As President & Founder of the Arab International Women’s Forum, I am glad to welcome you to the new AIWF website, launched in our 20th Anniversary year in 2021 when we are celebrating two impactful and impressive decades for AIWF as one of the leading development organisations for women and young leaders in the Arab region and globally.
I am very proud to have founded AIWF in 2001 in London and to have chaired the Board of AIWF for 19 years. AIWF was established as a non-profit, non-political, non-governmental organisation that links Arab business leaders with each other and importantly with their counterparts in the international community to exchange knowledge and experience and importantly to develop their business potential.
The need for an organisation like AIWF was very clear; at the time, there were few women in politics or represented in parliament both in the Arab region and globally. Arab women were only just starting to emerge on the global business scene and proving their potential as business leaders and innovators, but there were still very few women appointed to highly visible international or diplomatic roles in any region, and too many misconceptions about the role of women in the Arab world at the time.
When I founded AIWF I did so on the basis of two two guiding principles: firstly, from my firm belief as a development economist that there is no development in any community, or politically, socially, or economically, without empowering women. And secondly, that the Arab world is part of the global community and women in the Arab region need to connect both together in the region but importantly with their counterparts internationally to exchange experience and knowledge, to do business, and break down stereotypes through open dialogue, direct engagement, and cultural exchange.
For twenty years AIWF has worked at the heart of the Arab world and internationally to move the agenda for women’s empowerment forward, advocating for legislative and public policy change to remove roadblocks to women’s participation in Arab economic growth and in policy and political decision-making. Under my leadership and always with the valued support of the AIWF Board and Partners, AIWF also brought into focus future of work challenges impacting a complex and changing MENA labour market, where women and youth are still most vulnerable to economic instability and lack of opportunity.
AIWF has always been about building bridges and business between women in the Arab region, the UK and internationally, and has served as an unparalleled platform for women to share their successes, their leadership challenges, and their own valuable learnings, inspiring and guiding the next generation of women leaders in the process. We have always worked at the Arab and International levels to facilitate institutional change and correct misconceptions about the region and about Arab women, interacting closely with the global and pan-Arab media, showcasing role models and mentors in the region, and always with education, entrepreneurship, and economic empowerment for women as our key priorities for action.
We have brought the region’s best and brightest together through our conferences and in-person as well as virtual initiatives held in both the Arab region and globally, demonstrating the scope and geographical spread of AIWF working at the highest levels and breaking new ground for Arab women in all our programmes moving from London to Arab capitals and international capitals. Each of our programmes have built upon the last, covering key areas of empowerment for women in the Arab region and addressing salient development issues that directly impact women and young people. Our initiatives were all attended by senior leaders in government, business, and civil society, and we are especially proud to have regularly invited students and young leaders to connect our youth with role models, influencers, and change makers in all spheres. Importantly, all our conferences put forth key Recommendations that were shared with all stakeholders to effect positive change and make a difference to addressing the women’s empowerment agenda in the region.
From the outset, I created a coalition of partners that included governments, public institutions, private sector organisations, international institutions, civil society and grassroot NGOs, universities and other educational establishments, and the media. I was proud to welcome as AIWF partners over the last two decades key global multinational corporations with whom we had common synergies regarding women’s empowerment in the region, all keen to recruit, train, and retain women in their workforce. Many of these valued partners remain with us today, two decades on.
For me, as AIWF Founder & Chairman, it was especially important working with our valued coalition of partners to ensure AIWF’s sustainability over 19 years as we faced many of the same challenges that non-governmental, non-profit, independent organisations face all over the world. Together with the AIWF Board we have remained steadfast and committed to lending our full dedication and pro bono voluntary support to the AIWF mission.
Over the years I am also proud to have carried our message and vision much further beyond our own programmes by accepting key invitations that took AIWF to all four corners of the world, where I addressed key high-level conferences and forums as Founder and Chairman of AIWF. This was key to putting the AIWF mission front and centre before Arab and International audiences to leverage all opportunities available to grow our organisation and support our members with top opportunities for engagement in both the region and on the international stage.
In 2021, we all look ahead to a pivotal period of growth and transition for AIWF in the coming years following an unprecedented year in which the world faced an unforeseen global public health crisis that turned our assumptions and ways of living, working, and travelling upside down overnight. With lockdown restrictions spreading across the globe last year, we moved quickly amidst to adapt our core programme in a hugely challenging environment, because we recognised the need to ramp up our engagement on matters of critical concern, to be present for our stakeholders and partners, and to keep the momentum and vital dialogue flowing.
Working closely at the height of the pandemic with our global advocacy partners and our governmental, corporate, and institutional networks, we reached across sectors, spheres, and regions to build a strong programme of virtual events that directly addressed critical challenges for development and inclusion in the region, all of which had been severely exacerbated by COVID-19. 2020 was one of AIWF’s strongest Annual Programmes to date, and it kept AIWF vocal, visible, and connected with our key partners and stakeholders around the globe.
Towards the end of 2020, as shared with you all earlier, I made the decision to hand over the Chairmanship of AIWF to Dr Afnan Al Shuaiby, who was appointed Chairman of AIWF effective January 2021. Since this time, I have continued my close involvement with AIWF both as a Board Member and as President & Founder, supporting the new Chair and the Board with our ambitious strategic plan for the years ahead. AIWF is focused very precisely in the next few years on securing AIWF’s sustainability as an organisation whilst continuing to honour and build upon the two decades of legacy that I am proud to have passed on to Dr Al Shuaiby at the beginning of 2021 and at the start of this important milestone anniversary year.
To our current and founder Board Members; our Global Benefactor Partner PepsiCo, and our Global Corporate Partners Shell, Pfizer, and PwC, as well as the many corporations who have participated in AIWF initiatives and programmes in the last two decades; to all our Institutional Partners and the international organisations we are so proud to have worked with over the years; to our London- and Beirut-based operations team; and to all our valued stakeholders and treasured friends around the globe – I thank you for your continued commitment to the mission of AIWF and for making our cherished organisation what it is today.
Thank you all and Happy 20th Anniversary, AIWF.
Haifa Al Kaylani
President & Founder
Arab International Women’s Forum