April’s – ‘The Gratitude Issue’ – Download Now
Muna Al Gurg isn’t just a leading Emirati businesswoman, she’s also a philanthropist passionate about giving back on a local and global scale.
Can you talk us through your career?
After a short stint at an advertising agency, I joined our family business in 2000, the Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group (ESAG), to focus on marketing and communications. Since 2009 I’ve been Director of Retail, responsible for strategy and operational development of the Group’s international and local retail brand portfolio. It’s been a fascinating experience, as I’m the second generation of our 60-year-old business.
What inspired you to venture into philanthropic work?
Both my parents were role models and had traits that I wanted to emulate and build upon. During my teens and early twenties, I was greatly influenced by my father’s charitable projects across geographies spanning East Africa, the Gulf and across to the Indian subcontinent. He eventually went onto to build one of the UAE’s first official family-sponsored charity foundations.
My late mother believed that every individual has a role in bettering their community and was a supporter of the arts in helping establish the first Dubai Community Theatre. She also did a lot of work with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.
My initial personal exposure to philanthropy and the satisfaction that comes with it was from the building of a school in Bwejuu, Zanzibar, for 300 children which we were able to build through the family foundation. I was involved throughout the design until its completion. Honestly, the sense of fulfillment is difficult to put into words.
How do you give back to the community?
Education and healthcare have been equal passions for me. Through the years I’ve been involved with several community outreach projects. The most recent one being the donation towards building a neonatal intensive care unit in Jenin, a Palestinian city in the West Bank. The donation will buy new equipment for the unit in the state-run Khalil Suleiman Hospital. The support is desperately needed in the occupied territories where newborns lack adequate access to healthcare. The project is being managed by the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.
Which career milestones are you most proud of?
When I completed my MBA at London Business School (LBS), I realised how access to the right kind of educational opportunities can help change futures. Setting up the Muna Al Gurg scholarship for Arab women at LBS has been a moment of pride for me personally, particularly as I’ve seen women from diverse career backgrounds graduate and thrive.
Who would you say your mentors are in life and how are you grateful for them?
My sisters and I were brought up in an environment where hard work and determination were encouraged and celebrated. The life experiences that we had in our formative years was the mentorship from our father. These lessons helped shape our life paths and was the fuel for our individual successes and passion for social causes.
We’re all about female empowerment, as are you. How do you help empower women?
There are many reasons women leave their professional careers, but especially so after childbirth, sometimes never to return. After I became a member of the ‘30% Club’, a global campaign to increase gender diversity at board and senior management levels, I looked inward throughout our organisation to find ways to further support our female employees.
Most private sector organisations in the UAE currently offer a 45-day maternity leave. We explored the issue and came to understand that this somewhat limited policy was a significant factor in women opting to at least temporarily leave, and in many cases never returning. We decided to change this at ESAG Group to give mothers greater flexibility in their work-life balance, whilst also taking an extra step in not losing business talent and diversity. I proposed to increase our maternity leave to 90 paid days which was approved by our board at the start of 2020.
From a funding perspective, I have supported female entrepreneurs by investing in Mindshift Capital – a global, women-run venture firm investing in amazing women-led companies solving important problems.
How has the support you have in turn received, shaped you as a woman?
One of the biggest inspirations of my life has been my aunt Dr Amina Kazim who played a big role in my childhood. She was the first UAE national female physician and the only Emirati anaesthetist in the country. She was also the first UAE national woman to obtain a private pilot license. Despite facing many challenges, her spirit of giving and also sharing knowledge with many left a great impression. I hope to emulate her zeal for life.
How do you want to inspire others?
I think it’s important to talk more about philanthropy. Our region is one which celebrates charitable giving but has historically been discrete about it. There’s an opportunity to magnify the impact of what is being done by adopting a strategic approach. I’ve been fortunate to have recently worked with the Gates Foundation in helping me assess and optimise my philanthropic work. In the not too distant future, I plan to establish my own foundation, specifically to create empowerment pathways for women and girls across the Middle East and North Africa. I hope we’re successful in our mission, but also aspire to be an example to other budding philanthropists that want to take a similar journey.
What does it feel like being a woman in this region that is paving the way for others?
I am fortunate to be an Emirati citizen as the UAE believes in offering equal opportunity to all and focuses on gender balance in every sphere. I have learned that competence is essential. Have the ability to communicate clearly. Voracious curiosity and listening well —to what is being said and sometimes to what isn’t, is important. Also, stand up for yourself without being overly aggressive, and create bonds with people you respect and admire by finding a commonality.
What are your hopes for women in the future?
My conversations with Gen Z and the Millennial generation indicate there’s a growing interest in social impact and meaningful entrepreneurship. I hope that those who have the means and resources ‘pay it forward’ within the community and society. Each of us has a talent that can be used for the greater good, what is required is the mindset to transform thought into action.
What have been the hurdles you’ve experienced throughout your career?
When I began my journey as a young business leader, the challenge was to be heard in a room full of men, some of whom were also older and more experienced. Over the years I have learned that it is important to be assertive and find your voice if there are goals to accomplish.
What have been the key milestones?
The most significant milestones relate to our family business. First was when I joined ESAG and took over the responsibility of strategy for the retail arm of the business. The next milestone was when my father, who is the founder of our business, decided to hand over the reins to his three daughters. And finally, the satisfaction that I have taken the lead in creating gender balance and inclusive policies that enhance women’s participation within the UAE’s private sector.
This is ‘The Gratitude Issue’ – how do you practice gratitude in your life?
Over the years and especially during 2020, I have realised that a crucial aspect of maintaining well-being is gratitude. I make it a practice to list three things that I am grateful for every morning. This helps me face the day with greater positivity.
April’s – ‘The Gratitude Issue’ – Download Now
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