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.”
Sharjah businesswomen bring their spirit of enterprise to the UK
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