking of how we can do this once and keep it there forever.”
As a result, Al Obaidat pivoted to an online platform and mirrored the masterclass concept, but for women. At the same time, she included community features like mentorships, networking and a job marketplace; while also onboarding two co-founders in 2021, Ismahan Al Saad and Shreya Rammohan.
Focusing on B2B, Playbook works with corporate organizations, government bodies and educational institutions such as Zain Group, Investcorp, and Nuqt to have female employees join Playbook. “That’s what makes us super awesome and different, because most women-based networks are B2C, and we cater for B2B,” says Al Obaidat. “Everything you’re learning is upskilling for your career, or are personal masterclasses about how you can be the most efficient, productive, and happiest version of yourself. And I’m going to give you all these stories and tools to learn how to do it.”
Although well established in the Bahrain business community, Al Obaidat still struggled with raising investments for her startup.
Since investors tend to be mostly men, they often lack the understanding of women’s career needs, which makes them reluctant to invest in female focused products and services. “I’ve gotten from men that this is a niche, and that this should be a charity to get wives back to work,” she says. “You name it, I’ve heard it. However, I’ve also heard men say that they want their daughters to be a part of this, and to live in a world where women are equal to men.”
It is for this reason that Al Obaidat is keen on seeing more female investors in the startup space. Unsurprisingly, there is a masterclass on the platform teaching women how to become angel investors with only $1,000. “I think we need to start giving away very small tickets to be part of the solution and strengthen the ecosystem,” she says.
Despite these challenges, Playbook was able to successfully raise $700k in its pre-Seed earlier this year from a host of regional and international investors. It’s also getting ready for its upcoming Seed round, with the goal of raising $1.5 million from new and existing VCs as well as angel investors.
Recognized for its impactful work, Playbook recently won the Entrepreneurship World Cup National finals in Bahrain, which is considered one of the biggest and most diverse startup pitch competitions in the region, and was nominated for the Most Impactful Initiative Award by the Women in Tech Awards. “I think we win because we’re solving a real problem,” she says. “We’re building something super different. The filter that I’m looking through is that of a woman’s journey from school, when she gets her first period, all the way to when she changes her career, all the way to when she becomes a mother, all the way to when she retires. Every single time there is a drop or pain point, we try to address that by creating content that can get women included and powered up to do what they want to do.”
To give back to the community, Playbook has a scholarship program where it matches every paid membership with free scholarship access for a woman or student through its various NGO affiliations. To date, the startup has provided scholarships to over 2,000 women and girls. “It feels amazing to be able to offer girls who are maybe not as privileged as us, to access something that can prepare them for the real world,” she says.
To continue creating more impact across the region, Al Obaidat aims to reach more women in the GCC, particularly in Kuwait, Qatar and Oman and offer more masterclasses on the platform. “The platform gains more value with time,” she says. “We aim to make sure that we hit and tick all the classes we want to achieve to continue helping women to level up.”
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