Sophie Le Ray, Naseba CEO and WIL Economic Forum Founder takes a look back at the WIL Economic Forum, its community and the region’s D&I achievements over the last 10 years – and all that remains to be done.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Sophie on October, 25, 2017.
Since the inaugural WIL Economic Forum almost 10 years ago, our vision has evolved and grown into something bigger than we’d ever imagined.
As I look back, I see a purpose-driven community of men and women of all ages, from all walks of life, embracing our mission and playing an instrumental role in transforming the WIL Economic Forum into what it is today. Throughout the years, we looked closely at the issues affecting our society, from a diversity and inclusion perspective– in doing this, we did not want to limit the positive impact of the forum to the challenges faced only by women.
Today, we consider diversity across the board as the cornerstone of sustainable economic development. Building diverse and inclusive workforces and communities is not a publicity-focused CSR initiative, or a matter of meeting quotas – there is a clear economic case to ensure that we address all segments of our diverse, modern society. In recent years, a key objective of the forum has been to focus on building inclusion strategies and this year is no different– yes, conversation is important in driving change and we will continue to look at how we use this platform to add value to those discussions.
But we are increasingly aware of the importance of TAKING ACTION.
In order to do so, we need to understand the context at a global and a regional level. Across the US and Europe, female labour participation hovers around 47% – but this number is expected to decline over the next few years. Here in the UAE, we have jumped from 34% to 46% in the last decade in this space*. Governments across the GCC have made women’s economic empowerment a key pillar of their strategic visions.
Advancing women’s equality could add 12$ trillion to global growth. Furthermore, gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to earn above-average revenue. Racially diverse teams outperform non-diverse ones by 35%**.
Diversity is good for business – it is as simple as that. And when under-represented groups contribute fully to the economy of a nation, all of society stands to benefit. Our role is to collectively ensure that we help empower ALL within society to reach their true economic potential and to understand HOW we can enact positive change. We are past the point of just conversation – today, it is about ACTION. While individuals, entrepreneurs and businesses want to leave a legacy and have a positive impact on society, there is often uncertainty on how to make this happen.
It is time to dispel misconceptions around IMPACT – namely that you don’t always need a lot money or man-power to drive real change with tangible outcomes.
It’s about becoming aware that each organisation or individual has a platform and can use it to raise awareness on broader causes to make a real and lasting difference. For example, when curating the forum’s agenda, we looked at the role of social entrepreneurship, impact investment, philanthropy and community building in driving change. By bringing together the experience of business and community leaders, our aim was to build a roadmap to further personal development and tools to make a difference.
In the process, we discovered that while gender diversity has been a priority for companies in the region for years, the inclusion of people with disabilities is still a challenge for many. In order to support the development of an inclusive society, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, announced a national strategy for empowering people with disabilities earlier this year. Our team then, decided to act upon it, putting to use years of business facilitation expertise: we had the network and the knowledge. It was just a matter of desire to start something that makes a difference even if it meant starting small.
It is a great honour to present the Inclusive Internship Programme, in collaboration with the SEDRA Foundation.
There is no doubt that many organisations are truly committed in their intent to support diversity and inclusion. But when it comes to including people with disabilities, businesses do not know where to turn in order to enact their intentions. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a clear lack of visible role models for the disabled community, which deeply impacts opportunity and the chance for these citizens to reach their full economic potential. The purpose of the Inclusive Internship Programme is to bridge this gap and inspire the determined youth to pursue their ambitions, while paving the way for organisations to follow.
We applaud Roche Diagnostics Middle East for being the first organisation to come onboard this initiative, having recently hosted a young intern called Clari on a month-long placement in their team. We are now working with the next wave of companies who have been inspired to open up this opportunity within their businesses and we look forward to the programme becoming a year-round initiative.
This year, Naseba has also become a signatory and member of the UN Global Compact and the Women Empowerment Principles (WEPs) task force. As the creators of the Global WIL Economic Forum, we believe in setting the example for community members to follow and, in turn, seek to create more inclusive workplaces.
As we look to the year ahead, we have been thinking about the lasting impact of the Forum. In March, we will bring the community to Saudi Arabia. Held under the theme “Let’s talk about tomorrow’, the forum will revolve around Vision 2030 and builds on key pillars including youth empowerment, Saudisation, female entrepreneurship, diversity and inclusion and female economic empowerment. Next year, we plan to launch a chapter in Africa, where we are already building relationships with NGOs and organisations of interest to help in our mission.
We encourage you to ask yourself: “What commitment can I make today to make a difference?