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news & blog > T20 Women Leaders Interview - July 2019
17 July 2019

She is Arab is founded by two passionate Arab women, Noha Hefny and Samar Alshorafa; with combined experience of more than 30 years in the fields of international development, humanitarian action, public policy, public affairs and integrated marketing communications. Noha and Samar have both worked in leading global organizations in both the private and public sectors including the United Nations, International Finance Corporate (IFC), the European Commission’s Industrial Modernization Program for Egypt, HH Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, PepsiCo & McKinsey & Company. She is Arab is a purpose driven, tech-business and stems from their commitment to increasing Arab women’s representation on speaking platforms around the world. The mission of the company is to develop Arab women thought leaders and speakers across every sector, to highlight successful role models and success stories, and to eliminate stereotypes about Arab women. 

 

Please introduce yourselves in one sentence. 

We are committed to human centric development, placing people at the heart of everything that we do while delivering impact and driving positive change.

 

Tell us about your business?

She is Arab is the first dedicated speakers’ platform for Arab women in the world, with a vision to be the new voice of Arab women and a mission to represent and develop speakers and thought leaders across every sector. As an advisor and knowledge partner to event organizers, corporates, governments and foundations on gender balance and women’s related issues, She is Arab offers an end to end solution to prepare Arab women for their next speaking engagements and to match them with the right opportunities. Our services include professional development to help women sharpen their skills across a broad range of subjects. Our members have access to an unparalleled sector agnostic network; a platform where they can support each other, collaborate, receive mentorship and develop partnerships. She is Arab was founded by two Arab women with combined experience of more than 30 years in the field of International Development, as well as the private and public sectors. Connected by their common passion and commitment their ultimate goal is to position Arab women as inspirational role models, knowledge creators and bearers, not only in MENA, but around the world.

 

What made you go left, when all was going right?

Technology is the biggest disruptor of all sectors in our present day, and we wanted to leverage this global digital transformation wave by bringing it to the speakers’ industry in our region. So we created a model that can deliver utmost impact by tapping into the power of technology to expand our reach and provide opportunities to as many Arab women as we can.

 

What problems did your business solve?

  • Gender balance
  • Increasing women’s representation
  • Eliminating stereotypes
  • Leadership and participation
  • Role model creation
  • Talent & skills development
  • Creating economic opportunities.

 

What challenges did you overcome? Or are still overcoming?

  • Coming up with a business model that can cater effectively to the diversity and complexity of our customer segments while effectively merging profit with purpose.
  •  The limited awareness about social enterprise and its evolving nature. 
  • The absence of a culture of offering compensation to professional speakers.

 

On a scale from 1 to 10, how much of a risk-taker are you and what risks did you take or/and avoid? And Why?

8/10-Taking a leap of faith into entrepreneurship from a very stable career track with a strong belief and passion to drive our business. 

 

If you were to advise aspiring to be entrepreneurs would you tell them to start with passion or start with what you know?

Passion and purpose is always the starting point for us but the most important aspect is to start doing and for that you need to do what you know best. You need quick wins, you need to leverage your knowledge of the market. We would say they go hand in hand, just don’t get stuck on passion and ideas without taking concrete steps to bring them to life, start small and grow gradually but think big, have a vision.

 

If you were to invest in reform initiatives that would empower women in Egypt, what would be the key first 3 areas that come to mind? 

  • Education: access, enhanced quality and achieving education for all, leaving no one behind, particularly underserved communities. 
  • Poverty eradication: improving women’s health, addressing basic needs (water, shelter, food).
  • Economic empowerment: increasing the leadership and participation of women in all sectors of the economy. Focusing on job creation and access to finance (loans, access to banking solutions, financial independence & literacy). 

 

From your experience to date; what are the key things you find challenging for women as public speakers? And what would you tell them to overcome those challenges?

Based on the findings of a survey and focus group we conducted regionally, it was evident that the biggest challenge for Arab women speakers revolves around the need to enhance their soft skills with a focus on confidence building, overcoming fear of public speaking, assertiveness and leadership development. The majority of women surveyed were shy to ask for speaker fees, which stems from cultural norms of generosity and offering free services to friends and acquaintances. While it is a beautiful aspect of the culture, it is significantly disadvantageous for women speakers spending their time on unpaid work which they could instead be generating an income from thus increasing women’s participation rates in the labor market, and driving overall economic growth through this new sector.

 

What change do you want to create in the communities around you? 

  • We would like greater representation of Arab women thinkers and speakers on the international stage in key conferences and events. 
  • We seek to have more women generate an income from professional speaking opportunities, and to inspire the future generation of women leaders through powerful role models and success stories.  
  • We would also like our professional development services and network to reach and to benefit as many women as possible from all walks of life.

 

What impact do you want to leave behind?

A fresh pipeline of young emerging Arab women thinkers and speakers across every sector who are able to represent the region internationally; while adding value and offering innovative solutions for key global and regional challenges.

 

Tell us about a woman who inspired you?

We are inspired by women from all walks of life, and have a special interest in following the works of inspirational women from our region. Our mothers top our inspiration list; for believing in us, empowering us and always pushing us to go beyond and allowing us to challenge the status quo and to succeed in  realizing our full potential. 

We are equally inspired by a number of women from the region, and despite that a couple of names would not suffice as representative of this diverse, talent and achievement-rich region, we choose to highlight Zaha Hadid as one strong inspirational woman who broke the stereotype by excelling in the male-dominated industry of architecture. She was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, in 2004. Dame Hadid who was also a recipient of the UK's most prestigious architectural award, the Stirling Prize, in 2010 and 2011.

Another inspiring Arab woman is Nemat Shafik, currently Director of the London School of Economics, also served as Deputy Governor of the Bank of England and was previously (at 36 years old) the youngest ever VP of the World Bank. Dame Shafik ranked 59 on Forbes’ World’s most powerful women list. 

And there are many more, which our platform aspires to represent and to inspire younger women through these exceptional success stories. 

 

What are your preferred books, films, websites, resources …etc.?

Inspirational/Life-changing:

  • Maya Angelou’s “I know why the caged bird sings”
  • Brenee Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness”

For entrepreneurship:

  • “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries (a must-read)

 

Tell us about a speech that you find most inspiring (please share link)?

  • Simon Sinek’s 2010 TED talk entitled “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” and emphasizes starting with “Why” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp0HIF3SfI4
  • HM Queen Rania Al Abdullah’s speech at the Global Women’s Forum in Dubai, 2016 https://www.queenrania.jo/en/media/speeches/global-women’s-forum 

 

What added value can you bring to T20 members through your business?

  • Supporting knowledge and content creation for conferences and events
  •  Providing professional women speakers for future meetings and conferences
  • Creating gender balance on all panels, events held by T20
  • Providing professional development opportunities for T20 members to enhance their public speaking capabilities and skills. 
  • Advisory services to companies looking to develop programs advancing gender equality and women empowerment in the workplace.

 

What areas in your business, would you find T20 members support most useful?

  • Access to the Egyptian market and offering advise on business expansion in the future in Egypt or other parts of the region. 
  • Referral of qualified and accomplished women that can be listed as speakers on our platform or who would add value to our network. 
  • Explore future opportunities for partnership and collaboration on joint events, and production of knowledge reports.

 

Interview with: Samar Alshorafa & Noha Hefny



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