No economy in the world can afford to overlook women as a productive human resource. A new initiative in Bahrain seeks to support greater competitiveness and growth in the economy by enhancing women’s participation in the workforce and their access to markets.
There is no denying Bahrain’s credentials in the Middle East region when it comes to initiatives in the realm of women’s empowerment. Even though much is being accomplished by government agencies, women in the Kingdom, especially those from less privileged backgrounds, are still in need of economic and social support to become fully contributing members of the economy.
It is early days still for the newly launched Business and Professional Women’s Club (BPW) in Bahrain, but the ladies behind the initiative are quite ambitious about its scope — to empower Bahraini women and the youth to realise their true potential.
The Bahrain chapter of the Club traces its antecedents to the International Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW), which was founded in Geneva in 1930. This organization was established to work for professional women everywhere, especially in the roles of mentoring and lobbying.
The BPW is now an influential network of business and professional women from over 100 countries in five continents with consultative status at the United Nations.
It is perhaps befitting that the club’s Bahrain chapter is headed by Shaikha Hind bint Salman Al Khalifa, president of the Children and Mother’s Welfare Society.
“This initiative is not to repeat what has already been done for women in Bahrain, but will complement the existing endeavours in developing the professional leadership and business potential of women at all levels. This will be done through advocacy, mentoring and skill building,” she notes.
“In a free economy like Bahrain, the younger generation cannot expect to wait for government jobs to materialise. Rather, they could develop their skill and talent as entrepreneurs, launch their own ventures and contribute to the economic growth of the Kingdom.”
As a regional business hub, Bahrain offers sufficient infrastructure to shape aspiring women into entrepreneurs and professionals. It also offers its female citizens enough space and freedom to pursue their dreams.
“Women in Bahrain are empowered by law to travel freely, seek licenses for business as well as bank loans. They are confident and capable; we’ve seen that in many success stories. But in order to embark on the journey to entrepreneurship, young women need support and guidance from role models who have traversed the same path, and that’s where we come in,” she observes.
Support for the young club has already come pouring in since the launch last December. The Ministry of Culture, under Shaikha Mai bint Mohammad Al Khalifa, has allotted the club premises for its headquarters in Jasra, which has been named the Al Jasra Training Centre.
“Thanks to the Minister for Culture, we now have a plot of land which will be utilised for various vocational training projects. Additionally, the Ministry of Municipalities and Agriculture has signed up for two projects with us. Experts from the ministry will conduct courses and hold live demonstrations in gardening, landscaping, and raising palm trees at this plot,” says Shaikha Hind. The kitchen premises will be used to train women in catering food for events and parties.
Already, the handiwork of female artists and recyclers including samples of pottery, ceramics, calligraphy and recycled items have been put on display at the Al Jasra Training Centre.
The club’s 12 founding members are mostly professionals and businesswomen from diverse backgrounds such as banking, retail, event management, interior decoration and art.
New members will be inducted twice a year, in June and December, but entry criteria is deliberately set high so that a candidate’s background, commitment and knowledge will be taken into account before her name is proposed.
“Only ladies who are hardworking, talented and focussed and who can contribute meaningfully towards the projects undertaken will be considered for membership,” she says.
Diverse in scope
The objectives of the BPW club in Bahrain are multiple, Shaikha Hind explains.
In addition to providing women and youth with economic training, the club will work together with government organisations to enable women with limited income and productive families to enter the market. But above all, the founding members have set their sights on training young Bahrainis to hone their talent across a wide range of sectors.
To start with, training will be provided at weekly workshops by visiting experts on photography, recycling, catering, landscaping and Arabic calligraphy to enable gifted youngsters to turn their passion into a profitable business venture. For instance, she points out, there are talented amateur photographers in Bahrain who work out of studios set up in a garage, in absence of resources.
“The workshops we hold will be community events, where entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to learn from the best local, regional and global mentors in a relaxed and informal but highly engaging setting. We hope this unique format will forge deep and long lasting connections between entrepreneurs and their mentors,” observes Shaikha Hind.
Earlier this month, the club premises at Al Jasra Training Centre played host to a one-day ‘Mix n’ Mentor’ event where budding entrepreneurs and experts from Bahrain, as well as from other Middle Eastern countries, gathered to discuss the challenges facing their start-ups. Entrepreneurs and their mentors, who ranged from industry experts and investors to serial entrepreneurs, were matched in breakout groups of ten based on skills and challenges over three sessions.
Mentors were then rotated to ensure maximum diversity. Business angels Tenmou, as well as Bahrain Development Bank (BDB) along with Wamda were roped in for the event.
For their part, the 12 founding members themselves will mentor young women and guide them in promoting their business.
“Of course, the members will use their contacts and network on behalf of their protégés to help promote their businesses,” says Shaikha Hind. Talented young women with promising business ideas will have access to more resources as the club has plans to allot grants to enable the selected candidates to pursue their dreams. However, this should not be confused with a loan, where repayment is mandatory, she stresses. Members will be tasked with organising monthly fund raising events and luncheons in order to generate revenue for club coffers.
Given that the Bahrain chapter is the BPW International’s first footprint in the Gulf region, Shaikha Hind would welcome additional branches across various districts in Bahrain through local engagement and even additional chapters elsewhere in the GCC. The Bahrain chapter will apply for international recognition soon. Meanwhile, the members have been bearing the message of women’s empowerment elsewhere in the region, most recently at a conference in Egypt.
After all, this is all about women’s leadership and there’s no better time to lead than the present.