Elections to choose new board members for the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) will take place soon. This year two women - Sarah al-Ayed and Rania Salama - are running for seats and they are reaching out to the community to garner support.
Illustrious and intelligent Saudi women have overcome many challenges in the past decade to pave the way for young newcomers.
The climate in the kingdom has definitely changed and the society is more accepting of women holding public office.
None laid out the red carpet for these women, change only occurred due to their hard work, solid education, and willingness to swim against the tide.
Dr. Lama al-Sulaiman was the first woman to occupy the position of deputy chairperson of the JCCI.
She has a long history of philanthropic work, heading charitable organizations in the kingdom before venturing into the field of business.
Sulaiman has been the director of Rolaco Trading and Contracting, the National Institute of Health Services, and the National Home Health Care Foundation. She wanted to pursue board membership at the JCCI in order to play a role in the economic and social development of her country.
Comprising 65 different committees, the JCCI has a direct influence on the economic development of the country and she believed that joining the JCCI would empower her to become an agent of positive change.
During her work she was involved in promoting entrepreneurship among young women, human resources development, training Saudi women to increase their work readiness, and also in the car rental industry.
After serving as a board member for two consecutive terms, Sulaiman recently announced that she will be stepping down and has no plans to run again for this year’s elections. Instead, she will be endorsing and supporting the new female faces she hopes to see on the JCCI board.
“I have been in this seat for 8 years and it should not be a life-long tenure; I can no longer generate new and innovative ideas. I believe it is time to usher in younger leaders who have new, fresh ideas and more energy and vigor to tackle the challenges that lie ahead,” said Sulaiman at an exclusive meeting with the press and other members of Jeddah society.
“I support Rania Salama and Sarah al-Ayed and I am confident in their competency and expertise. I encourage all businessmen and businesswomen to vote for these entrepreneurs. Listing complaints and the inadequacies of the JCCI accomplishes nothing in fixing the problems, nor does alienating oneself from the JCCI. To find solutions to the problems that small and medium businesses face in Jeddah, go in and vote for these women who will bring about some of the changes we all wish to see,” added Sulaiman.
As for her career, Ayed is a proficient businesswoman, but she is a nostalgic dreamer by heart.
“Our forefathers envisioned Jeddah as the center for business on the Arabian Peninsula, the home where small and medium enterprises flourished. I wish to bring this vision back to life again in Jeddah. In thriving economies around the world, small and medium businesses make up 75 percent of the increase in economic development. The role of the JCCI should be to facilitate the processes of establishing and sustaining a successful business enterprise. It should support innovative and creative ideas, encourage the public sector to offer incentives for entrepreneurs, and bridge the gap between the medium enterprises and the large conglomerates,” said Ayed.
This is a woman who knows her business ABC’s. Ayed is the co-founder and managing director of Trans-Arabian Creative Communications (TRACCS), pioneering the communication and public relations industry in Saudi Arabia.
In January 2008, Ayed was elected to be the vice-president of the Gulf chapter of the International Public Relations Association and she still holds this position. She has led a number of CSR initiatives for the benefit of charity and welfare organizations in Jeddah.
She does not view Salama as a competitor, rather as a friend, sister, and partner of change because there are enough seats on the JCCI board to go around for both women.
Salama is well known as the founder and CEO of Arabiyat Intl, an IT and web-development services company.
She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of the first Arabic on-line magazine, Arabiyat.com, which focuses on innovative, high profile makers of change in the Arab world, especially women.
She currently heads the Jeddah Young Businesswomen Committee at the JCCI and aspires to become a board member of the JCCI.
If elected, one of the first things she plans to do is to increase the society’s awareness of the roles of the JCCI.
“Most people do not even know what the functions of the JCCI are, and how it can help and serve them to start up their businesses. Anyone who holds a commercial registration in Jeddah is eligible to have a say in electing the JCCI board, which adds up to 46,000 potential voters. Of this large body, only 4,000 came out to vote in the last elections; that is only 10%. This is upsetting. If you own a business, need support, want to improve your business, and want your voice to be heard, then you should vote,” said Salama.
Businesswomen face more obstacles than men, and having women as board members in the JCCI will give budding entrepreneurs the support they need to open and maintain businesses that will add value to the local economy.
Salama’s goal is to help women establish businesses that will provide job opportunities for other women and boost economic activity on a larger scope, rather than bring minimal benefit simply to the business owner and her limited circle of friends and family.
“We want to produce businesswomen who are not merely able to keep afloat and survive in the market but to grow, compete with, and surpass the best businesses in the national and global markets. The fact that 75 percent of small businesses fail and close within three years of initiation is disturbing and that is one area I hope to work on and change,” said Salama.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Nov. 5, 2013.