Hia Magazine interviewed WOMENA Co-Founder Elissa Freiha. The text below is translated from the original Arabic article.
The young businesswoman, Elissa Bassam Freiha, believes that the 100-mile voyage starts with a step. She has launched WOMENA, an angel investment group and women’s empowerment network with her American partner, Chantalle.
Elissa grew up in Paris, studying there as well as studying abroad in Madrid. She specialized in International Communications, Political Communications, and Marketing. She graduated with honors from the American University in Paris with a degree in PR and Marketing. She considers herself blessed with her family, especially since she has the full support and encouragement of her father, the well-known businessman and media icon.
Hia: Why did you choose to study PR & Marketing?
Elissa: I was confident that I would, one day, own my own business, therefore I knew that the most important skills to aid in reaching this goal would be reached through education, research and development. I started learning the role of the basic principles of marketing in creating job opportunities, and how to sell and market innovation/new ideas in order to convince clients. For that reason, I started to learn the principles of international communication and political communication between peoples, and their integration with PR and Marketing.
Ever since the beginning, I had known that I wanted to pursue an academic discipline, however I did not know at the time which discipline I would choose. I frequently traveled to different parts of the world, especially the United States, Spain, the UK, France, and all of the Arab and Gulf countries because I believe that the Arab woman is in need of a strong cultural and educational basis.
Hia: What is your opinion on modern investing and the role of women in these projects?
Elissa; With regards to financial development and investment, I believe that we need to pay more attention to the education, development and promotion of women to manage projects. In my opinion, I believe that women’s investing is weak within the field of senior businesses. The UAE Government has worked to support and encourage women, and this support has contributed significantly to the establishment of many companies and businesses. It has also efficiently and effectively stimulated female business owners to break into the business field.
How would you describe your relationship with your family in general and especially your father?
I consider myself blessed with my relationship with all of my family whom encourage and support me. They played a large role in identifying my priorities and choosing the positive track that suits me and satisfies my ambition through positive interaction. They encouraged my independence leading to my personal development and subsequent success through the promotion of self-reliance and responsibility. Due to his belief in the role women play and their contribution in the economic development that would affect generations to come, my father supports the work of women and the improvement of their life. He encourages my sisters and I to experiment because we were born in a time when women’s empowerment is strong in all fields.
My father is my role model when it comes to patience and diligence in order to achieve the best in all aspects of life. He went through a lot to support me in my life, both academic and career-wise. I consider him to be my first education and my inspiration to be creative. His advice is like a light that illuminates my path, wherever I go. In addition to that my aunt, Elham Freiha gave me, through her work as the General Manager at Dar Assayad, as well as being a political columnist at Al Anwar, the incentive to persevere, to continue working and to look for more, and to aim for constant growth and development.
What does your company’s business rely on?
We rely on the development of strategic plans that aim to enhance women’s participation in the labor market, and encourage women to invest, manage, and help businesses succeed. We also want to elevate the family and society and help manage their existing financial resources, make sound business decisions and develop their skills. The role of women is indispensible when it comes to competitive markets. Therefore we work to support women overcome obstacles that they face and attempt to find suitable solutions to overcome them. There are many women in the Middle East that posses the financial means but invest through a father, husband or brother. We are here to advise women to keep their agency and control, to express their ideas and opinions, to overcome their fear or hesitation. This makes the investment process about more than just money. It’s also about expertise, ideas and the investment of time and energy.
How would you describe your beginning, with your partner, when launching “WOMENA” for Investing?
I’ve worked in many fields, one of which was at UNESCO, and at the moment I work with my American partner, Chantalle. Chantalle oversees the logistics and strategies when it comes to investments since she has experience working in Zurich and New York in finance. She graduated in Economics from Columbia and is fluent in both French and English. With her, we can therefore reach a wider client base of ambitious women. Our real moment of clarity came when we were on summer vacation with the family and brainstormed ways to take part in the empowerment of women while also launching our own business. I was already planning to move back to the UAE in order to be closer to my father and sister. We decided to launch WOMENA for investing and women’s empowerment, especially women who do not have enough time to dedicate their whole weeks to investment. We aim to maintain excellent relationships with all our clients and I wake up every morning excited to attract investment in SMEs and startups in the region.
What has travelling and moving from one place to another added to you, as a person?
I grew up with three different cultural backgrounds (Arab, European and American). I was born in in Paris, lived there but travelled all over the world. My family supported this to encourage my self-reliance, independence, and perseverance and, consequently, I learned a lot. I realized that there is no one-way to think about anything and every country has its own way. I learned to be open-minded and that first impressions are not important. Travelling teaches a person a lot about different people and cultures, adding to one’s own personal and professional growth. I want to meet with every member of WOMENA so I can get to know the smallest details in order to develop the most suitable strategy for them individually.
What is you favorite hobby? Why? And how do you maintain it?
I love movement, and I love to learn new things. For example, I enjoy learning about different cuisines in different cultures. I also love watching movies, as well as painting wooden furniture as well as the occasional wall. I also have a passion for putting things together, furniture, for example. This has given me the patience and ability to organize, try out, and find solutions for everything, not just furniture. Most of my hobbies I enjoy at home, changing the places of furniture, painting them, or occasionally taking them apart and putting them back together again. I also enjoy rock climbing and hiking.
What are your personal ambitions and dreams for the future?
I would like to see WOMENA up and running, independently, and expanding into countries all over the world. I would also like to keep working on empowering women in investment to reach a point where women are equal to their male counterparts. I want to push women to be independent on their path to achieving their own ambitions in life, in addition to working on increasing awareness and education when it comes to women’s issues.