Imtiaz for Her Hosts Igniting the Boardroom

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Ahlam Janahi
Multiple award-winning Founder of Bahrain Businesswomen’s Society and noted in Forbes magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Women in MENA, 2014.

You are president of Bahrain Businesswomen’s Society (BBS). What is your business background?
I started out in foreign exchange and loans syndication at Arab Banking Corporation (ABC) from 1983 to 1989 and have been involved in business ever since as well as charity volunteer work for 36 years, since I was 13 years old!

After ABC, I went to Al Ezz Trading and, in 2002, I set up my own company, Bahrain Horizon, and have been managing director, partner or owner at several ventures since then, including My Bakery, which I established in 2009 after studying the Bahrain market. To date it is one of the Kingdom’s leading bakeries. Most recently I launched Event Makers, an events management company working with international designers, earlier this year.

How did you become involved with BBS?
I was one of 16 founders, in 2000, and have always been a board member since then. I also took the role of president from 2012 to 2016 [two cycles]. I’m currently in my third term as president, which runs until next year.

What does your roll entail?
We aim to contribute to the Kingdom’s overall economy through our vision of global sustainability as well as innovation. We are recognised for the networking opportunities provided which work toward positive change in society.

One of our goals was to empower members to reach decision-making positions on boards in both government and private companies. We have achieved that but we need to increase the number of these positions.

How does the society support and empower women towards development within commerce?
Throughout its history, BBS has collaborated with strategic partners to offer value-added events, conferences and seminars which are of relevance to women in the business community.

By establishing and promoting best practices we are able to support members’ businesses and empower female entrepreneurs.
The society is proud to encourage the career progression and success of all women in the business landscape

What does the future hold for BBS?
There are many exciting developments ahead to look forward to. BBS is in the process of setting up training classes for members to sustain and grow their businesses.

In October we will take part in the World Entrepreneurship Conference in collaboration with UNIDO and International Entrepreneurship Conferencein November 2019. There will also be the third edition of the B2B International Businesswomen’s Exhibition & Forum with workshops and events organized by BBS committees.

What would be your advice for entrepreneurs entering the market today?
My advice is that every entrepreneur has to confront obstacles and challenges in their journey. Undoubtedly, a single mistake can turn into a failure. But the true failure is the one that occurs when nothing was learnt or changed after the previous mistake. Learning from your own mistakes is of the utmost importance if you intend to become successful.

Also, act today to feel motivated and inspired. If one approach is not working, then shift to another. Just don’t stop – keep trying.

Fatema Ebrahim
Founder of Andra Public Relations

You’ve recently launched you own agency. What made you decide to go it alone?
I felt like it was time. I had plans and aspirations in mind that I couldn’t achieve being in a limited structure. Action [her former employer] gave me a platform to start. After four years, I was ready after I gathered the knowledge, practice and set up my own creative mindset that I wanted to unleash.

What is your PR background?
I did my Masters in Public Relations & Corporate Communications at New York University. I got an internship on Wall street and worked on brands such as Coke Zero and illy Issimo which taught me a lot. And at the same time, I was a community manager for an award-winning start-up. That blend was the perfect recipe. I had a mix of the corporate and startup world.

In Bahrain, I became the country manager heading the Bahrain Branch. This was my first time handling clients solely on my own. My role involved strategising and spearheading communication programmes for clients as well as ensuring sustained, positive media visibility for them.

You are also a board member at both the Economic Development Board and WomeninFintechBh. Please tell us a bit about those roles.
My role is mainly to contribute (whether its directly or indirectly), give guidance and I have also created an access from certain start-ups to the board when needed.

What I do is all interrelated. I was heavily involved in the FinTech space, and my role has also changed within the space. I used to run a payments start-up in 2015, and now I consult FinTech start-ups in the region. This includes working on initiatives and supporting the Bahrain FinTech Bay, while creating opportunities for students and others to be involved in the FinTech landscape – through the Women in Fintech initiative.

How does being a woman in the boardroom dictate the way you behave and interact with your colleagues? Or, would you say, it is gender neutral?
I would say its gender neutral. It’s just a different environment which allows you to depend on your own leadership style and create your own tough skin to contribute. I don’t think there should be a fixation on what it’s like as a woman, but more on how to have your own strong presence no matter who or where you are.

As a young and relatively new business owner, are you finding help from female mentors and role models and is this is a role you envisage for yourself in the future?
I like this question. It’s funny because sometimes you can be a mentor for someone, and that someone can be a mentor for someone else. Our experience is not the same and we speak and stand for different people. I always seek advice and mentorship, and I like to give it back.

Sonya Janahi
Founder of The Living Concepts and Maya La Chocolaterie.

Please tell us about Living Concepts. Can you give examples of any recognisable companies you are working with?
The Living Concepts was established in 2004 as a hospitality consultancy company focused primarily on F&B concepts with the vision to create international franchise concepts starting from Bahrain. In 2007 it managed to successfully launch the first franchise model from Bahrain, Maya La Chocolaterie, of which I am the founder. The brand now has international recognition as it focuses on creating a chocolate culture of bringing chocolate fans to indulge in high-quality products and dishes.

The Living Concepts has also managed to launch the first chocolate factory in Bahrain focusing on the artisan production of chocolate with no artificial additives added. Thus creating “chocolate for a better world”.

What inspired you to launch Maya? Is chocolate a particular passion or was it more about a gap in the market?
The concept was initiated on the basis of a diversification in investment and creating the first franchise model from Bahrain. It evolved based on both passion and covering a gap. But covering the gap in a unique way, not just following any other chocolate concept. The edge we have today is that the brand has created a chocolate lifestyle of having chocolate for breakfast, lunch or dinner and this was the target.

You have a strong association with Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), what is your current role there?
I was elected to be a board member for the BCCI in March 2018. My role as a board member focused on restructuring the committees. Previously there were 24 committees focusing on different economic challenges. Today, we have managed to change the structure to have 10 sectoral

As the voice of the private sector it is our obligation to support the sectors and ensure sustainability and progression. Apart from being a board member I am also the chairperson of the Steering Committee where the chairs of all the committees meet monthly to collaborate, discuss and outline challenges and success stories.

Last year you received the IWEC award, please explain what this is and the basis for your award.
The International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge has been an initiative by the IWEC Foundation since its inception on 2007. The goal has been to support successful mid-size women-owned businesses in gaining and expanding access into international markets and in growing their visibility and brands.

They recognise successful women business owners on a global scale. Each year they choose successful women business owners from their network to honour them and present them awards at the annual conference. To submit for the award, you need to provide details about your company, your financial accomplishments and your vision to go forward. I proudly received the award, presented by UNIDO, in 2018 at IWEC Shanghai.

Since then, I have recommended the BCCI board to establish a committee to ensure more Bahraini women are nominated for this prestigious award.

What would be your advice for women wanting to work in a diverse range of fields under one umbrella?
Make sure you have passion for what you want to do and that you are committed. You need to have a dynamic business plan to evaluate the model and research and read what is happening globally to ensure that you are on the right track. Don’t focus just on being a Bahrain brand, but focus on being a global brand and always benchmark your idea to global brands. Make it fun and enjoy the roller coaster ride.