The Bicester Collection’s Chantal Khoueiry on accelerating women entrepreneurship in MENA
Unlock Her Future, a programme focused on empowering women, was launched in 2021 by Value Retail in the UK, a global retailer operating, which has 11 luxury shopping destinations in Europe and China.
This year, the programme is focusing on MENA (Middle East and North Africa) and will then roll out to a different geographical region each year. The Unlock Her Future Prize will support three extraordinary women social entrepreneurs launch their startups.
Each of the three winners will receive a business grant of up to $100,000.
Chantal Khoueiry joined Value Retail in 2001. Having worked with Polo Ralph Lauren, she has also been involved in various humanitarian global initiatives for UNESCO.
In 2019, Chantal spearheaded the DO GOOD initiative by The Bicester Collection. She is also the Founder and CEO of Brides do Good, a social enterprise.
In a conversation with YourStory Gulf Edition, Chantal talks about her journey. Edited excerpts from the interaction.
YourStory Gulf Edition (YS Gulf): Tell us more about your background and your journey so far.
Chantal Koueiry (CK): I consider myself a citizen of the world; I was born and raised in Kuwait to a Lebanese father and an Ethiopian mother. Today I live in Europe; however, my work and outlook are global. Because I was exposed to multiple cultures from a young age, I learnt to always appreciate one’s culture and perpetuate positive changes within it; I’ve known no different.
Throughout my schooling, I wanted to work in a humanitarian environment, which led me to pursue a master’s degree in International Law, followed by a postgraduate Diploma in Law of Arab Countries from Sorbonne University, Paris and then various work experiences with UNESCO.
However, I’ve learnt that I am an entrepreneur at heart. My first foray into retail was with Polo Ralph Lauren as HR Director. Then, in 2001, I joined Value Retail as Group HR Director.
In 2016, in parallel to my role at Value Retail, I undertook to launch a social enterprise that combines both my humanitarian and commercial sides. Brides do Good harnesses the power of the bridal industry for good; it's built on the idea of connecting women to protect vulnerable young girls.
By donating, selling, or purchasing wedding dresses from Brides do Good, brides and supporters can positively impact the lives of other girls in need while also combatting fashion's impact on our planet. In addition, a third of the profits are invested in charity projects, educating girls and campaigning to end child marriage globally.
YS Gulf: What are the different initiatives you’ve been working on?
CK: We launched DO GOOD by The Bicester Collection in 2020.
DO GOOD leverages the influential platforms of our luxury shopping villages in Europe and China. It unifies our teams around a clearly defined vision and purpose to unlock the future for women and children wherever they are born, contributing to positive cultural change through our committed partnerships with impactful charitable organisations, advocacy, and volunteering programmes.
YS Gulf: What is the Unlock Her Future programme about?
CK: We launched our Unlock Her Future platform in 2021, to brand our commitment to unlocking the future of women and children wherever they're born, aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Establishing the Unlock Her Future Prize was the natural progression to harness our powerful network and reaffirm our commitment to our global community and future generations.
The Unlock Her Future Prize is a startup social entrepreneurship competition focusing on first-time women founders. Open to adult women of any age, the Prize is designed to champion game-women changers and help them establish a venture that drives sustainable positive social, environmental, and economic impact locally and globally.
In its first year, the Unlock Her Future Prize will launch in MENA with the support of our partners Ashoka Arab World and New York University Abu Dhabi. We're inviting women from 19 countries across the Middle East & North Africa who have an innovative and system-changing social impact idea meaning their venture must provide solutions that address social, cultural, or environmental issues within their community.
Their ventures can be from any sector, including healthcare, tech, education, social care, agriculture, engineering, media and finance. They'll operate as either non-profit or their for-profit goals will generate a positive return to society.
The prize is open to women social entrepreneurs who may have a great idea but may have yet to begin their journey and those whose ventures may be in early-stage operations for up to five years. What is essential is that they must be from the MENA region, and their venture must positively impact the MENA region.
The winners will each receive a financial grant of up to $100,000 plus human capital support from a fantastic assembly of global experts and access to an outstanding education and knowledge program with our regional Academic Partner, New York University Abu Dhabi.
Applications are open now and close on January 31, 2023, at www.UnlockHerFuturePrize.com
YS Gulf: What are the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
CK: I can't pinpoint specific challenges; it's been an overall journey of discovering who I am, what I stand for, my shortfalls and what I ultimately want to do, and that's all a challenge of its own! Every career choice was meant to happen, even if I may not have been happy about it at the time. Through the ups and the – so many! - downs, I have learned something and become stronger.
I've been blessed to work with some powerful women who've instilled in me not to worry about my weaknesses but build on my strengths and believe in them.
For example, I was once told that many people have great ideas; however, to launch a business, you need to have solid "business school" training. I don't. Despite what anyone tells you, you need lots of energy, passion, and determination to make it happen. Always trust your gut instinct and surround yourself with people who complement your skill set.
YS Gulf: How do you deal with conscious and unconscious biases?
CK: It is about recognising our own emotional self-awareness. Acknowledgement is the first step; once we become aware of our biases as individuals or organisations, we can move the needle towards achieving an inclusive mindset.
Emotional intelligence is often overlooked among diversity and inclusion programmes, but it is fundamental to our growth and prosperity, and actually, it begins with education.
According to The Education Endowment Foundation, 46% of schools say social-emotional learning is their top priority. As leaders, it is then our responsibility to ensure this learning continues in the workplace.
YS Gulf: What advice would you give women leaders?
CK: Be passionate and stay passionate. Be compassionate and remain compassionate; that will give you the drive and determination to overcome every obstacle. It is what will push you to think outside of the box and, ultimately, what will make things happen!
Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti