In January, Elissa was interviewed for Arabian Business and spoke about the role of women in entrepreneurship and the barriers they face. Below is a translation of the article and the original Arabic can be seen on our press page.
Women play the most important role in entrepreneurship
Elissa Freiha believes that the journey of one thousand miles starts with a step. She also believes that the real secret behind success is trust, optimism, perseverance and personality. So, she took the lead and founded WOMENA, an angel group, with her American partner Chantalle. She wants to create a bridge between women who are working in investment and women business leaders. Elissa grew up in Paris and studied there in addition to studying in Madrid, Spain. She concentrated on international communications, political communications and marketing.
Arabian Business met Elissa Freiha and interviewed her about her personality, her business and her support of women, in particular Emirati women.
Her father’s daughter
Elissa Freiha considers herself very lucky due to her family. She has the full support of her father Mr. Bassam Freiha, the CEO of Dar Assayad since 1943, the veteran diplomat and the philanthropist through The Said and Hassiba Freiha & Sons Foundation. She says that she is her father’s daughter when it comes to diplomacy, success and creativity in life and business.
The conversation with Elissa seemed to be transparent and disclosed her tactful, courteous, good and honest personality. She reinforced an important point: she’s always seeking to discover new things otherwise she feels bored. She likes being practical and is full of enthusiasm about converting ideas to tangible reality. The following is the interview text with Elissa Freiha.
How do you see the UAE government’s support of working women and in particular businesswomen?
I can say that supporting and encouraging women to work in the UAE is an awesome and great thing. It has a clear effect, promotes business and makes business more successful. Women have been key to the government’s strategy of development and distinction because of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, God Bless Him, as well as the president, His Royal Highness Sheikh Khalifa Zayed Al-Nahyan and the mother of the UAE, Her Royal Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak. The UAE is the first Arab country where women have reached the highest positions. Actually, this extensive support has been a great contribution to founding many companies and businesses.
She added that Her Royal Highness Sheikha Fatima exerted great efforts to position women as full partners in building the UAE, the society and the country’s renaissance. This started through her efforts to persuade men and every sheikh of the tribes of the importance of women’s education, leading a great campaign for literacy, securing women’s enrollment at all levels of education, science and knowledge.
Elissa Freiha also believes the initiatives and generosity of Her Royal Highness Sheikha Salama Bint Hamdan the wife of His Royal Highness Sheikh Muhammad Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince and the Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, have had a great impact on what women in the UAE can do now and the development in their lives.
Why did you choose to study public relations and marketing over other academic possibilities?
I was sure that I would found my own company one day. I knew that to achieve this goal I had to learn, research and develop. I started learning the principles of marketing and persuasion, their role in creating job opportunities and how to sell new ideas and marketing it to persuade customers to buy your product. I started by studying the principles of international communication, political communication and combining this with marketing and public relations until I reached a point where I could achieve my goals. From the beginning, I was thinking of my future but I did not know which academic specialization I was going to choose at the start. I have always travelled to many different countries, specifically the USA, Spain, Britain, France and all the Arab and Golf countries. I believe Arab women can’t prove herself without culture and education.
What are the fundamentals you based your company on to serve and assist women?
Our work mainly concentrates on creating strategic plans to enhance the participation of women in the labour market and on encouraging them to capitalize, manage and drive businesses to success. We also assist women in controlling their financial resources, taking the right business decisions and developing their financial skills.
The role of women will remain indispensable in the private sector and entrepreneurship. So, we are working to support women overcome whatever difficulties they may face in her professional development. In our region, there are a large number of women who have substantial financial resources. However, they invest it through their father, husband or brother, that is to say, the support of men. What I want to say here is that it’s essential to keep control of your own finances by expressing your own ideas. With this approach, the investing process is not only about money but also investing the potential energy and ideas of women.
What is your advice to woman who wants to get into business and entrepreneurship world?
My advice is dependent on their preferred approach to business and investing. I would also advise them to get specialized training and education in the UAE and the Middle East. There are plenty of such programs. Woman in the UAE have received a tremendous cultural boost, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and the UAE government has impressed the world with its support in all areas of women. Women have opened doors in all fields and can hold any decision-making position.
What are your perceptions of modern investment and the work of women in managing substantial projects?
In terms of financial growth and investment, I think we need to care more about education and development and to encourage women to manage more projects than now. In my opinion, I think large businesses are not investing enough resources in women. The UAE government has done a great job at supporting and encouraging women and, for this reason, it is crucial for women to take initiative and explore investment opportunities and managing large projects.
Can you describe the beginnings of WOMENA with your business partner?
I worked in many sectors, UNESCO being one of them. Currently, I work with my business partner, Chantalle, who supervises all logistics and creates investment strategies. She already has good experience and worked in Zurich and New York at investment frms. She holds a Bachelors degree in Economics from Colombia University. She speaks English and French fluently and this helps us reach more women.
And what was the moment you realised the potential of WOMENA?
We realised the potential to start and found our own company when Chantalle and I were on a summer vacation with my family. We had been thinking of a way to contribute to supporting women’s projects and launching our own business, as the government has many programs to assist businesswomen and female leaders with their own projects. At the time, I was already planning to return to the UAE and be near my father and sister. This is why WOMENA was founded and we wanted to support women who did not have the time to be angel investors. There are many different fields we invest in, such as healthcare, aviation and many others. Our relationships with our clients are very important so when I wake up every day, I am more enthusiastic that the day before to attract further investments.
How do you describe your relationship with your family in general and your father in particular?
I consider myself very fortunate to be part of this family because of the relationship with all my family members who gave me a strong and righteous upbringing. This has helped me in determining my priorities and choosing the course that best suits me and fulfills my ambitions with confidence, rationally and emotion, as well as making me self-reliant and giving me a sense of responsibility. My father is a big supporter of women working, contributing to economic development for future generations and building nations. He encourages me, my brother and my sister and further empowers us to improve ourselves in all fields and activities.
My father is my role model and he is very patient and diligent. He has been instrumental in my educational and business development. He is my main source of inspiration and his advice is very precious to me. My aunt, Mrs. Elham Freiha, through her work as General Manager at Dar Assayad and her political column in the Al Anwar newspaper, stimulates and pushes me to do better and preserve in business and develop continuously.
What are your favorite hobbies? How do you practice it?
By nature, I love moving and learning new things. For example, I like to try other cultures’ food. I also enjoy watching movies as well as painting wooden furniture and sometimes the walls of my home. It gives me energy and forces me to find solutions for different problems. I do my hobbies at home, where I can change the place of objects, like furniture, and sometimes disassemble and reassemble them using new pieces. I just enjoy reassembling them with high precision. I like as well rock climbing and hiking outdoors away from closed rooms.
What are your future personal ambitions?
I’d like to see our company, WOMENA, be self-sufficient and expand to various countries around the world. I would also like to work to support amibitious women capable of working alongside their male counterparts in finance and investment and push them further and develop their strengths. Likewise, I look forward to increasing awareness and promoting women’s initiatives while providing various services in the areas of investment, finance and business. I feel women have the chance to take responsibility in investing and finance and go far.