Since young, Sheikha Hind bint Majid Al Qasimi has nursed a passion for art and craft, a passion that led to pursue fine arts at the Sharjah University. "I have been particularly fascinated by porcelain," says Sheikha Hind, in an exclusive interview with Friday. It is a love that is represented in – and celebrated by – her label Designed By Hind.

She admits that she always knew that someday she would go on to develop her own creations. "Yet my very early sketches were intended to be just for myself and my family."

Fast-forward to 2011 when she launched her very first collection titled ‘Tuminah’. "The success was overwhelming, and I took it as a sign to grow it into something bigger. That’s how ‘Designed by Hind’ was born," she says.

Sheikha Hind underscores that one of the biggest lessons she learnt in business ‘is to be open to new ideas, and not be afraid of where they might take you.

"Each time I have a vision and try something for the first time, I let the results lead me. More often than not, I end up somewhere new and interesting, or unlock other creative ideas and concepts."

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Her desire to push herself to explore new avenues and frontiers also led her to recognise the importance of giving back to the community, and keen to make a difference in the lives of people, especially women, she gravitated towards Sharjah Business Women Council (SBWC). Today, as its chairperson, a role she assumed in 2016, Sheikha Hind has led the organisation, which operates under the umbrella of the NAMA Women Advancement Establishment, in formulating its strategies, plans and initiatives geared towards the full integration of female businesswomen in the UAE.

"I trained for this role, contributing to the council’s programmes, initiatives and campaigns on both local and global levels," she says. "I strongly believe that you need not have a business background to become a successful entrepreneur and hold myself up as an example to inspire women to follow their passion."

The SBWC believes that the right mindset is critical in pursuing the goal of empowerment, she says. With that in mind, it takes a holistic approach to women’s advancement by fostering a business-friendly environment for aspiring and established business women through development opportunities and comprehensive solutions by engaging key stakeholders and industry leaders.

Excerpts from the interview:

You have been involved in initiatives and campaigns in both regional and global sectors. Tell us some initiatives that became hugely successful.

There are many initiatives that have added feathers on SBWC’s cap over the past 19 years. The most recent one was launched in June, with SBWC going global with a new brand identity to reflect our ongoing evolution and bold vision to drive full integration of businesswomen in the economy, not only locally but globally.

Our future growth strategy targets female entrepreneurial talents, both locally and globally, to realise their career dreams in Sharjah’s vibrant start-up environment.

In November 2019, we launched ‘SBWC Tours’, an awareness campaign intended to introduce businesswomen and entrepreneurs who want to advance their projects to related services and offerings of the council. In the wake of Covid-19, this campaign went virtual last year offering business counselling to its members to help them adapt to new business conditions.

Sheikha Hind addresses a meeting of the SBWC

Launched in May 2019, ‘SBWC Talks’ is an exclusive platform for its members to share knowledge, explore best practices, and learn from successful business professionals. Last year, the council organised five virtual workshops for its members spanning diverse interests and sectors, including effective remote selling strategies, digital productivity tools, E-commerce and digital marketing.

Our recent initiative was a timely and topical workshop series titled ‘The Reinvention of Business Post-COVID 19’. The four-part mentorship series featured industry leaders like 33Voices, Mastercard and Mashreq Bank. The action-oriented workshops not only equipped 48 SBWC members with the right tools, knowledge and mindsets to perfect their post-COVID business recovery planning and implementation, but proved to be a pivotal learning curve for most participants who were previously unaware of things like digital business banking, tailored digital finance offerings for SMEs, and so on.

What are some of the challenges women face when entering the business sector? And how does the SBWC help them in overcoming them?

Particular challenges women face in the business sector include accessing funding, balancing responsibility and lack of knowledge. As a business-driven economy, UAE is making a concerted attempt to change these attitudes. As part of the national drive to allow entrepreneurial spirit of women the best opportunities to grow, Sharjah has been identifying and tapping potential for women in the business and entrepreneurship sectors.

Through our programmes and initiatives, we reach out to empower women from all walks of society. We believe in developing the skillsets of all members of society, especially women, to enable them in their workplace. Technology is redefining the skills of the workforce, and based on this we develop our partnerships and programmes which are aligned with the global march towards a sustainable future.

Has the growing digital economy helped women make a mark?

Digital transformation driven by the advance of new digital technologies is radically altering the way businesses function. Digital entrepreneurship, which includes the creation of digital businesses and the adoption of digital technologies by existing entrepreneurs, holds immense potential for making entrepreneurship more inclusive. Women can benefit from the lower start-up costs required for many digital businesses and the wider access to external markets offered by the internet.

At SBWC, we try to address the barriers to digital entrepreneurship through schemes that build digital and entrepreneurship skills. We also help women entrepreneurs build stronger networks. These targeted actions, complemented by UAE’s broad policy actions aimed at improving connectivity, stimulating innovation and strengthening the regulatory environment, has led to the creation of many successful women entrepreneurs.

How does Sharjah seek to empower women and offer them the opportunity to play a more effective role in the digital age?

In line with the vision of the leaders, Sharjah seeks to empower women to play a more effective role in the digital age by working with schools, universities, vocational training institutions, companies, public departments and local communities to bridge the gender gap in the ICT field, particularly in skills and job opportunities.

We enable women to take their first steps in business and investment by holding training workshops to develop skills and creating networking opportunities with potential partners through business-oriented missions and forums to enhance their success.

What do you think are the emerging sectors where women can play a special and influential role for the future?

SBWC is looking to encourage women entrepreneurs in emerging sectors such as agritech and IT, among others. The UAE has embraced cutting-edge agriculture technology as both a key pillar of its food security agenda and an important component of its economic diversification strategy. With its forward-looking approach, UAE is fast becoming a regional and even global hub for agritech.Aquaponics, hydroponics and vertical farming are gaining traction in UAE farms, and in a first-of-its-kind research project, rice is being cultivated at a farm in Sharjah.

Sheikha Hind’s desire to push herself to explore new avenues and frontiers has also led her to recognise the importance of giving back to the community

Similarly, with ongoing digital transformation at an advanced state in the UAE, AI solutions is another sector which promises tremendous growth. SBWC remains committed to transforming Sharjah into a global incubator of female talent and entrepreneurship.

Who were your mentors? How did they motivate you and keep you on track?

One person I have always looked up to is Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah and Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affair. I consider her my mentor and motivator. She has always believed in me and consistently encouraged me to believe in myself. She also taught me to push myself, both personally and professionally, to give my best. When you are blessed with such an incredible role model as Her Highness, what more do you need to stay on track?

Is it possible to achieve a work-life balance?

Of course it is! With the right kind of planning and organisation, work-life balance is immensely achievable. Simple things like a daily planner goes a long way in doing it – after all, planning ahead and having a clear schedule is an important factor in achieving work-life balance.

What is the one quote you live by?

They say ‘Everything happens for a reason’ – and I truly believe in that a closed door doesn’t always mean a lost opportunity. It is simply life’s way of setting you on a different path, a route you are meant to take, and is best for you in the long run. That is why it’s always important to be grateful for everything that happens to you, both good and bad. Everything does happen because it is meant to be.

How would you like to be known – as a person and as the chairperson of SBWC?

My role in SBWC is a reflection of my own self – I am a conduit for inspiring and encouraging women, even those without experience, to venture into the business world, just like I had done. In that sense, I am not either one or the other - I am Hind, the person, the designer, the entrepreneur and the chairperson of SBWC.

What do you think is your strength? And your weakness?

My strength is my family. They are, and have always been, my support system, my biggest source of encouragement. Without them, I would not have been me, nor reached where I am today.

My one great weakness is that I get quite flustered when things don’t go as planned. I like things to be organised and well planned.

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