Women Empowerment in Oman (Source-Thursday Magazine of The Times of Oman, dated 23rd October 2014)

Thursday

Omani women redefining success

Fawzia Abdulaziz. Photo – O K Mohammed Ali/Times of Oman
Click on Image for Slideshow
‘It’s a man’s world…who ever coined that phrase?’ say women in Oman who have got into the economic mainstream and have been contributing significantly, not only towards the financial wellbeing of their own families but also to the country’s steady economy. From small scale enterprises, run all by themselves, to top corporate positions in banks, multinational companies, women have been marching ahead with great enthusiasm to fulfil the country’s vision 2020 goals in real earnestness.

Numerous self employed women have taken up the mantle of being breadwinners while some have been working shoulder to shoulder with their husbands in setting up and running businesses that some years ago didn’t exist in Oman. A whole breed of young girls have taken to fashion designing, handicrafts as well as making cakes/pastries/chocolates that reflect, not just their own personalities but also represent the industrious and enterprising character of women in Oman. Thursday Magazine profiles a few young businesswomen from the wide spectrum of young women who have set ambitious goals for themselves as well as have been a sure source of inspiration for budding women entrepreneurs.

Fawzia Abdulaziz
Projects Planning Lead- Infrastructure, Shell Oman

An efficient manager at Shell Oman, Fawzia AbdulAziz, who took up the challenge of being in a leading position in a traditional male-dominated profession, says “I have just ended my regional role and am waiting to get one more assignment soon. My journey with Shell was and is still very interesting. It’s been almost 10 years now and I had asked to handle six different roles! The seventh is yet to come.  I still can’t call it a leading role as I am looking for a bigger one. However, in general, a regional role is something that everyone is hungry and targeting for since an individual gets huge exposure and different kind of experience in the region.”

She asserts that in every role she had different type of challenges, whether it concerned improving interpersonal skills, people management or stakeholder management. She had to work extremely hard to prove to the management that she was fit for any role in the organisation. Long working hours, people development, achieving business targets and most of the times crossing stretched targets was something she cannot forget. “But the best ‘Wow moment’ was while receiving a number of recognitions after every achievement,” admits Fawzia.

About the hurdles she faced in working her way to the top, Fawzia says, “starting with personal hurdles, it was quite difficult for me to manage work with the responsibilities as a single mother.  But, I believe, nothing is impossible in life; if you are determined and committed then nothing can stop you.  I had a vision which was planned and that’s it, the rest was to act on my mission.  I had to sacrifice my personal time to steer my team and colleagues to very challenging targets.”

Being a woman and working in core operations in a men’s domain, leading an entire blending section of production teams and displaying leadership was a huge challenge for Fawzia. The plan was to grow lubricant volumes and she had to achieve those targets with her team, spending long hours to introduce a work culture of delivering against performance and, many a times, exceeding the promise. “I must say, my parents played a major role in my success, and along with my own strengths that I have been gifted by God, I have achieved a lot in my career,” she humbly admits.

As regards planning each day, Fawzia stresses that everything starts with planning and prioritising. “It is very important to plan things to do on a daily basis and prioritise tasks one day in advance, normally actions require certain frequency (daily, weekly, monthly and annually) and I manage my time based on segregating important vs urgent tasks. All my tasks and actions are in my planner and this is the way I run my personal and professional life.”

As suggestions for budding entrepreneurs and businesswomen, Fawzia believes that the best professions are the one which require second shift duties for a woman, especially those who are married and focus on raising a new generation. Technical roles and jobs in the private sector may also seem unpromising for Omani women due to long working hours, she asserts adding “Not everyone can set up an independent business. In fact, setting up a business is again very challenging for Omani women entrepreneurs. However, it can be one of the options for those who can afford to start their own business. Another option is starting something from home using one’s own talents.”

In the end, education is certainly an important factor for those who want to grow in life. “But to end up with icing on the cake and achieve the impossible, it requires hard work, determination, certain work ethics, passion, being a true leader and, above all, faith to become super successful … this what grooming is all about in my view,” says Fawzia.

Anisa Moosa Al Zadjali
International fashion designer

Having set foot on a challenging journey nine years ago, Anisa Al Zadjali, a popular Omani  fashion designer and proprietor of ‘Dar Al Uons’ boutique, believes that she is yet midway on the path to achieving her dreams. Being interested in dressing up and admiring herself as a child, Anisa has been gifted with a natural talent for fashion designing. And she followed that dream steadfastly over the years.

“I always loved colours, fabrics and fashionable clothes. As a teenager, I began taking interest in selecting my own clothes whenever we went to a market or mall. And being the eldest daughter in my family, I also extended that interest as a responsibility for selecting garments for my sisters and mother, too. Soon, my family took note of my good taste and began relying on me for all such purchases,” says Anisa who admits that she naturally took to designing garments by initially altering the garments she bought to suit her own style. Eventually, she began buying fabrics and designing her own outfits in the way she wanted them.

Starting out with a small business, in a small shop in Zakher Mall in 2007, Anisa used to get her garments fashioned by herself but stitched by tailors outside. Slowly, she was able to get the services of full-time tailors to work with her and now she has eight employees, each skilled in different aspects of garments like embroidery, stitching, embellishing, etc. She gets all her material from within Oman and from Dubai on a regular basis and prepares clothes that reflect Omani traditions and styles, in keeping with the prevalent popular trends in the region.

“What started out as a hobby is now my full-time profession and I want to propagate the culture of Oman to the whole world through my garments. I have participated in fashion shows and events  in Germany (Berlin), UK (Manchester, Leeds), Libya (Tripoli), Russia (twice in Moscow), Belarus (Minsk), Australia (Melbourne), Japan (Tokyo), China (Beijing, Shanghai), Korea (Seoul), Bahrain (Manama),  India (Delhi), USA (Ohio), Ireland (Dublin) and UAE,” says Anisa who recently took part in the Dubai Fashion Week, showcasing her garments among a host of leading labels, at the Dubai Mall between September 26-28.

Anisa admits that she faces many challenges on a day-to-day basis, including the rising costs of labour, rents for her premise at Al Khuwair as well as marketing costs.  She also discloses that initially it was very difficult for her to start out as a lady businesswoman but it was her father who had complete trust and faith in her abilities and gave her all the support to what she had her heart in. After seeing her fame spread internationally, he is very proud of her achievements and wants her to fulfil her ambitions.

As for tips to budding entrepreneurs, Anisa says, “no matter what product you have, whether clothes or handicrafts, marketing your goods in the right manner is most important.  You might have the best of products but without correct marketing no one will know about it. So, marketing your products in the best possible manner is very important to remind your customers about your existence in the market.”

Salma Al Hajri and Aisha Al Hajri
Joint proprietors of Salma’s Chocolates

Recently unleashing a sweet sensation all over Muscat, Salma’s Chocolates, a local brand of chocolates, brought in an element of unique sweetness to the celebration of Eid when this brand was made available across seven branches of the Al Fair chain besides at the flagship store at the Bank Muscat headquarters. The joint proprietors of this brand, Salma Al Hajri and Aisha Al Hajri, however, admit that a lot of hard work goes into each and every order, especially during Eid and other celebrations when the demand spurts up suddenly.

The two young businesswomen, Salma and her aunt Aisha, say they have been in a closed-knit family and very close to each other for years, which is why they thought of doing this business together. It was Aisha, the creative director of the company, who suggested the name – Salma’s Chocolates – purely to give the brand a local identity. Having decided to set up a business in chocolates, both ladies admit that they had to start from scratch but with good support from their family members. They researched the subject on the Internet as well as visited many chocolatiers in different countries to study how chocolates are made before themselves taking up professional lessons in this skill.

Aisha says, “we visited chocolate shops in Italy, The Netherlands, London, Lebanon, to see how it is professionally prepared” while Salma adds, “though we started out in a small way in 2009, we launched ourselves as a brand only in 2012. Now, that our chocolates have become popular in Oman, we have big plans of exporting it to other countries in the region as well as beyond.” Both chorus that they started out with absolutely nothing but built up resources for this business by effecting small sales locally.

Aisha further elaborated that having travelled to different countries to study the chocolate making and packaging procedures, they try to maintain the high international standards while introducing local flavours that make the product indigenous. While the chocolate is procured from Belgium, it is melted and mixed with a host of local ingredients including honey, halwa, frankincence (Luban), Thyme (Zatar), etc., to create a variety of Omani flavours. Salma adds that there are stories attached to every flavour of chocolates created by them, which indicate the hardwork and challenges faced by the people who procure and supply them with wild zatar, honey, etc., on a regular basis. “We know how much effort goes into procuring these ingredients which have to be not only the best but also reflect the culture of Oman in the form of unique flavours,” she says.

While Salma handles all the operations, Aisha is in charge of the marketing but they both burn the midnight oil together whenever huge orders have to be delivered. Though Salma’s chocolates are regularly supplied to some esteemed hotels in Oman for guests as well as to a host of corporate clients, occasionally huge orders crop in, one of them being an order for 700kg (70,000 pieces) some time back. For such tasks family members, besides regular employees chip in to ensure that orders are delivered on time, they admit.

Both, Salma and Aisha, coordinate very well in smoothly handling the business but, they admit, there are times when they face conflicts like difference in opinions but they never let it take on a divisive shape, rather they weigh the pros and cons together and take up the most appropriate solution. Salma asserts, “We function like sisters and for us, our relationship is most important. We do not let business conflicts interfere with our business.”

The duo also admit that whenever they go shopping, most certainly they get drawn to the counters which display chocolates, whether in Oman or any country abroad. However, while Salma tries to compare quality and display of chocolates with their own, Aisha gets interested in the marketing strategies used to promote the brand on display. And, together they come back with balanced feedback that can be used to better their own brand, they admit.

Hanadi Al Zadjali and Hazar Al Zadjali
Joint proprietors, Boutique Muscat
The pioneers of a multi brand boutique in Muscat, Hanadi Al Zadjali and Hazar Al Zadjali, two spirited, young, Omani fashion designers, who studied and lived abroad for a few years, realised that there was a gap in the Oman market that could be perfectly filled by upcoming boutique owners as the only available shopping options were the generic international brands.

Making the most of this opportunity, both launched themselves into the fashion scene in Oman to bring latest trends in garments to the Sultanate.

Hazar admits that her mother has been a great inspiration for her as she designed her own outfits as well as those for her daughters. “That’s actually what most Omani women did,” she asserts adding that she actually studied psychology, but after launching Boutique Muscat, she chose to take up a few courses in Fashion Designing to widen her own knowledge about the business there were in.

About initial hurdles, Hanadi says “Our main, constant problem is staffing due to certain rules set by the ministry. However, the launch of Oman’s SME association has given us the chance to be heard and we look forward to their support in guiding and helping SME’s.” They also source their materials locally to create their very own traditional, wearable collections while also retailing popular international brands. “Our concept has not changed much, we still offer a variety of 30 upcoming regional brands and established international brands,” she adds.

Hazar and Hanadi together have a piece of advice for upcoming Omani businesswomen that boils down to commitment. They say, “Our advise for young girls interested in starting a business, is to definitely research the market and try to find an entrepreneur or a business mentor from the same field to get a head up on what to expect and what to keep in mind. But the bottom line is that starting up an SME requires commitment, as it is a long draining process for years before you can see the rewards. So, if you are not passionate about the project, it will be difficult to see it through.”

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About manishankarscribbles

A management trainer, consultant and faculty with experiences in South Asia, Middle East and Australasia. I am also present in www.manishankarthetrainer.blogspot.com and www.twitter.com/manitwitts apart from https://manishankarscribbles.wordpress.com .
This entry was posted in Thursday Magazine of The Times of Oman, Women empowerment and entrepreneurship in Oman and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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