Economy & Business Middle East


May 31, 2022

Atlantic Council Names Dr. Racha Helwa Director of empowerME Initiative

By Atlantic Council

Senior economist deepens bench to advance the Atlantic Council’s work unlocking the economic and human potential of the Middle East

Washington, DC—May 31, 2022—The Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East announced today that Dr. Racha Helwa has joined as Director of the empowerME Initiative. Helwa will lead the continued expansion of the empowerME initiative to support the human and economic development of the Middle East.

“We are delighted that Racha has joined this impressive team to provide additional leadership and produce cutting-edge analysis of the Middle East and North Africa’s emerging markets,” said William Wechsler, Senior Director of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs.

We are delighted that Racha has joined this impressive team to provide additional leadership and produce cutting-edge analysis of the Middle East and North Africa’s emerging markets.

William Wechsler, Senior Director of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs

Amjad Ahmad, who previously served as Director of empowerME, will become Chairman of the initiative, providing continued intellectual and strategic leadership and guidance. “It is remarkable what the empowerME Initiative has accomplished during Amjad’s tenure, and we couldn’t be happier that he will carry on driving empowerME’s strategy as Chairman,” added William Wechsler. An accomplished venture capital and growth investor with over twenty years of experience financing leading companies in the Middle East, Ahmad will continue to work on building and investing in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Middle East through his work as a venture capitalist and as Chairman of the empowerME initiative.

Helwa’s twenty-five years of experience working on economic and financial policy analysis and implementation, with a special focus on MENA countries, closely complements Ahmad’s business expertise. She specializes in public policy design and implementation, foreign direct investment, sustainable development, and impact investing strategies.

“Racha brings extensive experience working in the private sector, government, and academia in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Egypt, which will be invaluable to empowerME’s expanding portfolio of work,” noted Ahmad.

From 2005 to 2007, Helwa served as Senior Economist in the Cabinet of Egypt’s Minister of Investment. She also previously was Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the American University in Cairo, and senior economist in leading economic consultancies in the US and London. She obtained a Ph.D. in Economic Policy from the University of Cambridge, an M.Sc. in International Political Economy from the London School of Economics, and an M.Sc. in Banking and Finance from the University of Paris

“I have closely followed empowerME’s groundbreaking work to drive economic development and regional integration since the initiative began in 2020. I am thrilled now to join the Council and lead empowerME in tackling the region’s pressing challenges at this critical juncture in the MENA economy,” Helwa said.

Since its launch in September 2020, the empowerME Initiative has established a yearlong WIn (Women Innovators) Fellowship program to support thirty-three Saudi women entrepreneurs as they scale their businesses; published a first-of-its-kind Middle East Entrepreneurship Program tracker mapping out 300+ government-related organizations offering support to startups and SMEs; spotlighted MENA startup success stories in a video series; and released two seasons of the empowerME Conversations podcast featuring Ahmad interviewing entrepreneurs and business executives shaping the Middle East. The empowerME Initiative has also collaborated with regional partners to convene events aimed at empowering the private sector, including the second and third annual CEO Dialogue, an exclusive platform for senior executives to discuss key regional economic challenges; a virtual event featuring sitting ministers on government policies nurturing innovation; a series on MENA’s changing Fintech landscape; and a public event featuring heads of sovereign wealth funds.

The Atlantic Council’s work on social, economic, and human development issues in the Middle East honors the legacy of Rafik Hariri and his life’s mission to unlock the human and economic potential of the Arab world.

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