Against All Odds: A Remarkable Journey to Entrepreneurial Success

A Young Innovator finds professional success where many people would least suspect — Egypt’s male-dominated oil industry.

To call Mona El Adawy a trailblazer is an understatement. The Young Innovator from Egypt works in an industry where men hold more than 80 percent of the jobs. And she’s finding success in a society that traditionally expects women to be homemakers, not businesswomen.

I worked with seismic data processing and more advanced programs in the geoscience area — and they gave me more and more assignments.

Mona El Adawy,
Vital Voices Grow Fellow

As the managing director of GeoEnergy — a company based in Cairo that provides oil companies with integrated geoscience products and services — El Adawy leads a team focused on exploration, development and production. Getting there, however, didn’t always feel so focused. Although El Adawy has a bachelor’s degree in geology, her first job after college landed her in a totally unrelated field: working as a medical representative for a pharmaceutical company. But it proved surprisingly fruitful. In marketing and promoting medical products, El Adawy developed a passion for entrepreneurship. When asked to grow sales for the products she marketed by 35 percent — six months into the job — she did it. A year and a half later, another company had snapped her up.

And that’s where El Adawy got back on the geology track, managing oil exploration data. “It included old media migration to new media, digitizing well logs, seismic data and reports,” she says. A self-described “quick learner,” she says the company’s senior leadership recognized her skills and appreciated her ability to work well with clients. “They started moving me to other positions within the company with more responsibility,” El Adawy says.

People outside her company continued to take notice of her success — even a competitor, who eventually offered El Adawy a job. “The owner asked me to be the first woman on the geoscience team in the company,” she says. It was with that company that she really started maximizing her technical background. “I worked with seismic data processing and more advanced programs in the geoscience area — and they gave me more and more assignments,” she says.

Blazing Her Own Trail

Armed with experience and confidence, El Adawy eventually struck out on her own, founding GeoEnergy in 2009. At the same time, she got married to a man working in her field — literally. “My husband was also a geologist, but he worked in the oil field,” she says. “He would spend three weeks in the field, then three weeks at home.” While he’s not directly involved in GeoEnergy, El Adawy says she’s grateful for her husband’s support of her business endeavors. The couple now has three children, too, so parenting — a top priority for her — vies for her time.

What drives me is my passion to help create added value for others in their missions.

Mona El Adawy,
Vital Voices Grow Fellow

Fortunately, such balance has become second nature for El Adawy. The 2015–2016 downturn in the oil industry, for instance, put her business case to the test. While many companies tied to the oil industry suffered, El Adawy tackled the problem head on by offering clients more. After expanding its services to include professional training programs and workshops, petroleum consultancy services, seismic data processing, and selling geoscience software, GeoEnergy defied the downturn odds and grew. The company’s 10 full-time staff members now serve clients in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Libya and Angola, among other countries. “More than 55 petroleum companies trust us for their projects,” she says.

Now El Adawy is sharing her knowledge with — and learning from — other women entrepreneurs through the Vital Voices Global Partnership GROW Fellowship. “I especially appreciate that they not only help us to develop our businesses, but we get help with other aspects of our lives like time management and work-life balance,” she says.

El Adawy also says it’s fulfilling to build relationships with other women who share a passion for the work they do. “What drives me is my passion to help create added value for others in their missions,” she says.

Vital Voices and FedEx

Vital Voices Global Partnership has invested in more than 15,000 women in 181 countries and territories since its inception in 1997. The organization recently expanded coverage of its GROW Fellowship, which FedEx supports as a platinum sponsor, and now includes participants from the United States, Asia and Europe, as well as Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Learn more about another GROW Fellow, Young Innovator Manuela Gil de Tober.

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