Sharjah businesswomen bring their spirit of enterprise to the UK

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Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al-Qasimi.
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Delegates attending Partnership for Innovation in Entrepreneurship seminar.
Updated 12 August 2016
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Sharjah businesswomen bring their spirit of enterprise to the UK

For post Brexit UK, building strong, global trading relations has a renewed importance. So the timing of a visit by a group of highly enterprising businesswomen from Sharjah, UAE, seemed a perfect symbol of that energized dynamic.
The trade delegation was led by Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al-Qasimi, wife of the ruler of Sharjah, chairperson of NAMA Women Advancement Establishment and honorary chairperson of the Sharjah Business Women Council (SBWC).
During the week-long visit the delegation met with leading British companies including Asprey, Smythson, Fortnum & Mason, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant and Pret-A-Manger, as well as participated in exchanges with business organizations and universities.
One of the key events which attracted over 200 British businesswomen from a wide range of sectors was a seminar held by the Arab International Women’s Forum (AIWF) in partnership with global partner SBWC.
Held in the opulent surrounding of the Royal Automobile Club on Pall Mall under the theme of ‘Partnership for Innovation in Entrepreneurship’ it presented a great opportunity for networking and exchanging of experience and ideas. In attendance were Aalya Al-Mazroui, wife of the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Noura Al-Noman, Chairperson of the Executive Office of Sheikha Jawaher Al-Qasimi, and Dr. Afnan Al-Shuaiby, secretary general and CEO of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce.
In her press statement Sheikha Jawaher invited British businesswomen and entrepreneurs to visit Sharjah and learn more about the Emirate’s pioneering experience and efforts advancing women in the economic sector. She said: “Sharjah offers ideal investment and business opportunities and its business market is characterized by having large and stimulating investment facilities. We emphasize that British businesswomen have a great opportunity to forge strategic partnerships with Sharjah businesswomen and to launch joint development projects which are beneficial for both of them.”
In her opening address, Haifa Fahoum Al-Kaylani, founder and chairperson, Arab International Women’s Forum, said: “We are proud to collaborate with Sharjah Business Women Council on this seminar to exchange knowledge and ideas on how best to support women as business leaders, mentors, and importantly, role models, for the next generation.”
Ameera Abdelrahim BinKaram, vice-chairperson NAMA Women Advancement Establishment and Chairperson, Sharjah Business Women Council, in her address, noted that of the 593 British businesses licensed to operate in Sharjah, currently just five are owned by British women. “This is something SBWC aims to improve after this trade mission,” she said.
Two panels, chaired by Rania Rizk, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, PepsiCo, featured UAE businesswomen who shared their experience of building their companies.
Sheikha Hind Majid Al-Qasimi, founder of ‘Designed by Hind’, explained how with the encouragement of Sheikha Jawaher she developed the confidence to develop her porcelain business. “I didn’t believe in my designs when I first started. My first encouragement came from Her Highness,” she said.
Noor Saab, a Lebanese designer based in London, whose beautiful scarves inspired by Arabic calligraphy and arabesque, saw her being commissioned by Cartier to design and produce a collection for the 10th Anniversary of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, said: “There is huge potential for innovation across cultures; creating more dialogue across cultures is something which I think we are badly in need of. These are the things that will open up the world as opposed to closing it down.”
Alia Abdulla Al-Mazrouei, co-founder ‘Just Falafel’, said her experience of working in the public sector gave her valuable understanding of structures and procedures which proved very useful when it came to setting up her own business.
Sara Al-Madani, who has a wide range of business interests, said she was about to open a restaurant in Dubai to be named ‘Shepherds Bush’ which takes its inspiration from London. “All the Arabs go there! I wanted to bring a piece of London to Dubai because I know how much the UAE loves London,” she said.
She paid tribute to Sheikha Jawaher, who, she revealed, inspired her to start her first business venture in Sharjah. “Thanks to Her Highness my dream came true. Her Highness doesn’t just tell you what to do — she shows you what to do,” she said.
She added that in her view, Sharjah with its excellent facilities and logistics, has the potential to be the start-up hub of the Middle East.
Dr. Amal Ibrahim Al-Ali, assistant professor at Sharjah University and Founder and CEO, Cardiff Management Consultants, led the visiting delegation to participate in a special workshop held at Cardiff University’s Center for Innovation. Dr. Al-Ali studied at Cardiff University and is a former Sharjah Government Director of communications.
Heba Khairallah Al-Emara, UK head of relations, EMEA Orangefield Group, London, said investing personal effort into each project and taking ownership of the work would always result in a much higher level of quality and production.
Dr. Zanubia Daud Shams, co-chairperson, Zulekha Healthcare Group, said having self-belief was critical for success. She quoted a comment made by Hillary Clinton: “Before you get there you have to get going.”
Some of the visiting businesswomen from Sharjah were interviewed about their own entrepreneurial journeys.
Naeema Al-Amiri runs a heritage village in Sharjah that showcases the craftsmanship of artisans across a wide range of specialisms. She started out with a small stall twenty years ago and now has an enterprise employing 35 full time staff and up to 150 part time staff whose work is featured in major exhibitions in the UAE.
She recalled how a meeting with Sheikha Jawaher proved inspirational and set her on the path to success. “I remember telling Her Highness that it was my dream to set up a business and she responded: “Why are you dreaming? We are here to help support women to turn their dreams into reality.”
Al-Amiri said that she was considering some ideas for business collaborations in the UK.
Mariam Al-Mazro, fashion designer, Mimi Fashion Design, explained that she was with the family business for ten years which gave her good management experience. Today she specializes in customized evening wear and is looking into collaborating on projects related to fashion.
She commented on her own personal challenge in establishing her business: “For me the biggest challenge was getting over my shyness. Building my business has made my personality stronger and stronger.”
Aisha Alali, Dolce Confectionary Co., said she was looking to expand her business.
“I am looking to establish collaborations with UK businesswomen. My production is in Sharjah and we specialize in high-end chocolate,” she said.
The founder of FarahIcons spoke about her business specializing in wedding gifts which she started just a few months ago.
Ameera BinKaram emphasized the importance of face to face meetings to forge business connections.
“Entrepreneurs globally have similar challenges; we think it is very important for our members to look at what are some of the international entrepreneurs’ challenges and see how both can exchange best practices and see if they can collaborate. SBWC focuses on members understanding the power of networking; how to lobby people they meet and how to follow up and stay in contact when they go back to the UAE.
“On a government level the British Embassy in the UAE has been extremely supportive of SBWC. They have opened up a lot of doors for the Council and its members to meet with their counterparts in the UK. The embassy, and especially the Trade Mission department, offered advice on the corporates we should be engaging with. On a government level a lot has been done but there is always room for more to be done.”
Speaking of the collaboration with Asprey she said: “We worked on this for approximately nine months. Our beautiful traditional embroidery is on a limited collection of handbags. We have a collection with Asprey for London, another for New York, and an upcoming one for Moscow.”
Asked to give an insight into her own motivation in her work, she commented:
“My motivation comes from HH Sheikha Jawaher; her unwavering support is what keeps us going. She is very practical: she is mother, a professional, a strong advocate for women, and a very savvy businesswoman. She knows what it takes to get woman into the public and private sector.”
Haifa Al-Kaylani observed that there is a great bond between the UAE and the UK: “In conversations with women from the UAE about how they feel about the UK, and London in particular, everyone was saying: ‘There is no place like London.’
They travel all over Europe and they never feel more at home than when they are in London. There is a huge affinity between the Arab world and the UK.”


Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh get doves of peace from the Middle East

Updated 21 September 2018
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Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh get doves of peace from the Middle East

  • A Dubai NGO has paired up with one in the UK to distribute toys made from upcycled refugee blankets
  • It’s one initiative marking the UN’s International Day of Peace on Friday, at a time when the world is in conflict

DUBAI: Eight-year-old Anjuman, living in Camp 7 at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, has received the most beautiful gift. “I am very happy to have received this dove. I like it so much,” she said.

She is among 150 children in the camp who have received “peace doves” from Dubai after winning an art competition organized in the camp.

To celebrate the UN-declared International Day of Peace on Friday, a Dubai-based NGO, NRS International, and a UK-based NGO, Empathy Action, have given wings to a message of hope, peace and reconciliation. 

Both these organizations have come together to make dove toys (symbolizing peace) to distribute among children, who are among the first victims of conflict in any part of the world.

And while peace isn’t something the world often associates with the Middle East, there are plenty of ways in which countries in the region are trying to make the world a better place, from smaller initiatives such as the doves in Bangladesh to major efforts such as the peace deal brokered this week by Saudi Arabia between Ethiopia and Eritrea. 

The peace doves were handmade by women at NRS International’s factory in Pakistan. As many as 650 dove toys have been stitched and handcrafted from upcycled offcuts of refugee blankets and tarpaulins.

“Each dove, made from excess blanket material that normally keeps refugees warm, is a symbol of peace,” said Wieke de Vries, head of corporate social responsibility at NRS International. It is the leading supplier of humanitarian relief items such as fleece blankets to UN agencies and international aid organizations.

Sandy Glanfield, innovations manager at Empathy Action, said the doves will carry a reminder that for 68.5 million displaced people worldwide, a blanket or tarpaulin is a basic necessity to survive. “The passionate and skillful women who made the doves add the love into this story,” said Glanfield.

About 150 larger versions of peace doves have been distributed to Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh camps, with the support of the Danish Refugee Council. 

S.M. Atiqur Reza, who is a child protection assistant at the council, said that the peace doves have put smiles on the faces of the children in the refugee camp. 

“The children were so excited, and they loved these doves and making plans to take it back home (whenever they go back home).” 

But in a world of conflicts, there is still much to be done. Anjuman is just one of nearly 25.4 million refugees in the world, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

Dr. Hadia Aslam, who sets up health care systems for refugees in Europe and the Middle East, is not hopeful about world peace in the near future.

“I feel we have desensitized entirely to any atrocity that happens now. Nothing shocks us. I do not see a future for peace, but I do see conflict. Our systems are geared to hosting this,” said the young doctor, who is the founder of a charity that has treated thousands of refugees in Europe. 

For her, human rights violations by Israel are a major threat to world peace. “I don’t know a lot about politics, but I can categorically raise concerns about Israel’s human rights track record being astounding and the world silently watching. Their only motive is occupation and apartheid. There is no space for peace in such a place.”

Vidya Bhushan Rawat, a leading peace activist based in New Delhi, said that the biggest threat to peace is injustice and growing inequalities.” I don’t think that the world has become a peaceful place at the moment. There is a steady growth of right-wing politics the world over, where minorities and immigrants are considered a threat to the nation.

“To protect the only planet we have we need to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, hunger, malnutrition, gender disparity and superstition from our societies.”

Dr. Kamran Bokhari, director of strategy and programs at the Center for Global Policy in Washington, does not see peace becoming the norm any time soon.

 “We constantly hear about peace talks. But seldom do these efforts produce actual peace. The rise of nationalism is undoing the internationalist order that we thought would gain ground after the end of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago. Meanwhile, non-state actors are filling the vacuums left behind by weakening states, which suggests greater, not less, global conflict.”

Dr. Shehab Al-Makehleh also believes that the world is less peaceful now than it has been in a long time. “Right now, peacefulness is at the worst level of any time since 2012. By the end of 2017, 1 percent of the world population had been refugees and displaced,” said the executive director of Geostrategic media in Washington, DC.

He does not expect things to improve unless decision-makers in the international community give this matter attention as the world will be witnessing new economic and financial crises that could turn major countries into enemies.

“Unless the UN takes necessary measures that the world does not fall into anarchy due to populism and nationalism, the domino effect will cross borders, causing insecurity at all levels, toppling some regimes and changing borders with hundreds of thousands of people dying of poverty and terrorism,” Dr. Al-Makehleh said.

All the more reason to bring hope to children such as Anjuman. As Reza said of the Rohingya children in the camp: “They want peace. They say they want to go back home. They want to go to their schools and study. They find the camp is a very small place to live. They are really sad here.”