Meet our Global Campaign Board chair Nighat!
Our Global Campaign Board is a worldwide group of visionary philanthropists, business leaders and experts helping to deliver our 100,000 Women Campaign. Meet our Asia chair, Nighat Awan!
Our Global Campaign Board are an incredible group of individuals. Convened by our founder Cherie Blair CBE QC, they’ve worked to support our 100,000 Women Campaign since its launch at the beginning of 2020. Collaborating across the world, they’ve raised vital funds to make our work possible and in turn enabled us to support tens of thousands of women entrepreneurs.
Our Director of Partnerships John Graham spoke to the Chair of the Asia chapter of our Board, Dr. Nighat Awan OBE, to find out more about what motivates and inspires her…
John: Hello Nighat! Will you tell us a bit about yourself?
Nighat: My name is Nighat Awan. I was born and bred in Manchester, Great Britain and I am proud to be Mancunian.
I have been blessed with 3 wonderful children. My eldest son is 46, daughter 43, and my youngest son is 35 years old. I have four grandchildren—two lots of twins—who are my pride and joy!
I wear many hats, like most women today: I am an entrepreneur, a sister, a wife, a mother, a grandmother… The list goes on. My grandmother was the first entrepreneur in our family; she set up a successful business selling silk scarves in 1935. My parents had several businesses too. My mother was my role model. She was a successful, dynamic person who fulfilled all her roles as an Asian woman to a high standard.
I set up my first fashion boutique at 20 years old, then created a chain of shops and sold them. I then set up a very successful florist company which I sold to an investor. Then, I ventured into the food industry and pioneered the Shere Khan brand, and the rest is history, as they say.
I’ve now been working for over four decades. I love a challenge and have successfully broken all the stereotypes I’ve been faced with. Hard work and resilience were the key to my success.
How did you first connect with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, and what made you want to join our 100,000 Women Campaign?
In 2009 Cherie approached me at to attend her launch of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women in India. I accompanied her to Mumbai, which was a real eye opener. As a child I lived in Pakistan for three years so when the Campaign launched ten years later I felt a personal connection with it. I was all too familiar with a male dominated society. I would never have achieved my goals if I had adhered to stereotypes and gender roles.
I wanted to share my wealth of experience, as I myself have had to overcome many barriers in order to reach my full potential. I have been a mentor to 60 young girls who have lived in shelters in Lahore, Pakistan. I have seen them grow up and supported them to gain an education and break tradition and stereotypes. I wanted to draw on this experience and my own background to support more women to succeed.
What’s your role, and what do you hope to achieve? Have there been any particular highlights so far?
The 100,000 Women Campaign has six regional boards. I am the chair for Asia, and I aim to target my fundraising and support work for the Campaign in six countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Through this I hope to work to support women entrepreneurs to overcome everyday challenges and encourage them to break the glass ceiling!
My theory is that if we work together to support one woman to be successful in her field it will empower so many more to do the same. I believe that one woman will uplift her peers and she will raise her children to do the same.
The highlight so far for me on this journey has been meeting the wonderful, inspirational women leading this initiative.
Why is supporting women’s entrepreneurship in low and middle income countries so important?
Because gender equality is a basic human right, as is education.
What needs to change so women can start, grow and sustain successful businesses without barriers?
Education and training is key, as well as having inspiring coaches and mentors. Oprah Winfrey said to “turn your wounds into wisdom”. We can learn from our life experiences, we can educate our peers and we can set our aims high.
What are your plans and hopes for the final year of the 100,000 Women Campaign?
I want to share best practice and create a network of individuals who can support dynamic women to achieve their goals. “She believed she could, so she did” is a great mantra.
Do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to share with any women entrepreneurs reading this?
Be prepared, whether it’s with knowledge, or tools and equipment, or in being dressed to impress. Preparation is key.
Believe in yourself. Be the best version of you, for you – nobody else!
Never be scared of failure – learn from it. And reach out to people who inspire you – ask them for guidance and support
What do you do to relax?
RELAX – what’s that? I am constantly on the go! My happy place is at the gym, where I can unwind. I love to spend quality time and make memories with my family and friends – relationships are very important to me.
Leave us with a call to action: what steps do you encourage readers to take to support women entrepreneurs in low and middle income countries, and help close the economic gender gap for good?
If I can do it, so can you! Let’s work together to empower women. Come and join the Campaign!
I strongly believe that anyone reading this blog has the ability to offer support to women entrepreneurs in low and middle income countries, whether it’s knowledge, skills, talent or advice. Please sign up to become a mentor to a woman entrepreneur through the Foundation as your expertise could be invaluable.
Michelle Obama said “Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them”. Together we can help close the economic gender gap for good!
Thank you so much Nighat!
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