Meet our Global Campaign Board chair Pembe!

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 Middle East chair, Pembe Al Mazrouei!

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 Senior Partnerships Manager Alex McCall spoke to the Chair of the Middle East chapter of our Board, Pembe Al Mazrouei, to find out more about what motivates and inspires her…

Alex: Hello Pem! Will you tell us a bit about yourself?

Pembe: My name is Pembe Al Mazrouei, I live in Abu Dhabi with my husband who is a native. I am a mother to four daughters and one son; through them I now feel like I am at home in this wonderful country and culture that has made me welcome and taught me so much! I am also a daughter and sister and aunt as well as running my own business and supporting my husband with his own demanding executive schedule. So like so many women, I am used to juggling multiple roles and demands.

I grew up in London in a Turkish-Cypriot family within a gentle and loving environment. I had a privileged upbringing. But even I experienced gender bias and gender stereotyping when I decided to take not one, but two degrees at the University of London and leave home for the second.

I headed for Europe to set up a theatre company, and had to face the ingrained cultural bias in my family as to what young women should do.

How did you first connect with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, and what made you want to join our 100,000 Women Campaign?

I met Cherie Blair and felt immediate empathy with what she was doing and the passion she had for the work. For all the reasons I said above, I realised that I was in a position to lend my support and talents to the Campaign.

The Campaign has six regional boards. My region, the Middle East, has obvious potential for high-net-worth donations and its economy is developing rapidly. Cherie and I agreed that it was a vital area in which the Foundation needed compelling voices. I wanted to do my bit to ensure that promising women entrepreneurs become part of the region’s growth. By joining the Campaign, I felt I could help to break down gender-based stereotypes as to who should be employers, business leaders, and movers and shakers in the commercial world.

I like to think that I grabbed the ball and ran with it. I want committed potential women business leaders to have the chance of running on a level playing field. It’s my mission to make sure that bright, energetic women with big ideas aren’t held back by entrenched attitudes and lack of commercial infrastructure in their countries within the Middle East. Together we are stronger!

What’s your role, and what do you hope to achieve? Have there been any particular highlights so far?

I’m Middle East Chair of the 100,000 Women Campaign. The highlight so far was in November when I organized a major presentation, seminar and fashion show for the Campaign at Expo 2020 Dubai.

I say “I”. Of course it was a group effort with an incredible team. The room was abuzz by the end of the evening. People of many backgrounds were talking with complete candour and even passion. We could sense markets being explored, infrastructure being prepared and the groundwork for businesses being put in place. It was exhilarating!

Arab-Turkish-European women, we are all shaped by our culture and can support and nurture each other as we navigate the world. I was really moved when three women at the Expo event came up to me and said that they too had overcome stereotypical thinking about gender roles to pursue their real goals in life. And I’m sure they had bigger difficulties than me. By sharing my experience, I hope I can inspire and shape my own children, as well as have a collective impact on all women.

Our Global Campaign Board's Middle East chair, Pembe Al Mazrouei
Pembe speaking at her Expo 2020 Dubai event in support of the Foundation

Why is supporting women’s entrepreneurship in low and middle income countries so important?

If you look at the Foundation’s website you see many examples of the ‘accelerator’ effect. If one of our mentees is successful with a retail or manufacturing business idea, it’s likely that her company will buy components or raw materials locally. And she will employ local people. More and more people in that small environment have money in their pockets. They spend it. The economy accelerates – it hots up in the positive sense. Incremental change acquires massive weight.

What needs to change so women can start, grow and sustain successful businesses without barriers?

We need to dismantle the conventional thinking that assigns roles to women. It needs to be accepted that women belong in the boardroom. It needs to be a given that women have brilliant business ideas; they can be inventive and innovative. Once we have overcome that bias – and there has been great progress already – we need to ensure that women in low and middle income countries in the Middle East enjoy commercial infrastructure that matches their natural intelligence and ingenuity. And that’s where mentors come in.

What are your plans and hopes for the final year of the 100,000 Women Campaign?

I want to keep the buzz from that session in Dubai going. The brilliant team and I are following up to make sure that the potential mentors who expressed interest are brought on board. We can then find the right matches with mentees who need help with particular skill sets. We want to celebrate success stories so that the Campaign retains momentum and has a lasting impact on the commercial futures of women entrepreneurs and the living standards of employees within those successful businesses.

Do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to share with any women entrepreneurs reading this?

That’s a leading question – particularly use of the word “wisdom”! I wouldn’t want to see myself as a source of wisdom for others. It’s a fundamental feature of the Foundation to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers – we’re not necessarily wise about everything which is why we reach out to others for collaborative projects.

But I do recognize wise things when I hear them. I’d quote Lauren Bacall, who said: “Never forget what brought you to the dance.” What she means (adjusting it for a potential woman entrepreneur with the Foundation) is: “You’ve had a really good idea. Keep hold of the feelings that first motivated you when you had that idea throughout the business set-up process. Communicate the essence of that idea to the people from the Foundation who mentor.”

When we look at the comparative advantage of countries, countries and regions that have natural advantages over other places in terms of resources I hope, in a very tough post-COVID economy, I’d put this more simply as another piece of advice or “wisdom” if you will.

“If you’ve got lemons, make lemonade.” Make the best lemonade, make it ethically, make it in a carbon-neutral way, market it imaginatively, add interesting things to it. But play to your core strength.

Wild card question! What are your hobbies?

One of my hobbies is also the thing I do to relax. As I’ve said, I used to run a theatre company and I go to the theatre as much as I can when I am in London and travelling in Europe. And London is my favourite place to visit. It’s the city of my childhood but it still surprises me.

At home or abroad, if I can’t go to a play I’m always happy to go to a musical. I went to see Hairspray with my oldest daughter recently.

I read a lot and I’m currently reading books by Elif Shafak. Like me she’s British-Turkish. Well, strictly speaking, Turkish-British in her case. Her books expose the us-versus-them mindset. I find the themes explored in her books really interesting, because they tell me so much about what I take for granted. When we set out to help others – perhaps through working for an organization like the Foundation – our own lives become richer as we meet amazing and inspirational people. I see myself as a work in progress, always learning and growing.

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?

My call to action for readers of this blog is that if you have specialized knowledge that could help potential female entrepreneurs then pass it on! It’s an absolute pleasure and gift to share expertise that can lift a whole community. When a Foundation mentee succeeds and creates employment opportunities in her community, we all benefit and grow, together we are stronger and brighter. I encourage us all to come and take part in whatever way we can in the Campaign.

Thank you so much, Pem!