Whether she is rushing to the airport, visiting a refugee camp or speaking at a conference, the ever-busy Mariam Farag is always working towards one goal. By leading MBC Group’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme, she is aiming to provide women and children with better living conditions and empower them to help themselves. Other than overseeing the company’s corporate responsibility vision and strategy in the region and globally, the selfless Egyptian is also on countless boards, volunteering her time as a CSR expert and judging regional and global competitions.
Before joining the MBC Group, the first private free-to-air satellite broadcasting company in the Arab world, Farag had accumulated 18 years of experience working in the fields of social development, humanitarian relief, communication and CSR in the MENA region. She has worked at the American University of Sharjah, Dubai’s Community Development Authority and the United Nations Development Program, where she managed a nationwide campaign focusing on the social and economic empowerment of female heads of households in 22 governorates in Egypt. The American University in Cairo and University of Westminster graduate also worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
As part of our series on highly successful women who have been invited to speak at the 19th Global WIL Economic Forum taking place in Dubai on October 25-26, we have a chat with the inspiring humanitarian. We ask about the barriers women face in the region, her most difficult decision, tips on climbing the career ladder and a lot more.
Name three women who have inspired you.
My late grandmother, my mother and women who never give up.
Can you share some strategies that can aid women achieve a more prominent role in their companies?
You must have a vision, standout from the rest with your own creativity and add value. Women tend not to speak their minds because they are either afraid they won’t be heard or respected. Women who want to make it in the business world need to be assertive, demand respect and own the room. You must be strong, resilient and know that nothing is impossible. You need to know what you are good at, where your skills are mostly needed, take up a niche and make it your own. The latter will make you stand out and leave a mark wherever you go. Communicate your work, celebrate your success, but most of all never ever be afraid to fail. If you fail, you must learn to get up and start moving again!
Tell us about the most significant leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career.
Leadership is not about a title or a fancy office. It’s about passion, inspiring others and making a difference. It is about watching your team grow right before your eyes and assume leadership roles. Leadership is about learning from others as well as passing on your knowledge. It is about transparency and credibility, walking the talk and trying to always set a good example for others. It is owning up to your mistakes and protecting your team. Spreading your passion and positivity among the work place. Focusing on impact, results oriented and taking risks, going beyond limits and pushing boundaries to be unique and different. Most of all, never forget that you are human.
And what are the most important barriers to female leadership in the region?
There are many barriers that are fundamentally stemming from old traditional misperceptions that a woman can’t have it all. You are either a mother or a wife or a career woman, never all. Women have managed to overcome such misperceptions and challenges over the last decade. More and more women everyday are breaking taboos, breaking the norms and climbing up the ladder of leadership in various sectors. Another barrier is the lack of men leaning-in for their women, whether at home, or at work or in the community. It has been a man’s world for centuries and only recently we have been able to sit at the decision-making table and demand our presence.
Which kinds of challenges do you think the new generation of women face?
I believe this new generation has many challenges to face but a lot more to gain in terms of opportunities. There is a new movement for changing legislations in favour of women, workplace policies and procedures, equal pay, changing perceptions, political participation and access to male dominated jobs such as those in STEM. However, most of all, it’s creating new role models for generations to come based on credentials and not appearance, on impact and not on the number of followers.
What is the most difficult decision you've ever made?
Forgiving my father…
Which particular qualities (some of the things you couldn’t include on your CV) have helped you get to where you are today?
The ability to turn my pain into strength! The latter has always helped me look at challenges in the eye and enjoy turning them into opportunities.
What do you do to keep yourself centred?
I spend time with my two sons and work out.
What is your favourite quote?
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
What’s the most exciting part about participating in the Global WIL Economic Forum?
Hearing other women’s stories, I always get inspired by others’ stories. There is always something to go away with, either a new lesson, a new skill or just simply knowing you are not alone in your struggles.
The theme this year is ‘The Butterfly Effect – From Intent to Impact.’ Why do you think it’s particularly important to focus on enacting social change at this time?
We are facing the biggest refugee crisis this world has ever seen. Youth unemployment has risen in the past decade making it very hard for this generation to have faith in their future and look forward to a better world. Extremism and radicalism has started taking over young minds and as a result we are embarking on a lost generation. World hunger, lack of heath care, lack of access to education, unequal pay, global warming and so many important topics are taking centre stage and affecting our world as we know it. The United Nations Sustainable Goals tackle 17 of the most important causes in our world, and I believe we all have a role to play in achieving one or 17 of them.
If we do not start acting now on all of these challenges focusing on solutions with impact, the repercussions will be horrific in the next 10 years. The private sector cannot ignore their vital role of creating social impact on the ground. Plus, the public sector needs to facilitate the administrative processes and regulations to give access to more foundations and non-profit organisations to take the lead in grass root youth–led projects that eventually will lead to peace building. Leaders also need to start giving youth a voice. However, without sustainability, one cannot create impact or tangible results.
The agenda explores diversity as the driving force of our collective future. Could you elaborate on that?
We cannot deny that diversity is the force of our collective future. Whether it is gender diversity, language, nationality, background, religion, etc. If we do not learn to accept one another and start to live together in harmony, for who we really are, we will not be able to move forward.