Global Ambassadors program supports emerging women leaders in Qatar

Jan 17, 2014

The Middle East North Africa (MENA) region covers an area extending from Morocco to Iran, and it includes the majority of the Middle Eastern and Maghreb countries. Although great strides have been made to advance the educational opportunities for women in the region, a recent report by the World Bank found that women enter the MENA labor market at half the average global rate, hindering economic potential. Legal and social barriers—including deep-seeded cultural expectations and family obligations—often make it especially difficult for these women to secure jobs or pursue careers.

In an effort to further the economic empowerment of women business leaders across the MENA region, the Global Ambassadors Program invited emerging women leaders from Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon to come together in Doha, Qatar, for a one-week program in November 2013. The program paired women with mentors who are established leaders in the business, nonprofit, media or government sectors, and who worked closely with their mentees to refine business plans, develop concrete solutions to personal and professional challenges, and give them advice on how they could achieve their goals. All of the participants came away from the week inspired by each other’s stories of perseverance and evident passion for their work.

Aside from the various cultural challenges of the region, mentoring is an unfamiliar concept in the MENA region, and the mentors first worked to define the mentoring relationship and to develop trust with their mentees on a personal level. Once a relationship had been established, the mentors discussed their mentees’ goals and business objectives, and offered advice and counsel to help them achieve these. Global Ambassador Arije Al-Almen, who is a freelance consultant specializing in microfinance and training/mentoring for SMEs, differentiated mentoring from coaching, training or consulting, explaining it as, “[With] mentoring, you cannot impose or give a solution. You should incentivize your mentee to talk and to find a solution. This is the role of the mentor: to give guidance and support.”

In addition to one-on-one mentoring sessions, the week included a variety of training sessions that focused on everything from project and crisis management to business planning. The group also toured the Museum of Islamic Art and participated in a Mentoring Walk in one of Qatar’s parks. During this time, the mentors advised their mentees on a number of different issues, and they recognized some of the common challenges faced by women, such as overextending while balancing personal and professional lives. 

In addition to familiar challenges, discussions revealed shared qualities that allowed the women to easily relate to each other, including strength of character, persistence in the face of challenge, and unflagging optimism. These qualities helped to ensure a week that was both inspiring and empowering for all involved. Mentee Rana Kotaiche, CEO and co-owner of Blessing, an upscale full-service chocolate and souvenir catering business in the Middle East, noted that the program helped “change [her] way of thinking about [her] business”, and that she was returning home “full of positive energy.” The mentors also recognized that they had personally gained from the experience, with mentor Paula Anderson, a retired FBI executive, describing the relationship as a “two-way street”. Anderson noted that in addition to gaining a better cultural understanding of life for Egyptian women, the experience of advising her mentee on some of the challenges that Kotaiche faced with her business have been particularly useful as Anderson is starting her own business as an international consultant.

Via Skype, email, telephone and potentially even through in-person meetings, the mentors will continue to advise their mentees as they build upon the lessons they learned and begin to execute upon their business plans. A connection both personal and professional, the relationship between the women will continue long after they have left Qatar.

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