Algiers is on track to become a business and innovation hub. The woman behind the city’s transformation is Sonia Ziamni.
Ziamni manages the Algiers Medina Project, a billion-dollar real estate development on the coast of eastern Algiers. Her vision is to empower the city’s under-served entrepreneurs, and as a result, creating opportunities for Algerian women.
“I am a woman, and in my country it is difficult to rise in a business world made by men for men,” Ziamni says.
Being at the helm of this transformative project has only strengthened Ziamni’s resolve, not only to succeed in the male-dominated world of business but to pave the way for young female entrepreneurs who currently have very few opportunities in their homeland.
Former American president Barrack Obama invited Ziamni to an entrepreneurs’ summit in 2010. In the United States, despite decades of reforms, gender progress has been slow. Female entrepreneurs are still overshadowed by their male peers, and access to venture capital is still an uphill battle.
However, the business infrastructure in the US makes it easier for women to take risks and start their own businesses. For Ziamni, supportive business-friendly infrastructure is exactly what Algeria needs to give potential businesswomen the push they need.
“I have a secret ambition to become an entrepreneur with real power to change,” Ziamni said in an interview with the Mission of the United States in Geneva.
“With decision-making power, I can lead reforms and help put aside taboos against women, and this will create wealth as women become part of the workforce.”
While her vision remains strong, the project has faced multiple delays. Even with the support of the Algerian government, funding has been an issue.
The project was initiated in the 1980s but was set aside because of a drop in oil prices. Algeria’s prolonged civil war in the 1990s caused further delays, and even though it has since been resurrected, with Ziamni at the helm, foreign investors remain hesitant to back the development.
“The worst thing that can happen in real estate development is that delays occur. That causes financial losses, and the company’s future is jeopardized along with hundreds of jobs,” Ziamni said.
Earlier this year, Dahli group CEO, Abdelouahab Rahim told the Algerian media that banks are reluctant to back the project because the Algerian private institution has “a bad reputation.”
“The first step to change this negative image is to acknowledge this reality,” says Rahim. “It is the main factor which encouraged me to deal with the stock exchange through a bond loan and not banks.”
Rahim’s solution to this investment hiccup is to address the reputational issues Algeria currently faces by establishing the National Union of Investors.
For Ziamni, the future of Algeria depends on development projects that put the power back in the hands of the people. “The future of Algeria is in the hands of private companies because they alone have the ability to create wealth,” she says.
Ziamni was raised as the youngest of eight children in the Kabylie Mountains of Algeria. For her family, education is everything. She graduated with degrees in finance and economics, and began her career at Air Algerie. After working at medical association l’Ordre des Médecins, and construction company Arabian General Engineering, Ziamni landed her current role at the head of the Medina Project, which will
house hotels, residential buildings, shopping malls and crucially, business facilities.