One of the UAE's youngest and brightest businesswomen, Iba Masood, has received a very special 23rd birthday present from Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi. Earlier this month, the Minister of Foreign Trade was in Deauville, France, to recognise the region's most promising entrepreneurs at the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards (CWIA), a programme she has supported for six years. We travelled to France to catch up with Sheikha Lubna and Masood.
Your Excellency, how did you become involved with this initiative?
Basically it's a two-sided story. The CWIA fulfils my interests, which means getting out there, supporting women and partnering with a well-trusted, universal brand. I'm honoured to serve Cartier by being part of this entity - knowing the initiative to have a guaranteed success path.
Sitting on the judging panel, what were you looking for in the Mena region winner?
The varied backgrounds of the three [nominees] was remarkable. What they were doing was not limited to just benefiting their close communities - they had far-reaching effects. They are entrepreneurs but they are brave as well. For me, there's a lot to learn from them.
What surprised you most about the candidates?
I think there is sometimes an incorrect perception about Middle Eastern girls. Two of this year's projects were technology and engineering related, underscoring that the region's women are very strong in science - which other people may be surprised to learn.
Is there a large untapped pool of female entrepreneurs in the UAE/Middle East?
Well, firstly, we were very happy that one of the finalists came from the UAE - that in itself was an achievement for us. And yes, the team, the jury and I have been looking at how to expand the pool - there are a lot of brilliant young women in the UAE.
In the UAE, a few years ago, initiatives were launched throughout the emirates for small and medium-sized enterprises. From organisations such as the Khalifa Fund to the Mohammed bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development etc, their job has really been to support the rising pool of young entrepreneurs. The Emirates is very conducive to entrepreneurship. The UAE, in my opinion, is a very special place for young people who have great dreams - as they are easily translated into reality.
Are there certain sectors within which you would like to see more women?
I want to say, maybe engineering. However, I recently attended a presentation of the Strata programme in Al Ain and the aerospace engineers were predominantly women. I just sometimes see women focus more on jewellery, fashion design and cupcakes.
What would be your advice to ladies in the UAE who are considering launching a business?
You must set your path and move forward. When I started my career as a computer engineer in 1981, men didn't even exist in that field in the UAE - I was practically the first engineer.
I didn't look at the situation negatively - it wasn't about women's rights or equality. Instead, I focused on truly "delivering something" within the field. That way you become trusted and genderless.
Secondly, sometimes it comes down to a woman's confidence and belief in herself. Women are the first to doubt themselves. See mistakes as a lesson. I've learnt more from my failures than I have from my successes and it hasn't been an easy path, but I certainly don't dwell on things.
This new generation is different and I don't believe they have the same self-doubt.
• For full coverage of the awards or to apply to be considered for the award, visit www.cartierwomensinitiative.com
Iba Massood: a young entrepreneur????
Iba Masood was born in the UAE in 1989 and founded Gradberry.com in September 2011. "My co-founder and I came together last year with just US$200 [Dh735] in hand. We realised there was virtually no information on the internet for graduates in the Gulf region and so I quit my job and we created a site ourselves, from the design to the coding - every aspect. "We've recently finalised knowledge partnerships with all the universities in Dubai Academic City and Knowledge Village. More than 200 employers now use the site, including multinationals such as IBM and Google, in addition to SMEs. It's incredible to think that because I quit my job, 85 people in the UAE have secured theirs. "Entrepreneurship can be a very lonely. Even though we've got hundreds of thousands of students using Gradberry, there are times I feel alone. I'm a very young entrepreneur and there aren't many young entrepreneurs in the UAE. The average age is 35 because start-up costs are so high. "I'm incredibly proud to represent the country and be the first finalist and laureate from the Emirates."
Investing time and money in women and business???
The Cartier Women's Initiative Awards seeks to identify and support women entrepreneurs through funding and coaching. Three shortlisted candidates from each of six regions (Mena, Latin America, North America, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia-Pacific) receive coaching from industry experts to improve their business plans. In October of each year, these finalists travel to France to submit their detailed company model and present their projects to a jury composed of 30 high-profile individuals: entrepreneurs, academics and chief executives. One laureate is selected from each of the regions and receives US$20,000 (Dh73,460) in funding plus a year's coaching, networking opportunities and media exposure. Since 2006, 75 business owners have been mentored and 20 laureates recognised. This year's finalists from the Mena region were: Iba Masood (UAE), whose Gradberry.com connects students and graduates to internships and job opportunities, Rania Seddik of Egypt, for "GebRaa for Egyptian Treasures", which markets fair-trade handicrafts, and Nermin Saad of Jordan, who promotes opportunities for female engineers with Handasiyat.net.