Speaking at a panel discussion titled 'Women game changers, disruptors and innovators' at the 18th Women In Leadership Economic Forum, various women spoke about their personal experiences in starting businesses and highlighted some of the challenges they faced on their journey.
Alia Khan, chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion & Design Council, spoke about her observations on the role that the Internet played in popularising Islamic fashion in the mainstream fashion industry.
"Islamic fashion is disruptive in itself," she said. "With the help of the Internet, we were able to show the whole world what was special about Islamic fashion. Leading the way were the Muslim fashionistas and soon people began noticing. For us, Muslim women, this was not a new phenomenon; but very soon the big mainstream fashion brands began to incorporate the designs into their collections on the red carpet."
Khan also spoke about how the Islamic fashion industry is a multi-billion dollar industry today and how there were lots of opportunities for women around the world.
"Islamic fashion is built around the principle that you can be fashionable without compromising your values. It is cool, yet disciplined, and rebellious in its own way. And, there is a market for it; not just for Muslim women globally, but for Christian and Jewish women who make up a significant secondary market," she explained.
Bank for poor women
Chetna Sinha, founder and chairwoman of the Mann Deshi Foundation, and another speaker at the panel discussion, highlighted her journey in opening a bank in India.
"People were shocked and found it difficult to fathom that I was starting a bank for women. More importantly, it was a bank for poor women," she told the audience. "I had observed that women in India were being refused banking services because they were thought of as uneducated and lacking the knowledge to open their own accounts."
Sinha also revealed that, like any entrepreneur, she had made mistakes in the beginning of her journey.
"We made a lot of mistakes," she said. "What we quickly realised in the beginning was that women were not coming to us after the opening of the bank. Their reason was that a trip to the bank meant a whole day of work wasted. So, we said to ourselves, if they can't come to us, we will go to them. And this became the basis of how we launched our services for these women. We listened to them and quickly found that even though many of these women were not educated, they were extremely intelligent and technology-savvy."
Sinha also spoke on the importance of education and having worthy role models for young girls. "Education is undoubtedly important, but it is equally important for young girls to have proper role models who they look up to. It is important to have good role models that inspire you and drive you to set goals for yourselves."
Hala Slieman, general manager for the near east region at Merck, observed that women in the workplace contribute differently to the growth of the economy. This, she said, was because a woman plays multiple roles in the family dynamic.
"A woman, especially if she is working, will be responsible for a number of different things, including the health of her family. And we all know that healthy workers perform better at their workplace. For us, there is a lot of value in educating women about preventable diseases, and we all know that prevention is better than cure," she explained.
Rapelang Rabana, founder and CEO of Rekindle Learning, also stressed that it was important to empower young girls early on in their lives. "A big shift that needs to happen at the very basic level is to build conviction in young school girls. This empowers them and also encourages them to think about what they want to do and what career path they want to take."
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