Elizabeth Filippouli is CEO of the leadership and human development agency Global Thinkers and the international think tank Global Thinkers Forum, which hosts the 2nd Arab Women as Changemakers Awards Gala in Sharjah, UAE in December under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Al Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi and in partnership with Sharjah Business Women Council and its Chairperson, Her Excellency Ms Ameera Binkaram, who is also a member of the GTF Advisory Board
Vision: As you prepare to honour female Arab changemakers at this year’s awards gala, can you tell us what qualities and attributes you look for in candidates?
Elizabeth Filippouli: First and foremost we look for successful Arab women who are committed to creating a better world, who care about people and the public good. We always look for candidates whose decision-making is based on values; they understand that the more successful or wealthy someone is, the more they need to give back to society.
V: What trends are you witnessing in the MENA region in terms of female leadership and empowerment?
EF: I have noticed that the entrepreneurial talent is abundant, that there is a lot of talent, creativity and innovative thinking. I also see determination and fearlessness among the women in the MENA. Also, women today have so many more opportunities than ever before to excel and succeed. They break glass ceilings and they forge ahead. They have ambition, purpose and they know that technology gives them access to tremendous opportunities to prosper and develop. All they need is self-confidence, faith in themselves and to think big. By nature women keep their feet on the ground and they need to be pragmatic and practical because they become mothers and need to protect and raise children.
'It is important to recognise that where organisations have invested in the development of women, the results have been both profound and dramatic'
We also see that slowly yet gradually businesses start to invest in developing women as workers, executives and leaders. Of course the advancement of women pales in proportion to their numbers. While some of the reasons are related to culture and custom, it is important to recognise that where organisations have invested in the development of women, the results have been both profound and dramatic.
V: How important is it for societies worldwide to nurture female leaders?
EF: It is imperative. If we want to secure sustainable development, this can only be achieved through the empowerment of women. Creating more opportunities for women to generate real face-to-face dialogue and to share experiences will go a distance in healing rifts and increasing cooperation, trust and mutual respect. The business community can play a critical role. Gender equality is a significant tool of economic growth and social cohesion. It constitutes a multidimensional factor: political, economic, social, developmental.
Recognising equal opportunities for women, who constitute about half of the total population of every country, ensures not only a more representative participation of all members of society, but also advancement, progress and development. Over the last few decades we have witnessed a new generation of women redefining the notion of power through innovation and disruption. There are women who are becoming the driving force for innovative thinking and change in Arab societies. This incredible creative energy needs to be tapped.
V: Do women have specific strengths and attributes to bring to the table in areas such as business and government?
EF: We need values-based societies, countries and companies. With shared values we can communicate better. We need to develop a culture of collaboration through shared values, as these are adapted by humanity. Women have a key role to play. Arab women are by nature hugely talented, dynamic, charismatic, self-motivated and determined, and these are only some of their specific attributes. The global ascension of women to leadership positions in government, business and society has become more self-evident in recent decades but challenges remain.
At Global Thinkers Forum, we help women make progress at creating impact on the roles they choose to play. We also help companies and organisations become more diverse and more open to inviting and nurturing female talent.