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The Recap: Women SME Leaders Awards 2023 Staged in collaboration with Entrepreneur Middle East, the project is aligned with Mastercard's global commitment to connect 25 million women entrepreneurs to the digital economy by 2025, as part of its goal to build a more sustainable and inclusive world.

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Women SME Leaders Awards

The second edition of the Women SME Leaders Awards staged by Mastercard in collaboration with Entrepreneur Middle East celebrated female business leaders from the regions of Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

As a virtual event hosted by Jessy El Murr on May 2, 2023, the awards ceremony honored the achievements of women in 22 different categories, with the winners selected by a jury consisting of Amnah Ajmal, Executive Vice President, Market Development, EEMEA, Mastercard, Nezha Alaoui, founder and CEO, Women Choice, and Tamara Pupic, Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

Commenting on the ceremony, Ajmal said, "The second edition of the awards has once again exceeded our expectations, from receiving entries from diverse businesses, to seeing the women of tomorrow raising the bar, as we embrace a future that includes more women across industries. I'd like to congratulate all the winners for their contributions and commitment to their SME success stories, and for being a part of the Women SME Leaders Awards 2023."

The Women SME Leaders Awards 2023 received a total of 4,547 submissions from women-owned and run SMEs, with the criteria for the businesses being that they should have a turnover of less than US$13.6 million, and should employ between six to 50 people.

Launched in 2022 to empower entrepreneurial women, the Women SME Leaders Awards aims to shine a spotlight on women who are shaping the future of emerging markets around the globe. Staged in collaboration with Entrepreneur Middle East, the project is aligned with Mastercard's global commitment to connect 25 million women entrepreneurs to the digital economy by 2025, as part of its goal to build a more sustainable and inclusive world.

Here is the full list of winners (and nominees) at the Women SME Leaders Awards 2023:

The Designer - Rim Guirari, founder of Mustard & Linen Interior Design (UAE)

For Rim Guirari, founder of interior design studio Mustard & Linen Interior Design, leadership is about adopting an empowerment-focused approach. "My aim is to listen and empower each employee for them to be confident, and to take the lead on their projects," she says. "I believe that each person in the office has been handpicked for their singularity, and by creating a multicultural team from a diversified background, we can all grow, join forces, and complement each other; therefore, learning from one another is essential and beneficial for all." And to women looking to grow either their own businesses or the companies they work for, Guirari's advice is to trust their inner voice. "It's your guide," she says. "Have faith in your intuition, be consistent, and be open-minded to tweak things where things need to be tweaked."

Rim Guirari, founder of Mustard & Linen Interior Design (UAE). Source: Mustard & Linen Interior Design

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:
Holly Hart, founder of Neon Star (UAE)
Meher Iqbal, founder of Meher Jewellery (UAE)
Brandie Janow, founder of Kingdom Creatives (Saudi Arabia)
Sandra Woodall, Design Director at Tangram Architects and Designers (UAE)

The Logistician - Meher Mirchandani, Managing Director of Palmon Group (UAE)

As an author, entrepreneur, and coach, Meher Mirchandani, Managing Director of Palmon Group, a UAE-based family business with interests in real estate and warehousing, considers it her mission to grow the awareness of individuals and businesses about the impact of self-love. "I lead my organization with love, compassion, and empathy," she says. "My leadership style is a combination of servant leadership and transformational leadership, where I inspire and motivate my team to achieve a common vision, and encourage innovation, creativity, and personal development." Mirchandani is fond to share her story of transformation from a depressed, purposeless soul to a managing director who turned a multi-million dollar into an aligned, profitable venture. "It was done just by practicing and encouraging others to practice self-love," she says and adds to advise other women, "Before you can create influence, take the time to fall in love with yourself. Coming from this strong internal foundation, leadership, influence and impact will become effortless."

Meher Mirchandani, Managing Director of Palmon Group. Source: Palmon Group

The other shortlisted nominee for this award was:
Siddhi Joshi, CEO of Emovers LLC (UAE)

The F&B Leader - Kim Thompson, founder and Managing Director of Raw Coffee Company (UAE)

When asked about her leadership style, Kim Thompson, founder and Managing Director of Raw Coffee Company, says it's all about building strong relationships- but when it comes to self-leadership, she prioritizes continuous learning. "My journey has been a steep learning curve; I have many traits I continually have to work on- public speaking and conflict resolution immediately spring to mind," Thompson says. "What I love most about being an entrepreneur is the continual growth and learning; nothing remains constant." In terms of advice for other female entrepreneurs, she tells them to be focused and enthusiastic about their ideas, but also warns them to learn the pitfalls, and be acutely aware of the challenges. "Starting a company with limited financial resources is fraught with danger, and it will not only slow down your growth, but It will also be incredibly stressful," she says. "Budget for three times your original projections, as everything costs more and takes longer. If all the information you gather still indicates potential and no red flags, then take a deep breath, be brave, and do it."

Kim Thompson, founder and Managing Director of Raw Coffee Company. Source: Raw Coffee Company

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:
Sara Daher, founder of Le Guepard (UAE)
Justine Corrado, founder of Basiligo (UAE)
Aline Kamakian, founder and CEO of FIG Holding (Lebanon)
Laura Kaziukoniene, co-founder and CEO of Super Garden (Lithuania)
Jawaher Aldhafyan, Global - Head Of People Success at Foodics (Saudi Arabia)
Nooran Albannay, CEO of Coffee Architecture (UAE)

The Retailer - Marcela Sancho Montoya, founder of House of Pops (UAE)

On her path to entrepreneurial success, Marcela Sancho Montoya, founder of dessert company House of Pops, has learnt to prioritize building strong relationships with her team members in order to work together towards a common goal. "I value open communication and transparency, and I strive to create a positive and supportive work environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas, feedback, and concerns," she says. In line with this, her advice for other women striving to grow in their businesses or careers is to surround themselves with like-minded individuals who can help them build confidence and resilience. "Through my network, I have been able to stay motivated and focused on my goals, even during the most challenging times," she says. But she also adds, "Believe in yourself, and act on it. Trust your instincts and abilities, and put yourself out there; be stubborn enough to fight for it everyday. Stay focused, persistent, and success will follow."

Marcela Sancho Montoya, founder of House of Pops. Source: House of Pops

The other shortlisted nominees for this award were:
Shibi Kabeer, founder and Chief Mum of Baby Store (UAE)
Kate Kikano, founder of TKD Lingerie (UAE)
Elaf Patel, founder of Sugargram (UAE)
Anisha Oberoi, founder and CEO of Secret Skin (UAE)

The Educator - Masindi Netshakhuma, founder and CEO of Renof Productions (South Africa)

As the founder and CEO of Renof Productions, a project that helps women in South Africa speak up about gender-based violence, Masindi Netshakhuma insists on a dignity-enhancing leadership approach. "I believe in having dignity, and maintaining it well, and that is why I create my own space to reflect and prepare, before I go out to lead other women," she says. "As an entrepreneur, there are lot of potholes we come across in our journey, but the main solution is to keep going. I am not saying that mine is the right way, but I believe a better way to build your confidence in your career is to know what you really want, and follow your heart than other people." In the same vein, her advice for other female entrepreneurs is to simply work hard, and stay focused. "You don't have to do what everyone else is doing to make it in life," Netshakhuma says. "Even if what you are doing doesn't seem to make sense, it's okay. It will make sense one day."

Masindi Netshakhuma, founder and CEO of Renof Productions. Source: Renof Productions

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Marilyn Pinto, founder of KFI GLOBAL (UAE)
Jennifer Obiorah, founder of TeamUpcyclers (Nigeria)
Salma Elloumi, co-founder of Creative Ad School (Tunisia)
Clara Amonia Odu, CEO of Top Learn Horizon (Nigeria)
Farisayi Chitsidzo Muruki, of Heritage Conservation Co-op Zimbabwe Trust (Zimbabwe)
Deena Habib and Ban Jishi, co-founders of Yspot (UAE)
Loide Dawid, founder of K-12 EdTech (Namibia)

The Real Estate Leader - Latifa Bin Haider, founder of Baytuki (UAE)

In leading Baytuki, a platform helping women make micro investments in real estate, Latifa Bin Haider relies on a participative leadership style. "That involves actively engaging with my team members who are experienced, talented, and competent, to glean insights and advice from them," Bin Haider explains. "I then integrate their feedback and recommendations with my vision for the company, culminating in a final decision that I then see through to fruition." To women aspiring to start their own businesses, Haider advises to start by discarding any self-imposed limitations, as these can hinder their true potential. "By removing these barriers, you can unlock your full potential, and achieve great success," she says. "Do not be afraid to make mistakes or experience setbacks, as every experience, whether good or bad, is an opportunity to learn and grow. Be emboldened by each experience, and use it to inform your decisions moving forward." Another piece of Bin Haider's advice includes surrounding oneself with a supportive network. "If such a network does not currently exist, do not despair, as you will attract the right people into your life through your actions and beliefs," she adds. "In the interim, manage and balance your relationships with those who may not share your vision or are unsupportive. Lastly, do not hesitate to seek help or support from mentors and advisors who can provide guidance and insights to support your journey. You will be pleasantly surprised by the number of individuals who are willing to support and guide you."

Latifa Bin Haider, founder of Baytuki. Source: Baytuki

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Skye Nguyen, Head of Global Expansion at Stella Stays (UAE)
Anne Mwai, owner and CEO of Bama Diaspora Ltd (Kenya)

The Health Custodian - Noora AlAskar, founder of My Nutribox (Kuwait)

"I believe balance is key," says Noora AlAskar, founder of My Nutribox, a health and wellness platform that acts as your "virtual pocket nutritionist" personalized to your specific nutritional needs, when asked about how she leads her team. "Anyone who has worked with me will tell you that I have a nurturing, but quite firm and assertive, solution-oriented, no-nonsense leadership style," she continues. "As leaders, we lead by example, and in a small startup, we also set the tone for everything, including the culture that we want to build. It's important to me to build an 'I can' culture of possibility, because that's what I believe in. That's positive, dynamic, energetic, but also structured, organized, and thriving." Her advice for other female entrepreneurs is not to over-think, but to act. "Just go ahead, and do it," AlAskar declares. "You don't have to necessarily take a giant leap at first. You can dip your toe into entrepreneurship with a side hustle, while you are still working a full time job, and see how you like it… There isn't a rule book of how things should be done, see what works best for you. You just need to have faith, grit, a sense of purpose, and a whole bunch of optimism to carry you through."

Noora AlAskar, founder of My Nutribox. Source: My Nutribox

The other shortlisted nominee for this award was:
Justine Corrado, founder of Basiligo (UAE)

The Hotelier - Marloes Knippenberg, CEO of Kerten Hospitality (UAE)

Marloes Knippenberg, CEO of Kerten Hospitality. Source: Kerten Hospitality

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Oana Popa, Learning, Development, and Quality Assurance Manager at The Ritz-Carlton Doha (Qatar)
AIsabel Tapp, founder and CEO of All Details (UAE)

The Techie - Marang Mbaakanyi, founder and CEO of Drones for Africa (Botswana)

In her roles as the founder and CEO of Drones for Africa as well as the Chairperson of Botswana Drones Association, Marang Mbaakanyi wants to demystify technology and make it discoverable and accessible by everyone, and especially by marginalized groups. Her leadership style also follows this theme, as she describes it as very inclusive. "I am open to different opinions, and this has led to better decision-making and a more engaged environment." Mbaakanyi explains. "Being both democratic and transformational has proven to be beneficial, as it ensures that everyone is involved in the decision-making process; they get to express themselves fully without any fear, making it very easy for them to relate with me." In the meantime, when asked for her advice for her fellow female entrepreneurs, Mbaakanyi puts the focus on authenticity. "It is a crucial component of success," she says. "Women should stay true to their values and vision, and they should not be afraid to show their personality and personal style. People are drawn to authenticity, and it can help differentiate one from competitors or colleagues."

Marang Mbaakanyi, founder and CEO of Drones for Africa. Source: Drones for Africa

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Latifa Bin Haider, founder of Baytuki Academy (UAE)
Simona Agolini, founder and CEO of QiDZ (UAE)
Carolina Fong Guzzy, co-founder and Digital Engineering Manager at Accienta (UAE)
Linet Wanjiku Kinyua, co-founder of Pensoft Systems Limited (Kenya)
Arthi Srinivasan, Director of Business Development at Powertech Mobility (UAE)
Farah Zafar, co-founder and CEO of Lyvely (UAE)
Iryna Lorens, co-founder of Weld Money (Ukraine)

The Professional Services Leader - Susy Massetti, founder and CEO, Maria Massetti Consultancy WLL (Bahrain)

Susy Massetti, founder and CEO, Maria Massetti Consultancy WLL, is someone who believes in leading by example. "Walk the talk; show them the way!" she exclaims, when asked about how she leads her team. "Respect is earned, and respect creates followers or loyalty. I make sure that I add 'value' to anyone that I work with. I don't just pay a salary. I want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to grow, to learn, to be their best selves, and to have more opportunities, even if that turns out to be somewhere else. I apply the same rule to myself; this not only builds my confidence, but it also gives me the necessary strength to push through and further, and again, it sets the tone for the team." To other women entrepreneurs, she advises being more vocal. "And I mean it in the sense of making yourself more present, noted, and heard," Massetti explains. "I do believe that the female approach in many cases is too timid, almost silent, and humble, which by all means is a great attitude while learning, but not in delivering! Be assertive, be confident, and be the strong human being that you are!"

Susy Massetti, founder and CEO, Maria Massetti Consultancy WLL. Source: Maria Massetti Consultancy

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Rosheen Ngorima, founder and CEO, Neeps Consulting Services (UAE)
Haifa Addas, founder and CEO, Instaglam (UAE)
Natalia Suditu, Director at Foundation for Innovation and Sustainable Development (Moldova)
Huda AlKhodari, General Manager of Fuel Collection (Saudi Arabia)
Farida Yacine SAWADOGO, Chairwoman of Microfinance Fadima (Burkina Faso)
Amandeep Kaur, Managing Director at V Fix Maintenance & Technical Services (UAE)

The Investor - Roaya Saleh, founder, Villa Mamas Restaurant (Bahrain)

Bahraini restaurateur Roaya Saleh says that her biggest investment -Villa Mamas, a restaurant that serves local cuisine with Mediterranean influences in Bahrain- is a family business, and therefore, she considers leading her business to be no different than leading her family. "My four sons are actively involved with the operations of branches in Bahrain, London, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh, and all of this means that our work culture is family-like," she says. "I have an open-door policy with all my employees, and I encourage them to take ownership of their responsibilities, whilst providing guidance and support. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I am proud that we were one of the first restaurants to shut down for the safety of all our global employees, and no one was made redundant. This is because my employees are like my family!" When asked for her advice for other female entrepreneurs, she replies by saying that they should work on growing their confidence. "Be ambitious and take risks, believe in yourself and your capabilities, don't be afraid to make mistakes, and ask for help," Saleh says. "Always think outside the box, and surround yourself with positive and supportive people who will encourage and motivate you to achieve your goals. Lastly, it's extremely important to to prioritize self-care to avoid burnout, and thereby ensure longevity in your career."

Roaya Saleh, founder, Villa Mamas Restaurant. Source: Villa Mamas Restaurant

The other shortlisted nominee for this award was:
Dr. Maryam Fouladirad, founder, Fundii (UAE)

The Fashion & Beauty Leader - Youmna Khoury, founder of Youmi Beauty (UAE)

Youmna Khoury, founder and CEO of Youmi Beauty, a professional beauty and haircare brand, says that her business is much more than just that. "It empowers women, while also making a positive impact through charitable efforts," Khoury explains. "My own experiences, spending 12 years in an orphanage after my father's passing, fueled my passion for giving back to the less fortunate. That's why I established the Youmi Beauty Charity Foundation in 2017, which directs 25% of all proceeds towards children's orphanages, charities aiding the disabled, and countries in need." This drive to care for others extends to her leadership style as well, with Khoury explaining that she prefers fostering strong relationships with her team, and creating a positive and productive work environment. Her team, Khoury adds, is one of the main pillars of her success, but it is also her innate resilience. "Throughout my career and entrepreneurial journey, I have faced numerous failures, and many people advised me to quit," she says. "However, I refused to give up on my dreams, and something deep inside me kept me going. I worked hard to prove that I was more than just a beauty influencer, as many people believed I could not succeed in the competitive world of business. This experience has taught me to never lose passion for what I love and to trust myself." As such, her advice for other women in business is to find their true passion. "To achieve success and fulfillment, it is also crucial to do what you love, but it should also challenge you," she says. "My advice to women looking to grow their businesses and careers is to not be scared of failure, as failure is inevitable, and it provides valuable learning opportunities."

Youmna Khoury, founder of Youmi Beauty. Source: Youmi Beauty

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Cathie Halim founder of SPActacular (Egypt)
Haifa Addas, founder and CEO, Instaglam (UAE)
Atinuke Smith, CEO of Datina Designs (Nigeria)
Holly Hart, founder and CEO, founder of Neon Star (UAE)

The Media Leader - Sarah Curtis and Zainab Imichi Alhassan Alli, founders of POP Communications (UAE)

The founders of POP Communications, Sarah Curtis and Zainab Imichi Alhassan Alli, say that the strength of their leadership comes from their partnership. "The power of an aligned duo is unstoppable," says Curtis. "There have been many times throughout our business journey when one of us has felt conflicted or defeated, and the other has stepped in and taken over as needed. When there is someone to tell you, 'I've got this' or 'Go home, get some rest,' it makes a difference." When asked for their advice for other women in business, Alli replies, "Whether it's capital gains and incentives, professional freedom, or stepping up the corporate ladder, make sure you enter this growth journey as your most authentic self. Then, some people will tell you networking is key for growth and it is important, but we've found forging a limited number of strong professional relationships triumphs."

Sarah Curtis and Zainab Imichi Alhassan Alli, founders of POP Communications. Source: POP Communications

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Mina Litvinova, founder and Managing Director, AR MORE (UAE)
Ruwaida Abela Northen, founder of JRN Consultancy (UAE)
Hebah Fisher, co-founder and CEO, Kerning Cultures (UAE)
Sandrine ROLAND, Associate CEO at AOS Africa (Côte d'Ivoire)
Stephanie Farah, founder and Managing Director, Empyre Communications (UAE)
Nancy Paton, founder, Desert Rose Films (UAE)
Mary Njoki, founder and CEO, Glass House PR (Kenya)

The Leader in Agriculture - Mona Alami, co-founder of Ecofertil (Morocco)

Mona Alami, co-founder of Ecofertil, a Morocco-based company that redirects agricultural and urban organic waste into a nutrient essential for soil preservation and plants production through composting, used to believe that her leadership style was not "strong" or "authoritarian" enough, leading her to think that prioritizing the needs of others, and involving them in the decision process was a weakness. "However, through experience and self-reflection as well as my commitment to personal growth, I became more self-confident, and strongly connected to my values as a person," Alami continues. "Today, I consider that empowering others is key to achieving their full potential." To other women entrepreneurs, Alami advises them to build their confidence, but to also cultivate a sense of humility. "That is important to be able to embrace a growth mindset, and to continuously learn and improve by taking challenging projects, seeking feedback, learning from failures, looking for opportunities, and surrounding yourself with a strong network of like minded people of peers and mentors that can provide guidance and support," she says. "Stay resilient, stay focused, and keep pursuing your goals with passion and determination."

Mona Alami, co-founder of Ecofertil. Source: Ecofertil

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Lamiaa Salah el Dan el Saied, Chairwoman of the Fifth Generation Foundation (Egypt)
Arafa Hamad Bakari, founder of Kilimo Hai Input Company (Tanzania)

The Executive - Jana Krimpe, founder and CEO of Best Solutions (Azerbaijan)

As the founder and CEO of Best Solutions, a digitalization advisor for state entities in emerging countries around the world, Jana Krimpe believes in a leadership style that is a combination of being assertive, adaptable, and compassionate. "I believe in setting clear expectations, and empowering my team to take ownership of their work," Krimpe says. "Throughout my career, I have built confidence and resilience by embracing challenges, learning from my mistakes, and continuously seeking self-improvement. I surround myself with supportive and like-minded individuals who encourage me to grow, and push beyond my comfort zone. This has allowed me to bounce back from setbacks, and become a stronger leader." Her wish for other women entrepreneurs is thus to believe in their own abilities to be persistent in their effort. Krimpe adds, "Continuously invest in yourself by seeking new knowledge, developing skills, and expanding your network. Don't be afraid to take risks, and learn from your mistakes. Build a strong personal brand, and always prioritize your customers' needs. Remember to remain authentic, ethical, and true to your values. Finally, embrace competition as a source of growth and inspiration, and never stop believing in your potential to succeed."

Jana Krimpe, founder and CEO of Best Solutions. Source: Best Solutions

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Ruwaida Abela Northen, co-founder of JRN Consultancy (UAE)
Simona Agolini, founder and CEO of QiDZ (UAE)
Konul Guliyeva, co-founder and CEO, Safavy (Azerbaijan)
Marina Melad Abdelsayed Ibrahim, General Manager, 3M Metal Industries (Egypt)

The Artist - Anastasia Kopijevski, founder and CEO of Skaya Art Agency (UAE)

To lead her Dubai-based boutique art consultant Skaya Art Agency, Anastasia Kopijevski makes use of participative methods with those around her. "I love to listen to ideas from artists and team members, and to involve them in the decision-making process, since they can then build confidence in their own ideas," she says. According to Kopijevski, being in constant contact with others is what has helped her to connect and deal with people from different walks of life. "This is an important element in the art field, since I am always dealing with art collectors, curators, artists, exhibitors and more," she explains. "Most of the artists I have dealt with are also very emotional, so we have to understand their feelings, and guide them accordingly. Sometimes, we feel like psychologists helping them cope with stressful situations, and other times, we feel like warriors taking risks or even leaders who inspire them." When asked for her advice for other women in the business arena, Kopijevski points toward embracing both positive and negative moments. "Embrace failure, learn constantly, stay focused, and take calculated risks," she says. "Recognize that you can grow with every opportunity, and be ready to adapt to changing times. But also, celebrate your successes, as they are a testament to your vision, and they can help boost your confidence, and motivate your entire team."

Anastasia Kopijevski, founder and CEO of Skaya Art Agency. Source: Skaya Art Agency

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Priya Telavane, founder and Managing Director, 361 Degrees Design Solutions (UAE)
Tshepo Phokoje, Director of Vixen Excursions (Botswana)
Yasmine Dabbous, founder of Espace Fann (Lebanon)
Abigail Abban, founder of the Big Girls Rise Foundation (Ghana)

The Leader of Tomorrow - Dina Mattar, founder and CEO of Dverse (UAE)

Dina Mattar, founder and CEO of Dubai-based Web3 consultancy DVerse, explains that when it comes to leading her team, she tries to connect one's work tasks with their career passions. "I like to give credit where it's due, and I also make sure that each person in our company has the flexibility to work in an area that they like," she says. "My goal is to have everyone love their job, so we like to keep things friendly between us. I am very close to each member of my team, and I love to have a very family-cultured work environment, where everyone feels safe and comfortable to share their concerns, if they have them, and to know that we will always work together on their professional and personal goals." Now, speaking to her fellow female entrepreneurs, Mattar urges them to trust their gut, take initiative, take risks, and step out of their comfort zones. "I have heard a lot about people believing that women are emotional thinkers and act on their emotions; I myself have also been called out on this," Mattar adds. "Now, I know that this doesn't apply to every woman, but I also believe that it's not always a bad thing. I sometimes notice that I make decisions based on emotions, but I like to call it a gut feeling, and then later establish that these decisions resulted in success."

Dina Mattar, founder and CEO of Dverse. Source: Dverse

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Carolina Fong Guzzy, co-founder and Digital Engineering Manager of Accienta (UAE)
Kagiso Madibana, founder of Nayang Association (Botswana)
Nouran Farouk, founder and CEO of Dosy (Egypt)
Cristina Frolov, President of Constantin Mimi Foundation (Moldova)

The Humanitarian - Jennifer Obiorah, founder of TeamUpcyclers (Nigeria)

As the entrepreneur behind a social enterprise that addresses critical environmental and social issues in Nigeria, TeamUpcyclers founder Jennifer Obiorah says that she is always open to new and innovative opinions on how to reduce waste and improve the health and well-being of the local population. "That is why my leadership style is very inclusive," she says. "I believe that everyone has a unique perspective and experience that can contribute to the success of a project, and I strive to create a safe and inclusive space for everyone to share their ideas and opinions. I also prioritize building relationships and trust with community members and stakeholders, which is essential for achieving sustainable development goals." To women looking to grow their own business or within the company they work for, Obiorah tells them to be persistent, take risks, and seek out mentorship and support. "It is essential to be confident in your abilities, and to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve," she adds. "Seek out mentors and support networks to guide you through the challenges and celebrate your successes. It is also crucial to take risks and embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Finally, be persistent, and don't give up on your goals, even in the face of obstacles and setbacks. Success requires resilience, hard work, and dedication, but with the right mindset and support, anything is possible."

Jennifer Obiorah, founder of TeamUpcyclers. Source: TeamUpcyclers

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Assia Riccio, founder of Evolvin' Women (UAE)
Nawal Benzaouia, founder and Executive director of Massiraa (UAE)
Opara Grace, Executive Director of Handmaid Skills Acquisition Initiative (Nigeria)
Theresa Tsui, co-founder of Skills3 Creative Enterprise For Social Impact (UAE)

The Visionary - Karima Anbar, CEO of Intisar Foundation (Kuwait)

When asked about her leadership style, Karima Anbar, CEO of Intisar Foundation, replies by saying that she and her team are simply following in the footsteps of the entity's founder and Chairwoman, H.H. Sheikha Intisar AlSabah. "It is an absolute honour to receive the Visionary Award at the 2023 Women SME Leaders Awards, as the work of H.H. Sheikha Intisar AlSabah is truly visionary," Anbar says. "Not only have we courageously been tackling topics that are still not widely accepted in our Arab regions -mental health, war and violence trauma, and women's empowerment- but we have turned these challenges into milestones." She also believes that growth starts at the end of one's comfort zone. "In my career, I have always accepted new challenges, believing that everything happens for a reason, even if we don't always understand what is happening to us in that particular moment." And to other women in executive roles, Anbar says, "To reach new heights of success, you must surround yourself with people who not only inspire you, but challenge you."

Karima Anbar, CEO of Intisar Foundation. Source: Intisar Foundation

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Jen Blandos, founder of Female Fusion Network (UAE)
Jana Krimpe, founder and CEO of Best Solutions (Azerbaijan)
Sagarika Sahoo, founder and Managing Director of Commerce Connect (UAE)
Khaoula Behi, founder of Future Islands (Tunisia)
Nina Mazourik, co-founder of Sankom (UAE)
Tadala Peggy Chinkwezule, Legal Services Manager at Tipeze Flea Market by Estac Events (Malawi)

The Changemaker - Beatrice Kiniti, founder of Jobenvic Enterprises Limited (Kenya)

Beatrice Kiniti, founder of Jobenvic Enterprises Limited, describes herself as a lady carpenter who leads her team as their coworker. "I am not a boss, I am a leader," she says. "I believe that there is no company that belongs to one person. We need other people in order to achieve our dreams, I have built a relationship above work, though with boundaries. I am approachable yet firm in my decisions." Meanwhile, do what you love is what Kiniti would advise other entrepreneurial women. "Look for something that you love, and do it right from the beginning," Kiniti says. "Seek for advice, do proper research and market surveys. Start with what you have. Let people know what you do. Have a business name that is easily identifiable- I learnt this late. Some businesses will pick up fast, but others might take months or even years to break even. But don't give up, and always have a backup plan." Kiniti also has an interesting piece of advice for women climbing corporate ladders. "Work like that company belongs to you," she says. "Ask questions and clarification when in doubt, because it's important to know that your employer banks on you to represent the company. Do not act otherwise. It's important to know that there are other traits that can make or break a business or company like attitude, dressing, body language etc. Also, I would tell ladies who are employed, if it comes to leaving, or resigning, don't break bridges. Your past employers can act as a reference."

Beatrice Kiniti, founder of Jobenvic Enterprises Limited. Source: Jobenvic Enterprises Limited

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Jen Blandos, founder of Female Fusion Network (UAE)
Assia Riccio, founder of Evolvin' Women (UAE)
Jennifer Obiorah, founder of TeamUpcyclers (Nigeria)
Emma Barber, Director of Dgrade (UAE)
Nazila Hashimzade, Advisor to the Chairman at DOST Agency (Azerbaijan)
Olga Timontieieva, founder of Salutis Publishing House (Ukraine)

The Home-Based Business of the Year - Wada Kealotswe, founder and Director of Aiko Creations t/a Eco Zera (Botswana)

When it comes to building self-confidence, Wada Kealotswe, founder and Director of Aiko Creations t/a Eco Zera, an eco-friendly pencil manufacturer from Botswana, prefers to learn from others who have done the same thing before her. "I enjoy learning and receiving guidance from my business mentor, learning from programs that give me practical experience in running a business, and from being open to risks and not fearing failure," she says. Similarly, it is by giving guidance she chooses to lead her team as well. "As a leader in my community and business, I believe in nurturing people I lead," she says. "I make sure all ideas and thoughts are taken into consideration. In most cases, I allow the people I lead to work independently to grow and learn with less supervision." To other female entrepreneurs, Kealotswe has one piece of advice: do not procrastinate. She adds, "Plan through, and take calculated risks- be bold as a lion, and fear nothing. It is better to try and fail than not to take action at all. After all, there will be a great lesson from the experience for better results. The founder of KFC Colonel Harland Sanders tried 1,009 times and failed, but at 80 years old, he became a millionaire."

Wada Kealotswe, founder and Director of Aiko Creations t/a Eco Zera. Source: Aiko Creations t/a Eco Zera

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Nazila Heydarova, founder of Reluxe Collection (Azerbaijan)
Yetunde Taiwo Adekunle, CEO of Ytfoods (Nigeria)

Mompreneur of the Year - Shilpa Mahtani, founder and COO of BNB Holiday Homes (UAE)

Shilpa Mahtani, founder and COO of vacation rental agency BNB Holiday Homes, says that she leads both herself and her team with a basis on faith. "The COVID-19 pandemic was a time that put us all to the test," she recalls. "Losing loved ones, dealing with kids' emotional states, and keeping a business afloat made me realize that having faith is the single most important thing. It is that faith that has given me the strength along my entrepreneurial journey." When asked for her advice for other female entrepreneurs, Mahtani states a popular aphorism: "Don't love your job, job what you love." She explains, "This is the basis on which I have built the business, and helped it grow year on year. When one is passionate about what they do, it no longer qualifies as work. So, my one piece of advice to all women out there would be to chase their passion, and careers will follow. We are today in a society that molds us into making decisions based on certain career aspirations, but if we changed our mindset in a way that decisions are made based on what we love doing, that would lead to inevitable success."

Shilpa Mahtani, founder and COO of BNB Holiday Homes. Source: BNB Holiday Homes

The other shortlisted nominees for the award were:
Amandeep Kaur, Managing Director of V Fix Maintenance & Technical Services (UAE)
Christine Khasinah, founder and Head of Brand, Supamamas (Kenya)
Basma Chaieri, founder of Etika Jewels (UAE)

Related: The Recap: Women SME Leaders Awards 2022

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