Top 10: Women in AI in MEA

AI Magazine considers some of the leading women in the field of AI across the Middle East and Africa (MEA) regions as they continue to push tech boundaries

With more than half of the population currently under the age of 30, the Middle East and Africa (MEA) is currently facing a significant barrier to growth: an unemployment rate of 42.5% among women, specifically Arab women, which is triple the global average.

According to OECD AI Policy Observatory, women currently contribute to only about one-third of AI science publications across Namibia, Nigeria and South Africa. In conjunction, men are twice as likely as women to report AI-related skills on LinkedIn in South Africa alone.

With the AI sector currently lacking female representation, plenty are campaigning for better access and opportunities for women to get involved in technology careers. 

AI Magazine considers some of the leading women in MEA who are advancing AI across the region, in addition to advocating for the next generation of women in AI.

10. Vanessa Gathecha, Head of AI Policy at Equiano Institute

Vanessa Gathecha is an applied social researcher whose experience ranges from digital transformation, public interest media, advocacy and public policy. She recently joined the Equiano Institute, where she will pursue the development, implementation and advocacy towards the safe use of AI in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Her work at the Equiano Institute will see her continue to access the societal implications of AI and related technologies as they become further embedded into daily life. She is also an AI and Society Fellow for generative AI (Gen AI) and plural governance at Microsoft Research.

9. Kinda Altarbouch, CEO at Lableb

Kinda Altarbouch is the co-founder and CEO of Lableb, a search-as-a-service platform that enables websites, mobile applications and SaaS platforms to increase user engagement. It does this by improving the search experience for its users.

Her work ensures that clients can gain better access to popular search features such as autosuggest, filters, synonyms, geospatial search and recommender systems in the Arabic language.

Prior to Lableb, Kinda was a member of the advisory board for Popular Science Arabia.

8. Immaculate Kassait, Data Commissioner at the Data Protection Commission - Kenya

Immaculate Kassait is Kenya’s first Data Commissioner, working to build a regulatory framework for AI in the country. Her work is essential to make sure that AI serves greater national development and plans such as Kenya Vision 2030, a development programme aiming to raise the average standard of living in Kenya.

She holds extensive experience in elections, governance and women’s rights and has played crucial roles in establishing key projects in Kenya and other countries around the world - as she works to create a more inclusive AI sector.

7. Farida Al Hosani, Associate Professor at United Arab Emirates University

Farida Al Hosani is an established AI academic and the Executive Director of the Communicable Diseases Department at the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre.

Her work has seen her develop a research project to create an AI-based healthcare solution for non-communicable diseases among the Emirati community. This involves harnessing AI to better inform healthcare providers through data analysis, seeking to improve overall patient experiences.

Recently, Farida was also appointed the Vice President on the Advisory Board of Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) to advance AI initiatives.

6. Manal Jalloul, Founder and Director at AI Lab

Based in Lebanon, Manal Jalloul is an AI expert committed to advocating for positive AI use cases. She is the founder and director at AI Lab, an AI technology hub that offers AI training and workshops to develop AI-led solutions. It also provides consulting services in AI, data analytics and accelerated computing and is a certified delivery partner of the Nvidia Deep Learning Institute.

Manal worked at Nvidia for five years as a NVIDIA Deep Learning Institute University Ambassador and Certified Deep Learning Instructor. She also lectured at the American University of Beirut.

5. Michal (Schreiber) Rosen-Zvi, Director of AI for Healthcare and Life Sciences at IBM Research

Michal Rosen-Zvi is Director of AI for Healthcare and Life Sciences at IBM Research, a position she has held since 2015. She co-leads strategy that focuses on technologies for accelerated drug discovery, building on her 20 years of experience in developing machine learning and deep learning algorithms to solve complex problems.

In addition to her work responsibilities, Michal holds multiple patents in the computational medicine field and remains passionate about leveraging AI and quantum technologies to advance health for all.

4. Nufar Gaspar, Director of AI Everywhere and Gen AI for Intel Design, AI Solutions Group at Intel

Nufar Gaspar has worked with Intel for 13 years, focusing on the capabilities of AI. Currently, her role as Director of AI Everywhere sees her manage a programme that aims to create greater access to AI, maximising value for Intel employees.

Prior to her current role, Nufar was a Data Science Vertical Manager for Intel and focused on creating machine learning and big data solutions for various research and development teams at the company.

3. Fatmah Baothman, Founder & Board President at AI Society

Based in Saudi Arabia, Fatmah Baothman was the first woman in the Middle East to receive a PhD in AI, having received the award in 2003. Currently, she is the founder and board president of AI Society, an organisation that aims to further advance AI.

Fatmah is a true pioneer in the field of AI. She is a member of the Global Future Council on the Future of AI by the World Economic Forum and has officially represented Saudi women in several events, advocating for their role in the AI sector.

She has also supervised hundreds of students in AI business projects and has several AI publications, including a translated Arabic book coining several AI terms. Fatmah also lectures at King AbdulAziz University.

2. Aseel Addawood, AI/ML KSA Leader at Oracle

Aseel Addawood is an experienced Data Scientist with a wealth of experience in data science, AI and machine learning. Her work at Oracle sees her responsible for understanding enterprise challenges that can be solved via the use of AI and analytics.

She has also contributed significantly to a range of publications, training initiatives and mentoring schemes. These include several journal and conference publications around ontology, natural language processing (NLP), and prediction modelling.

1. Narrimane Benakcha, Head of AI/ML & Digital Policy, Middle East & Africa at AWS

Narrimane Benakcha is the Head of Digital Policy, Middle East & Africa, at leading cloud service platform, Amazon Web Services (AWS). With expertise on technology policy and risk management, Narrimane leads company engagements with policy-makers, regulators, industry and academia to enable easier adoption of emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning.

Narrimane first started her career in the banking industry where she served as Standard Chartered Bank’s Director for Public Affairs in the MEA region. She also led HSBC’s compliance function in Morocco and helped set up a financial intelligence department within the region.

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