December 11th, 2019, Sharjah (UAE): Be the change you want to see in the world, was the message from Philip Harding, CEO and Co-founder IMPACTJUNKIE, an organisation that brings together entrepreneurs and investors to solve global problems through entrepreneurship, on the second day of the Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Summit (WEEGS 2019), being held in Sharjah.
During a session titled Kickstart with Impact, Harding, a former senior advisor at the Pentagon and the White House, introduced the power of entrepreneurship with a short film and presentation, challenging audience members to become ambassadors for change.
He said, “There are a lot of big, audacious problems facing the world that need big and audacious goals to solve them. Millions don’t have access to clean water. Billions don’t have access to sanitation. Millions of people around the world live without electricity and over 120 people take their lives every day in the US. These are big problems and the question I ask you is, what are you going to do about it?”
Harding went on to explain that people generally respond to this in one of three ways. One is to spiral into endless pessimism and worry, two is to ignore it and live in a bubble, and the third option, the one Harding hopes people will follow, is to be part of the solution.
“You have the power to affect change more than you realise; be the driver of change we speak about. You have all heard the adage, give a woman a fish and feed her for a day, teach her to fish and feed her for a lifetime. We prefer, empower a woman and help her to buy the lake, start a fish hatchery, open a chain of restaurants, sell fishing licences to the community, influence local policy, and build a fish entrepreneur and training network for her country.”
Harding finished by asking attendees to think about their passion, their purpose and calling. Adding the average person who lives until 80 has 29,000 days to live, once fundamentals such as sleep, chores, eating and so on are deducted, we are left with 54,98 days. “Use them to shape a destiny that is uniquely yours. What is your, passion, purpose, calling? Be inspired to do more with what you have been given. What are you meant to solve and what will you do next?”
In the second part of the session, the audience heard from ambassadors from Education For Employment (EFE), an organisation that connects young people worldwide to the world of work by training and upskilling them. Graduates of the programme, Malak Issa and Sandy Haddad highlighted the MOU signed between NAMA and EFE and said that NAMA hoped to have helped 5,500 women graduate by 2020. In three short films, women graduates of the programme spoke about how it had transformed their lives, assisting them in getting management roles in the workplace and supporting them as they juggled home, parenting and workplace stressors.
Mindfulness – an effective tool for changing biases that negatively impact women at work
The second session themed Moving Beyond Bias looked at the unconscious biases that shape everyone’s experience and impact women in the workplace. It was moderated by Anna Roberts, Founder and Managing Director of Anna Roberts, with panellists, Dr I. N. Amber Ghaddar, Co-founder of AllianceBlock; Shainoor Khoja, Founder and CEO, Better Business Enterprise Ltd; and HH Sayyida Basma Al Said, Head of “Not Alone”, a mental health campaign at Whispers of Serenity Clinic.
HH Sayyida said that mindfulness, being present and slowing down were very important factors that help prevent people from slipping into unconscious bias as it encourages awareness. “Don’t just think about practicing mindfulness, actually do it,” she urged.
Shainoor suggested that one way to tackle bias is to invite those people we consider different into our lives, get to know them. She added, “Today we are a global society, the advent of the internet, our shared geography, regional issues and issues such as the Sustainable Development Goals mean we are all part of the same community. Research and history show us that when we have diverse, multi-cultural teams to tackle issues they give better solutions, make better decision and achieve better results.”
Dr Amber agreed and pointed out that it was largely a matter of self-confidence, applying which, women need to reach their potential. “Even the word empowerment is passive, what we need to be telling women is to power up. When women get together, they are unstoppable. I want to encourage women to become generals, build their armies, meaning stick together and support each other.”
Boosting women’s role in economy critical to tackling uncertainties posed by 4IR
The following session titled Responding to the Future of Work, opened with a presentation by Professor Philip Molyneux, Dean of the College of Business Administration, University of Sharjah who presented recent findings from the 2019 Mckinsey Women in the Workplace report. “Some progress has been made at senior levels in some organisations, but more needs to be done at a general level to ensure women are given the right opportunities,” he said.
The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) was the topic of the following discussion between Dr. Nancy W. Gleason, Assistant Professor of Practice, Political Science, New York University Abu Dhabi and Xiangcen Guo, Assistant Director, SkillsFuture Singapore. Both agreed with the advent of jobs becoming automated, it was more critical than ever for women to continue to educate and upskill themselves.
Dr. Gleason said, “When so many jobs, particularly manual jobs like driving or those performed in factories, can be automated, the future of work lies in being educated. We are entering an era of lifelong learning. One of my favourite ways to stay educated is taking LinkedIn courses. There are one-hour courses that are free to take, and go on your profile to demonstrate your ability in that area. Increasingly, employers are looking for people who have recently completed a series of these courses.”
While Guo said she had recently completed courses on Coursera, an online education platform, she also believes in the power of networking and meeting people to keep her skillset up to date and relevant.
Held under the theme ‘Drivers of Change’ the two-day event supports the aim of achieving the United Nation 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted by the organisation’s General Assembly in September 2015. WEEGS is organised by NAMA Women Advancement Establishment (NAMA) in collaboration with UN Women.