As Director of the NAMA Women Advancement, an organisation designed to help support and nurture the talent of women in the UAE, HE Reem Abdel Rahim BinKaram has been working to champion the successes of women in Sharjah and the surrounding area.
Photography: Fares Jammal
The organisation focuses on developing the talent of the younger generations, helping them to achieve their potential in business and life and also to prove that there is so much for women in the UAE to achieve on a regional and global level.
Since its establishment in 2016, the NAMA Women Advancement Establishment has managed and supported various entities under the NAMA umbrella, including Sharjah Business Women Council, Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council, NAMA’s educational and capacity building arm, Badiri Academy. Reem has been leading these sections of the business striving to achieve an overall goal of empowerment for women while helping them to realise their potential through various projects and activities.
With huge triumphs so far, the organisation is continuing to branch out to help more women in wider sectors through the support of small businesses, harnessing Emirati crafts and nurturing the young generations as they enter the business world. Here we find out about some of the work so far and what’s to come for the future of women in the UAE as they navigate the everchanging world we live in.
Your work supporting women in the UAE, particularly in Sharjah is inspiring, tell us why this topic is important to you.
I am Humbled, thank you.
The Global Gender Gap Report 2022 has predicted that at the current rate of progress, we will take 132 years to reach full parity. This means our global economies and societies will have to wait for over a century to reap the fruit of women’s full and equal participation. One doesn’t have to be a feminist to understand the significance of women’s empowerment – these glaring gender inequality statistics make a strong enough case to keep working to redress the issue, as quickly and effectively as we can. Here in the UAE, women have always been offered a level playing field and I see, through my own life, how important that is for successive generations of women to realise their full potential.
At NAMA Women Advancement, the success stories of thousands of women we uplift and empower regionally and globally keep us passionate about what we do.
Can you share details on some of the projects you are currently working on under the NAMA Women Advancement?
Our initiative, Irtiqa, is a vibrant platform whose mission is to help establish societies that intrinsically believe in women. How we are achieving this goal is by bringing private sector businesses together on this platform and offering them the technical guidance and support they need to apply gender mainstreaming practices like offering training to female employees, improving their access to leadership positions, and so on, across departments.
Irtiqa’s key objective is to simplify gender mainstreaming into actionable steps for committed private sector players, helping them fully understand the business and social value of women’s economic inclusion
We have seen tremendous successes of women in the UAE in recent years – tell us about your experience of this and how do you think women in the UAE have advanced over the past years in terms of their achievements and ambition.
We are grateful to be led by a forward-thinking and truly inclusive government, which not only broadcasts public messages on women’s empowerment but acts to create new and exciting opportunities for women to enjoy equal participation in both society and the economy. A recent NAMA report revealed that the number of women-owned businesses in the UAE has increased in the past few years, and a key enabling factor was the ease they experienced navigating official procedures like licensing and funding, which can be quite challenging for women in other parts of the world. The UAE has come a long way in creating a level playing field for women, and I’m hopeful that we will see more doors open up in the future.
What can you tell us about the Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council how has this developed and how you are working to sustain traditional Emirati crafts through this platform?
Irthi is very special to us, and I will start by saying that the initiative is successfully achieving our vision to create an artisan economy for women. It is absolutely heart-warming to see women achieve financial independence through the practice of traditional crafts.
We are really proud of the way Irthi has brought on the revival and modernisation of the UAE’s traditional crafts practices, offering talented craftswomen a space to hone their skills and collaborate with artisans from around the world. Over the years, Itrhi’s Bidwa artisans have produced quality crafts which have caught the attention of luxury brands like Cartier and Bulgari who approached us to explore collaboration opportunities.
The Council has also been playing a key role in documenting Emirati crafts. As an advocate for sustainability in craft processes, the Council collaborates with universities and research institutions on the research and documentation of various materials, crafts, and craft processes to provide a reference for these practices.
What is something you still want to achieve with this platform?
To celebrate more success stories of artisans, to have more craftswomen join us and realise the great things they could achieve, and to forge more international collaborations and partnerships, through which we will take our local culture to more parts of the world.
This month we celebrate International women’s day – what does this day mean to you?
To be honest, I hope for a time to come when organisations will be committed to practising inclusion and diversity all year long. Every year, we see a huge tide of discussions and demonstrations on the status of women on March 8, but I feel that the fervour somehow fizzles right after. We need to find a way to internalise gender equality and practise it daily, not just on designated days. However, I do feel that International Women’s Day offers us an opportunity to celebrate women’s success stories and contributions to societies and economies in a special way.
Who is the woman that inspires you the most?
I cannot possibly name one as my life has been touched by so many brilliant women. I have been very lucky to meet several remarkable women throughout my role at NAMA. I can tell you that I don’t need superhuman qualities to inspire me – I find qualities like ambition, confidence and determination very inspiring. Just generally listening to their life experiences about what worked for them and what did not also gives me a fresh perspective.
What can you tell us about your work with the Sharjah Women Business Council?
SBWC is another vibrant NAMA affiliate, which helps female entrepreneurs in Sharjah and beyond to grow in business and entrepreneurship through training, ease of business licensing and more. SBWC also highlights the big entrepreneurial ideas of women on several platforms in the UAE and abroad.
Today, the council is home to over 2,000 members and inspired by the success it has achieved on its home turf, SBWC has gone global. Now, women from around the world who aspire to start their own business or take an existing venture to the next level in Sharjah’s investor-first business landscape can leverage SBWC’s mentoring and support to fulfil their dreams.
We know you are working to help empower youth in Sharjah and promote entrepreneurship in the Emirate – tell us about this and can you share any details on some of the exciting projects you have seen from the young generation?
Since education is key to growth, we have made sure to provide skills development opportunities through initiatives such as the Badiri eLearning platform, where both women and men can access free online courses on life skills, professional skills and future skills. Moreover, we always look at partnerships with NGOs and other youth-centric entities to provide training opportunities for girls and women.
When working with this young generation how do you feel their mindset and drive have changed from past generations?
This is a very good question for which I have an interesting insight. I believe the biggest difference between the young generations and their predecessors is that they are not resistant to change. They embrace it.
A great example can be the artisans at Irthi. The younger generation of artisans are quick to take and practically apply feedback and suggestions on ways to boost their productivity and their product. Their seniors, however, are not immediate converts – they will first look at tangible products that have been developed by applying the guidance and feedback from IRTHI’s mentors and will be truly convinced when they see the result – a better product – with their own eyes.
In your opinion, what is the future of businesses and projects headed up by young talents in the UAE today?
The opportunities and avenues are all there in the UAE, and at this stage, I believe the way future businesses will be shaped by young talents will all depend on the extent they leverage the opportunities available to them. The future, in my opinion, is bright as we see a talented crop of young visionaries disrupting various industries and bringing fresh perspectives to all. What the youth needs to continue doing is to stay focused, work hard, not take their opportunities for granted and not look for shortcuts to success.
Things like a well-thought-out business feasibility plan, willingness to step outside comfort zones, and not fearing failure will all be crucial to long-term success.
Tell us about the work you do with the Pink Caravan Ride for Breast Cancer and why is this topic so important to you to support?
Seeing the practical impact that the Pink Caravan Ride has been making for over 10 years in empowering the UAE’s community against breast cancer by raising awareness about the importance of early detection, offering free breast screenings, and boosting the spirit of volunteerism has been one of my most rewarding life experiences. As the Chairperson of the pan-UAE campaign, I am really proud to say that I have been part of a movement that has helped save the lives of many men and women in the country.
What can you tell us about yourself as a person and how do you spend your time when you want to relax and unwind?
Spending time with the family is very important to me; being with loved ones and laughing and sharing with them recharges my batteries. Reading is a big hobby and it serves as a perfect escape, even if it is for a few brief minutes on the busiest of days!
What is something you would still like to achieve or something you would like to use your position to do?
Despite the impactful achievements NAMA has accomplished over the years, I believe we can do a lot more. Local, regional and international collaborations with like-minded partners is, in my opinion, one of the most effective ways to shape an inclusive world and I will continue leveraging my position and experience at NAMA to forge meaningful connections that will push the envelope of gender equality.
What is a motto that you live by?
Change is the only constant.
What else do you have in the pipeline for this year?
What I can reveal is that we are designing women’s advancement initiatives, which will be the first of their kind in the UAE, and there are big international partnerships in the pipeline too which will be forged to continue on our mission to achieving real and meaningful gender equality worldwide.