x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

25,000 does go into 85 when it comes to women in business

The Life: Members of Dubai's chapter of 85 Broads hope to learn and make the world a better place.

Noor Sweid, the managing director of strategy at Depa, and co-chairwoman of the Dubai chapter of 85 Broads. Duncan Chard for the National
Noor Sweid, the managing director of strategy at Depa, and co-chairwoman of the Dubai chapter of 85 Broads. Duncan Chard for the National

It started as a solution to one woman's problem.

Leaving the job she loved after 14 years to stay at home with her two young children, Janet Hanson wanted to stay in tune with what the markets were doing and to keep in touch with her former colleagues at Goldman Sachs.

So she started a group she called 85 Broads, a play off the bank's address at 85 Broad Street in New York.

Initially only for current and former female employees of the global investment banking and securities firm, membership was later opened up to those studying at Harvard Business School and other leading graduate programmes, until eventually the doors were thrown open to all women.

The network now numbers some 25,000 women, including entrepreneurs, hedge fund managers, philanthropists, athletes and even rocket scientists.

Its Dubai chapter is co-chaired by Noor Sweid, the managing director of strategy at Depa, one of the world's largest interior contracting companies, and Lucy Chow, a former banker and founder of The Elements Group, which creates high-profile events focused on fundraising and leadership.

The chapter, which was set up in 2006, has about 100 members and meets between five and 10 times a year. It held its annual conference recently entitled What's Your Destiny?

Women spoke about their passions and professional accomplishments. Members include the fashion designer Rabia Zargarpur, who founded the label Rabia Z; Lucy Bruce, who co-founded the communications agency Insignia, but has become increasingly devoted to the non-profit organisation Harmony House; and Ms Sweid herself.

Ms Sweid recalled playing a key role in managing Depa's initial public offering, which marked the first private UAE-based company to float on the Nasdaq Dubai, as well as a secondary listing on the London Stock Exchange.

"Dubai has very strict requirements and criteria, particularly in terms of corporate governance, so for us to be the first company to do that was an accomplishment," she said.

Ms Sweid joined 85 Broads in 2003 when she was studying for a Master in Business Administration at MIT Sloan School of Management in Boston.

At the time the network had only a few thousand members.

"When I moved over here I realised that there were no chapters in the entire Middle East and yet there were more than a few chapters in China, more than a few chapters in Europe so I e-mailed Janet who I knew because I had worked with her when I was in Boston and said 'how can I get involved'?"

Yasemin Saib, the founder of Al Bayareq, a non-profit media consulting and production organisation, was another of the speakers at the Dubai event.

She started her career as a film-maker after being asked by an American network to help produce TV programmes in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the US.

Ms Saib was known for her role as an activist involved in global social causes, so newspapers and networks began to call on her as a spokeswoman for the American Muslim community. She helped the US news programme 60 Minutes produce a segment on the issue.

Ms Saib subsequently forged a successful career as a producer and director in the US before moving to Dubai. In addition to her work at Al Bayareq. she is also a senior fund development manager for Dubai Cares.

"85 Broads is a wonderful network of very successful, ambitious and professional women from all walks of life who come together to expand their horizons, learn from each other and hopefully make this world a better place," she says.