Qatar: The Forbes Middle East Women’s Summit 2023 has set the stage ablaze with its second day, captivating a gathering of over 600 delegates to hear from over 30 inspiring speakers from diverse backgrounds and industries. The ongoing three-day summit — chaired by H.H. Princess Noura Bint Faisal Al Saud — is delivering a series of expert programming and a host of networking opportunities taking place with women across all sectors and walks of life.
Against this backdrop of positive energy and purpose, an impressive lineup of speakers took to the stage to share their insights and journeys, covering a wide range of topics and sectors, including finance, media, education, healthcare, technology, and sport, with discussions raising pressing questions that define the present and shape the future of women across the globe.
Olympian swimmer Yusra Mardini inspired the gathering with her story of how she became a world-class athlete, having arrived in Europe as a refugee from Syria in 2015. After reaching Greece, she trekked for 25 days to reach Germany. A movie about her story, “Swimmers,” was released in 2022. “We wanted to share the story of millions of refugees,” she said. “People are still crossing and making horrific journeys, just for a chance of a better life.” She credited sport with focusing her on her future. “Sport made me who I am today, and education helped,” she emphasized.
Entrepreneur and founder of Bukhash Brothers Co, Anas Bukhash, spoke of his authentic personal journey and how he began studying something he didn’t like before going into the corporate world, where he began setting up startups, including a football company, a hair salon, and a café. “There’s nothing wrong in exploring as it teaches us what we don’t like,” he said. “Focus on what you do for a living that doesn’t feel like a job. We need to wake up happy.” He ended by advising everyone to think of three things that you are grateful for every day.
Group Chief Operating Officer at PureHealth, Shaista Asif, talked about how technology is completely changing the healthcare industry and our lifespan potential. “Technology is as important as oxygen in our survival in the future,” she explained. “By 2062, my daughter will be 45—how will she access healthcare? She’s going to be living in an era with gene editing and stem cell rejuvenation.” She credited covid with changing the global mindset on healthcare and the role of technology, saying, “AI will be the real intelligence. That’s how important it is for us to evolve into that era.”
When discussing how to leverage intuition to overcome challenges, GM for the GCC at Visa Dr. Saeeda Jaffar, Founder of Augmento.com Wesley Pabis, the Creator of Partnerships Lead for Africa, Middle East, and Turkey at Meta Moon Baz, and CIB Board Member and Head of the Sustainability Committee Hoda Mansour, talked through their own journeys to success. “Nothing comes by luck; you put in the hard work,” said Mansour. Jaffar explained her own mindset and revealed how Visa is encouraging young leaders. “If you love what you do, you keep doing it,” she told the crowd. Pabis worked in construction before setting up his own business. “For women, there are so many more possibilities in the tech space now. Women are thriving,” he said, crediting the importance of emotional intelligence and creativity. “You’re laying the ground for future leaders. This comes with challenges that make you make tough decisions,” shared Baz. “It’s about finding balance. You need to prioritize what you need at that time.”
When discussing how transformational leadership is vital to sustaining a family business with moderator, CNBC’s Hadley Gamble, Chairperson of ITICS at Mohsin Haider Darwish, Lujaina Mohsin Darwish, shared how her father had prepared his daughters to take over his legacy. “We thought, how can we make our father not miss a son?” she explained. “The way he mentored us, the way he made us understand that climbing the ladder is not easy. Now we are training the new generation.” Director and Owner of Al Faris International School, Sahar Hamad Al Marzouki, said, “One of our jobs is to make leaders of the future. We need to speak their language.” She explained that the new generation needs a new way of thinking from educators. “Every year, you need to upgrade your vision and mission. As a school, you need to understand that if you don’t, you don’t make it.”
Vice President of EEMEA Area at Allergan Aesthetics, Agnes Lim, spoke about the evolution of the industry: “In the past, aesthetics was about vanity, about superficiality; I think this has changed,” she said. “Today, we think about ensuring confidence and emotional well-being. Women have the right to be the best version of themselves.”
CEO of Cenomi Centers, Alison Rehill-Erguven, also spoke about female empowerment. “If we’re deemed to be too loud or too aggressive, we’re presumed to be difficult. Men don’t suffer the same stereotypes,” she explained. “In your 20s, you start off, and you’re so excited. By the time you’re into your 30s and 40s, if you’ve chosen the path of getting married and having children, we lose a huge number of women from the workplace.” In her role, she’s exploring how to stop this loss of talent. “I’m looking at what support systems I can put into place. If we can remove some stress and provide flexibility, I think we can keep women in the workplace for longer.”
Director of Biomolecular Restoration, Nutrition & Lifestyle at The Küsnacht Practice, Dr. Antoinette Sarasin Gianduzzo, talked the crowd through the fascinating practice of reverse aging. “If you can prevent the disease of diabetes, you can prevent the disease of aging,” she insisted. “We need to look into testing what is the key process individually of aging. Based on these results and insights, [we can create] a tailored, personalized reverse-aging program.”
Presenting a workshop on fashion empowerment, Celebrity Stylist and Owner of #StyledByCed, Cedric Haddad, was joined on stage by models wearing some classic business styles with a new flair, as well as some brand new designs by top designers. He talked through how making certain fashion choices can completely change your sense of confidence and comfort.
Founder and Chairwoman of the Apparel Group, Sima Ganwani Ved, gave her unique take on changing the rules to support your journey. She talked about how she established her own business in the 90s as a young newlywed. During the pandemic, the company accelerated its ecommerce business. “What would have taken us three years, we did in three intense months,” said Ved. She went on to talk about gender bias in life and the workplace. “We tell our daughters that a career is a distraction until you settle down,” she explained, highlighting that only 41 of the S&P 500 companies were run by women compared to 459 led by men. “For us to change the rules without leaving the arena, I believe we need to focus on empowerment, mentorship, and support,” she emphasized.
Discussing cultivating opportunities for creative entrepreneurship, the Founder of +966, Her Highness Princess Loulwa Bint Yazeed Al Saud, emphasized how Saudi is providing a fertile environment for young leaders. As the CEO of the entrepreneurship summit, Rise Up Saudi, she said, “I believe the entrepreneurship environment in Saudi is very strong. Any summit, event, or conference that happens, the most important thing is to have an outcome. We learn from those who share their stories.” In her own entrepreneurship journey, she revealed that one of her biggest challenges was her age. “I started when I was 18. People have always underestimated me,” she shared. “They would judge the book by the cover. However, I turned it into an opportunity.”
Founder of Kayali Fragrances, Mona Kattan, and Activist and Fashion Model, Halima Aden, explored championing representation in beauty with UNDP Goodwill Ambassador Muna Abu Sulayman. When talking about cofounding and scaling Huda Beauty, Kattan credited the era of social media, saying, If we’d created [Huda Beauty] 20 years ago, I don’t think we could have done it so fast.” She feels the pandemic helped her own fragrance brand to grow. “We launched in 2018, but covid definitely helped it grow because people really wanted to change how they felt in their own homes.” Aden also told her story as a pioneering Hijab-wearing model. “If you want to do fashion, you need to be strong and know exactly who you are,” she emphasized. “I was very proud to be the first hijab-wearing model, but I have made it my life’s mission not to be the last.”
Revealing how she overcame adversity to reach the big screen, Actress Maguy Abu Ghosn, said, “People told me no, but I achieved everything I wanted to do.” Talking through her story, she inspired the crowd to follow their dreams, insisting, “No one has the right to decide on our behalf. Only god can tell us if you can or can’t.”
Chief Marketing Officer at The Diriyah Company, Kiran Haslam, and CEO of Kerten Hospitality, Marloes Knippenberg, debated the repackaging of the future of Saudi’s tourism and hospitality industries with Online Editor at Forbes Middle East, Samar Khouri. “The future looks amazing. The energy in Riyadh is palpable,” said Haslam. “When you get energy and ambition together, you know great things are going to happen. The secret is to understand that it’s going to have an effect on the rest of the world.”
Unraveling the myths of the entertainment industry, Actress Meryem Uzerli spoke to Actress and TV Host Mahira Abdel Aziz. “I was shooting a show day and night; it looks a lot easier from the outside than the inside,” said Uzerli. “After three years, I decided to leave. In my 20s, I was so much after pleasing people. I was over my limits for so long.” She revealed that she had to learn what her boundaries are, saying, “It’s ok to say no; we are often so scared to say no.”
CEO of Jamjoon Pharma, Tarek Youssef Hosni, spoke about empowerment and engagement in the pharma industry with moderator, International Presenter Sally Moussa, having just led the biggest Saudi IPO after Aramco. Talking about how he works to empower women, he said, “I don’t think about if it’s a woman or a man when I think about whom to give a role to.”
Explaining her take on why women are the ultimate multi-taskers, Actress & TV Host Mahira Abdel Aziz asked the question, “Is how we benchmark ourselves based on what men do?” She talked about how to break the glass ceiling by embracing the achievements and capabilities of women. “If anyone can be the jack of all trades, it’s women,” she insisted. “We need to start unlearning all the beliefs passed on to us by society. We need to ditch the ‘Good Girl Syndrome.’”
TV Presenter and Actress Nour Al Ghandour, Opera Singer and Vocal Coach Sawsan Albahiti, and Cofounder of HuManagement, Hady Hajjar, debated with Senior TV Presenter at MBC Sara Murad about how people in the entertainment industry can build credibility to go global. “It was a challenge to develop myself in a field that doesn’t exist a lot in the Arab world,” said Albahiti. “Success is hard, but sustainability is harder.” Al Ghandour pointed out that being open to external forces and your third eye intuition is key to success. “If talent listens to himself only and doesn’t listen to other ideas, I’m sure they will not carry on,” she mused. “There’s nothing better than being authentic and happy with yourself.” Hajjar agreed. “For the success of an actor, whether they are singing or performing, two different factors help, which are team and management,” he said. “Every day, there are new stars. Stability and consistency are the challenges. You need to be smart and know how to select projects.”
Partner at Bain and Company, Anne-Laure Malauzat, explored advancing gender equity in the Middle East workforce with International Presenter Sally Moussa. She went through data from recent research by Bain and Company, which found that gender biases persist and are impeding women from advancing in their careers. “We have proof from the GCC that organizations have more productivity if women are on the team,” said Malauzat.
General Manager at Microsoft Qatar, Lana Khalaf, and TV Presenter at MBC and MTV, Annabella Hilal, looked into strategies for achieving gender equality with the Founder of Humanizing Brands, Mariam Farag. “When I wanted to start programming, everyone told me no, you should be in sales because of how you look and talk,” revealed Khalaf. Now, as a regional head for one of the world’s biggest tech companies, she believes, “It is the responsibility of leaders to drive diversity and inclusion.” Hilal also experienced similar biases. “I was sometimes judged for my looks; people thought it was easy for me because of how I looked,” she shared. “This is not true at all; I have worked very hard.”
Forbes Middle East is working with a number of distinguished partners to deliver this ground-breaking event, including: hosting partner The Diriyah Company; hospitality partner Fairmont Riyadh; technology partner stc; educational partner the Al Faris International School; travel partner ITL World; retail partner Apparel Group; VIP dinner partner Hakkasan; media partners Shahid and NABD; event partners Damac, VI Markets, Allergan Aesthetics, UN Women, Visa, Cenomi Centers, The Kusnacht Practice, Jamjoom Pharma, and Shine; and gift partners Merit, JOALI Maldives, Huda Beauty, Kayali, Blooming, Fairmont Doha, Al Manara Luxury Collection Saraya Aqaba, ArAm, Banyan Tree AlUla, Alila Hinu Bay, St Regis Amman, St Regis Saadiyat Island, Fairmont Riyadh, and The Ritz Carlton Istanbul.
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About Forbes Middle East
Forbes Middle East is a licensed edition of Forbes for the Arab world, championing inspiring business journalism and entrepreneurial capitalism. Its online and social platforms break news covering billionaires, business, investment, technology, economy, entrepreneurship, leadership, and luxury lifestyles. The monthly magazine, featuring in-depth interviews with the Middle East’s most influential and innovative leaders, is published in print in English and Arabic, with digital versions available to both regional and global audiences online. Forbes Middle East extends the Forbes brand of journalism across the Arab world, conducting its own comprehensive research to publish original lists that adhere to strict methodologies. Its content attracts business leaders, investors, active and potential entrepreneurs, and a wide audience of ambitious and influential executives.
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