On 10 May 2023, ahead of the UAE hosting the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 later this year, the Arab International Women’s Forum and the Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable Energy platform (WiSER, an initiative of Masdar) joined forces to champion women’s collective spirit for innovation at a major Conference at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London, ‘On the Road to COP28: Women-Led Innovation in Climate, Sustainability & STEM’.
‘On The Road to COP28’ was a major milestone in the AIWF x WiSER partnership, a unique and inclusive opportunity to facilitate new partnerships in the spirit of SDG17 (‘Partnerships for the Goals’) and to ensure women’s voices are front and centre in global conversations about climate action, food security, water resilience, clean energy, the future of work, responsible business, financing sustainability and innovation, and technology and the digital economy. The initiative, designed to foster greater UK-GCC-MENA collaboration, was a vital and unique contribution from the AIWF and WiSER communities to the global dialogue on women’s critical role in mitigating climate change and innovating sustainable, equitable and inclusive solutions towards a better future for people and planet.
We are most appreciative to all our valued speakers for taking time from extremely busy schedules to join us on this very special occasion. The programme welcomed outstanding Guest Speakers to the Opening Keynote Session, including Haifa Al Kaylani, President & Founder, Arab International Women’s Forum, UK; Dr Lamya Fawwaz, Executive Director of Brand and Strategic Initiatives at Masdar, and Program Director of WiSER; Lord Swire KCMG PC, Deputy Chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, Member of the House of Lords; Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas DBE, Chair of the Trustees, Commonwealth War Graves Foundation, UK; and Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE, CEO, Royal Academy of Engineering, UK.
All images by BigT Images
Many of the core COP28 topics underpinned the programme and recurred throughout the day’s discussions: capacity-building, climate finance, climate technology, cooperative action on the SDGs, education, youth, gender and innovation.
Session 1, Championing women-led innovation in MENA sustainable agriculture for a food-secure, water-resilient future, was chaired by Haifa Al Kaylani and examined the role of women and technology in sustainable agriculture for a food-secure, water-resilient future, water being the great climate connector, welcoming Julian Lampietti, Manager for Global Engagement in the Agriculture and Food Global Practice, The World Bank, USA; Dr Majd Alnaber, Director of Science for Society Centre, Royal Scientific Society, Jordan; Dr Dalal Al Ghawas, Founder & CEO, Agrifood Consultancy, Singapore; and Sarah Roberts, CEO, Practical Action, UK as speakers.
Session 2, Mainstreaming Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)in tech/ AI entrepreneurship and the digital economy, was chaired by Dr Loubna Bouarfa, Machine learning scientist and founder CEO of OKRA.AI and Advisory Board Member, Oxford Internet Institute, and examined new opportunities for women innovators in tech / AI entrepreneurship and the digital economy, welcoming as speakers Fatima Hadj, Chief Climate Investment Strategist, HSBC Asset Management, UK; Margarete McGrath, Global Advisory and Strategy Partner Lead, Dell Technologies, UK; Jamila Saidi, Global Head of Digital Commerce | Head of Retail & Luxury (Trade &Investment), Department for Business & Trade, UK; and Elena Sinel, Founder, Teens in AI, UK.
Session 3, Women-led innovation in clean energy, environmental protection, and climate action: Creating new opportunities through partnership and collaboration, was chaired by Olulana Nwosu, Director of Policy & Markets, World Energy Council, UK, and explored women’s leadership in clean energy, environmental protection, and climate action. For this session, we had the pleasure of welcoming Iman Ustadi, Head of Negotiations-UAE Special Envoy for Climate Change & WiSER Pioneer 2023, UAE; Phoebe Stone, Partner–Head of Sustainable Investing, LGT Wealth Management, UK; and Eleanor Webster, Head of Secretariat, Mission Innovation, UK.
Session 4, Preparing for the Future of Work: Empowering the next generation of sustainability leaders through education, skills and decent work, was chaired by Chidi King, Branch Chief, Gender, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Branch (GEDI), in the ILO Conditions of Work and Equality Department, ILO, and explored the need to prepare for the future of work in the MENA spotlighting the importance of education, skills and decent work, benefiting from the insights of Professor Yusra Mouzughi, President, Royal University for Women, Bahrain; Noora AlMarzooqi, Board Member, Vice President-Group Strategic Investments at ADNOC; and Karoona Ramah Sleightholme, Head of Digital & IT Delivery, Vodafone, UK.
Session 5, Financing women-and youth led sustainability research, innovation and entrepreneurship: Navigating access to finance and impact investing, was chaired by Barbara Rambousek, Director, Gender & Economic Inclusion, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, UK, and examined issues around access to finance and impact investing for women innovators and young leaders working in the sustainability spheres, with Joumana Asso, Founder & Managing Director, Clima Capital Partners, USA; Iveta Tancheva-Nikolova, Director – Investment Management, SANAD Fund for MSME, Germany; and Marisa Drew, Chief Sustainability Officer at Standard Chartered, joining us as panel speakers.
We were especially proud to spotlight the inspirational AIWF Young Arab Women Leaders alumni and WiSER Pioneers 2023 in a special session finale, The Future We Want, chaired by Emma Cox, Global Climate Leader, PwC and welcoming the following inspirational young leaders as speakers: Heba Al Emara, Managing Director Middle East, Vistra, UK/UAE; Christelle Comair, Policy Advisor on youth and women’s empowerment, University of Paris-Saclay; 2021-2022 Research Fellow at the Women And Public Policy Program (WAPPP), Harvard Kennedy School; Dr Mona Hamade, Partnerships Development Manager at Meta, UK; Shalom Iboh, Field Engineering Operator Notore Plc & WiSER Pioneer 2023, Nigeria; Hajer Ben Charrada, Manager Corporate Strategy TAQA & WiSER Pioneer 2023, UAE; and Monica Gao, Solicitor (England & Wales) in Sustainability & WiSER Pioneer 2023, UAE.
The AIWF x WiSER Conference was attended by 120 senior and emerging women leaders working in government, the international institutions, ESG, STEM, finance, business, entrepreneurship, civil society representatives, academics and higher education leaders. We were also proud to welcome a number of Masters students and early career researchers, and AIWF members, guests, Fellows and delegates who joined us from across the UK, EU and the Arab world, many coming especially from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and other MENA states as well as North Africa and Nigeria.
As ever, AIWF acknowledges with great appreciation our Global Partners PepsiCo, PwC and Pfizer for so generously supporting AIWF’s global advocacy and action and for leading the way in driving gender diversity within their respective sectors in the MENA region and around the world.
AIWF always looks forward and aims to deliver positive and productive impact through all our initiatives that will benefit women and young leaders in the region and meaningfully support their economic and social inclusion towards a peaceful and more prosperous future for the MENA Region overall. As Her Excellency Razan Al Mubarak, UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for the COP28 Presidency, has said: “A healthy environment, including its climate and biodiversity, is central to everyone’s wellbeing. We must go beyond business as usual and elevate nature as an important solution to climate change. To accomplish this, we need everyone to contribute to global climate action, including women, youth, and indigenous people, as well as business, government, civil society, and academia.”
Accordingly, the discussions and conclusions emerging from yesterday’s panel sessions will be synthesised into a report and recommendations that will be published in the coming few months in partnership with WiSER, and which shall duly be presented to the COP28 leadership in the UAE, who we commend for bringing nations together and seeking to unite the world towards agreement on bold, practical, and ambitious solutions to the most pressing global challenge of our time, putting us all on the right track to realising critical climate goals as set out in the Paris Agreement and the SDGs.