The University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) in partnership with Dubai Business Women Council (DBWC) recently hosted their 6th “Women and Leadership” seminar, focussing on how leadership can create Social change and Impact.
Ms Isobel Abulhoul OBE, Festival Director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and CEO of the Emirates Literature Foundation, a prominent figure in the business world, was the guest of honour at the most recent event. Dr Payyazhi Jayashree, Associate Dean (Education), Faculty of Business at UOWD lead the interview. The interview focussed on Isobel’s, early challenges and opportunities as a businesswomen and entrepreneur in the UAE and her recommendations to facilitate Leadership Capacity Development amongst women in the UAE.
Dr Abulhoul narrated that her leadership journey was heavily influenced by her love of books – a passion that has grown ever since her early childhood years and ultimately lead to her various entrepreneurial pursuits She strongly believes that her passion for books empowered her to be the person she is today.
During the discussion Isobel commented that leaders should not be afraid of taking risks and to confront change and also embrace opportunities as they may never arise again. Ms Abulhoul said: “Never be afraid of failure. Analyse your failure to see where you have gone wrong and try again”. She also said: “Leaders come in all shapes and sizes – you just need to find your own style”.
Ms Abulhoul’s further discussed her leadership journey and the impact it had, not only on her own life, but also on those around her – especially the local communities. Her first challenge was to overcome the language barrier by mastering Arabic when she relocated from the United Kingdom to Dubai in the late 1960’s. She then started her career in the UAE as a nursery school teacher after which she and her husband then co-founded the Al Ittihad School in 1974, a charitable institution welcoming students from all nationalities. Not stopping with this achievement, she took up to her next challenge - opening Magrudy’s, a shop that sold educational toys. Uniquely to this shop, she also stocked children’s books, a great passion of hers, which was unheard of in those days as toy shops and book shops, was considered to be two very separate entities. She saw this challenge as an opportunity and it became one of Dubai’s biggest bookstore chains. After pursuing publishing as a career for a short time, she then decided to invest her tireless energy into another inspiring idea. She founded the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, a first of its kind in the UAE. It was established in 2008 and is currently considered to be the Middle East’s largest celebrations of written and spoken word, promoting reading, debating and education to all walks of life.
Ms Abulhoul highlighted the importance of staying connected and stated that networking starts with sustainable friendships, smaller groups eventually becomes bigger networking groups, opening the doors for various opportunities.
The seminar series, a project supported by an AED 175,000 grant from the National Research Foundation as part of the University-Industry Research Collaboration was launched in October 2015 and aims at providing a platform for women to share their personal leadership narratives and learning experiences to further contribute to capability development and to support economic contributions of women in the UAE.
Overcoming barriers for women to attain senior leadership positions is an enormous challenge. These barriers such as, lack of organisation support, intercultural competency and cultural intelligence to name a few has a definite impact on career progression and leadership amongst woman, hence the reason these seminars are being held to support existing and aspiring female leaders rise up to the challenges.
Commenting on the seminar series, Dr Payyazhi Jayashree, Associate Dean of UOWD’s Faculty of Business and lead of the project said: “We have only just begun and we are excited about moving on to the next steps of our research project. This includes Policy discussions, Communities of Practice, Corporate Partnerships and Scholarly outputs with a focus on continuing to generate debates and solution-centred discussions on how to facilitate gender balance and gender equity at the workplace, while providing inclusive and constructive work environments”.