Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – The Forbes Middle East Women’s Summit 2023—chaired by H.H. Princess Noura Bint Faisal Al Saud—came to a close on May 23rd, with day three seeing delegates absorbed in a series of expert programming and enjoying a host of networking opportunities. Speakers shared their insights and journeys, covering a wide range of topics and sectors, including energy, fintech, beauty, fashion, aerospace, hospitality, and real estate, among others, as well as inspiring the audience with motivational speeches designed to build confidence and encourage positivity and lasting impact.
Managing Director of Sales & Development at DAMAC Properties, Amira Sajwani, and CEO at TAQA Arabia, Pakinam Kafafi, debated how women contribute to sustainable and transformative change with CIB Board Member and Head of the Sustainability Committee, Hoda Mansour. “Working in male-dominated industries is quite different,” noted Mansour. “Energy was always a male-dominated industry, which is now changing a lot,” agreed Kafafi. “You cannot live without energy. For me, it was passion. Every day you have something new.” Sajwani explained how she was taking a different angle on real estate. “I just launched my prop-tech, and it focuses on digitizing the journey of an individual as well as a broker,” she described. “Tech is coming across all industries.”
Vice President of the Gürok Group, Esin Güral Argat, gave her insights on gender equality and how women are changing the game in non-traditional industries and hospitality. “Prejudice continues to create roadblocks in girls’ lives,” she said. “Our priority as leaders should be to enable women to play an active role in the digital world.”
Founder and Creative Director at SB Creations, Selma Benomar, and CEO of Basil Soda Fashion House, Denise Soda, spoke to Senior Presenter at Forbes Middle East, Nancy Bahmad, about style, confidence, and authenticity, describing with emotion where they found their inspiration. “Without love, you cannot do anything. I had a goal, and I had to reach it. I have passion,” said Soda, as she revealed how deeply her late husband had supported and influenced her. “We have a lot of mentors, my first was my mother,” said Benomar as she described her own journey. “It was hard to leave a successful career to start something from scratch.”
Presenting a workshop on trading, Founder and CEO of VI Markets, Talal Al Ajmi, shared with the crowd how the industry is attracting and opening up to women. “In 2015, there were very few female traders; now, more than 40% of traders are women,” he explained. “We have to be keen to deliver the right information.”
Vice President at Ignition Kuwait, Lama Al Oraiman, and astronaut and CEO of the Deep Space Initiative, Sara Sabry, shared their unique take on progress towards sending Arabs into space with Senior Presenter Lubna Abdulaziz. Sabry, who arrived on stage in her astronaut suit, described how it felt to find out she had been selected to travel to space. “When I heard the news, I was so shocked. The period after that, I felt like I was telling the story of someone else,” she shared. However, she soon became prepared. “I had a lot of psychological training, so when it happened, instead of being anxious, I felt excited,” she added. Oraiman spoke about how far the Arab world has come to make a mark on international progress in space exploration. “We have to understand how important the role of space is,” she stressed. “In the Arab world, we have launched into space, and now we are more developed.”
Founder of Etijah Coaching and Consulting, Dina Shabib, and the Founder of Smartista, Amnah Yaqoub, explored strategies for entrepreneurs to build resilience, perseverance, and success with Visa’s Ali Bailoun. “As an entrepreneur with limited knowledge of planning and coding for a tech startup, it was challenging to build a team, especially hiring remotely,” said Yaqoub as she recalled her entrepreneurial journey. “There’s a lot of challenges we face as women when we enter the workplace. There are challenges all the time,” said Shabib. “I don’t take them as big challenges very much anymore.”
Lighting the way for female founders, the Founder of JRN Consultancy, Ruwaida Abela Northern, Cofounder and Partner at TRACCS, Sara Al Ayed, and the Founder and CEO of IAM Entertainment, Sonal Vara-Parmar, spoke to the CEO of Sparkle Media Services, Manar El Amin. “I think the media has distorted what we can and cannot do. You cannot achieve everything in one day,” stressed Al Ayed. “You set the pace. Women supporting each other; women supporting women’s businesses. Let’s really come together and rally together.” Northern agreed that women need more balance and realistic goals. “I think we need to change what we perceive as a hard worker. We need to try to change what we can achieve. It’s unrealistic to think we need to be chained to our desk nine to five to achieve these tasks,” she explained. Vara-Parmer agreed, saying, “It’s about being adaptive and changing with what’s happening globally. The pandemic taught us how to pivot. I believe in working smarter and not harder.”
Guinness World Record Holder, Athlete, and Fitness/Life Coach, Dareen Barbar, inspired the crowd by telling her story of how she found purpose after losing one of her legs and found the strength to pursue her dreams and exceed all expectations. “I thought that my disability was ugly and painful, and to cover it. But I reset my mind by identifying the limiting beliefs that were stopping me. I replaced the ‘I can’t’ with ‘I can’ through practice and effort,” she emphasized to the enthralled audience before receiving a standing ovation. “View failures and setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth. The best version of yourself is there, ready to be discovered, and when you discover it, how awesome the change will be. Do not allow society to categorize you.”
Group Chief Commercial Officer at Shahid MBC Group, Natasha Matos-Hemingway, discussed women’s leadership and the rise of streaming platforms in MENA with Senior Producer and Presenter at Forbes Middle East, Ramia Farrage, acknowledging that being a thriving female leader in a booming industry is not easy, but is very rewarding. “Being the number one streamer in the MENA region, we don’t say that lightly, it does come with a strong responsibility," she mused.
Founder of Dao Derma, Sham Zhabi, told the room, “Beauty to me comes from within truly beautiful, authentic and original people no matter what their proportions are. To me, working along with standards was not part of my protocol. I wanted to change that,” as she talked about embracing inner beauty and rejecting plastic surgery pressures.
As she told her story about pivoting from banking to education, Director & Owner of the Al Faris International School, Sahar Hamad Al Marzouki, told Senior Producer & Presenter at Forbes Middle East Ramia Farrage that she used every challenge and doubt as inspiration to forge a new path. “It was a challenge every day. Every day they punched me, I bounced stronger. These punches made me think. I wanted to create thinking; I wanted an interesting education. We are facilitators,” she emphasized.
Renowned beauty icon and Founder of Kayali Fragrances, Mona Kattan, presented a masterclass on looking and feeling empowered. She shared a selection of tips and affirmations for finding confidence and happiness in yourself, saying, “Confidence is not given, it’s built just like anything. It’s a muscle you have to strengthen continuously. The more you believe in yourself, the more comfortable you are celebrating everyone. Everyone is on their own path.”
As they explored the junction between fashion and luxury auto, Fashion designer Razan Alazzouni and Bespoke Lead Designer at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Michelle Lusby, described to the Founder of Humanizing Brands, Mariam Farag, where they start when they begin creating a new piece of art. “I start with embroidery when I find a subject or emotion,” said Alazzouni. “My mum used to love to dress up. I feel that it’s very important to have your personality reflected in your style.” For Lusby, it all starts with a conversation. “I start with colors, where they are from, and their favorite place. We’re not talking about a car, we’re talking about a piece of art,” she explained. “In the Middle East, it’s really an expression of who you are. More women are coming into the private office at Goodwood and Dubai.”
Miss Universe Bahrain 2022, Evlin Khalifa, and Miss Lebanon 2022, Yasmina Zaytoun, spoke to Content Producer at Forbes Middle East, Jayda Shoukry, about how where they find purpose in winning their crowns. “Miss Lebanon is one of the most important stations but not the final destination. It’s the bridge to reach my goals, my personal, humanitarian, and professional level,” said Zaytoun. Khalifa echoed her sentiments. “It is not just a beauty competition, it’s a platform where women stand for their rights,” she insisted. “The competition is about our focus and beliefs. It needs strength and power and confidence in yourself as well.”
In the last session of the day and the summit, Regional Director at UN Women Arab States, Susanne Mikhail, delved into surging women’s employment in the Arab world. “The reality is that many women all over the world, including the Arab states, don’t have an enabling environment,” she shared. “We have a large-scale program together with 22 Arab states to increase women’s participation in the labor force by 5% in a relatively short period of time.”
Forbes Middle East worked 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.
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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