Blog Posts by Telle Whitney and Guests Tech Her
The World Islamic Economic Forum and Women
I spent last week at a conference in Johor Bahru, Malaysia called the World Islamic Economic Forum. The conference and its supporting organization are focused on increasing economic growth in Islamic populations. Many people are building businesses to meet the needs of this growing population. 23% of the world is Islamic but Organization Islamic Conference (OCI) countries only provide 8.3% of commerce. The conference included two theme tracks, one focused on women, and one on youth. The total attendance of the conference was about 2000, with 86 countries represented, and 800 business people. I was there as an invited speaker on the track for women.
The conference had very high level support, the Malaysian Prime Minister spoke, and the Sultan from Johor Bahru attended the Gala dinner. The opening ceremony included country delegates present to discuss economic opportunities with the Prime Minister. There were country delegates from Pakistan, Qatar, Republic of Singapore, Union of the Comoros, and the world Islamic liberation front. The conference organizers are looking to build a broader agreement between Islamic nations focused on business.
The track on women was a parallel track, but it had a very prominent role at the conference. The room was full – a majority of women, but plenty of men attended.
The women’s track started with two very impressive women CEOs:
Wandee Khunchornyakong, Chairman and CEO at SPCG in Thailand, and Dr. Shaikha Al Maskari, Chairperson of Al Maskari Holding in Abu Dhabi. Both had extensive business accomplishments.
One of the more interesting presentations was from Shelina Janmohamed, Vice President, Ogilvy Noor, UK. She is Muslim woman living in London, and her firm views the Islamic audience as a new audience. Her firm researched the trends in the Muslim world, and their analysis divides the audience into two groups – futurists and traditionalists. The traditionalists perhaps receive more press, but the futurists are leading the Muslim world in trends. This audience does not see contradictions between faith and modernity. Many are entrepreneurial, and if they don’t see a product that meets their needs, they make it. Many have great education and are increasingly aware of their rights. The women want to participate in the political process, the work force and postpone their marriage. There is also global connectivity between Muslim women’s groups. You could see this in the conference, where hundreds of Muslim women gathered to hear from powerful role models.
The best companies understand these markets and are developing products. Example product names are Fabulously halal and hijab chic.
As a technical women, I often see the disconnect in products that are designed for men, not understanding the differences in the market for others.
I was one of the few technical people at the conference, although there was a women Doctor from Egypt who is spearheading a Women’s STEM effort in Egypt. The audience is very interested in entrepreneurial innovation, including understanding what it takes to bring technology into their career.