A meeting with Aisha Hussein Alfardan, popularly referred to as ‘the Pearl of the Alfardan family’– playing on her fondness for natural pearls – offers deep insights into the psyche of ambitious young Qatari women, who have been able to overcome taboos that generations have inherited and are experiencing the heady freedom and independence of entrepreneurship
Aisha Hussein Alfardan, often described as the face of the modern Qatari women, is a true blue-blooded businesswoman by birth, being the daughter of the well-known Qatari business magnate, Hussein Alfardan, Chairman of the Alfardan Group of Companies.
Committed to breaking barriers from the very beginning, Aisha casually mentions how she used to drive a car during a period when it was illegal for women to drive in Qatar. “Even though women were not issued driving licenses, it didn’t stop me. I wanted to drive and so I did. Eventually, I became the first Qatari woman to get a driving licence.”
After graduation from the Qatar University in 1993, she worked her way up in the Commercial Bank of Qatar from the post of Teller to Ladies Branch Manager – the first woman to become a Bank Manager in the country, at a time when teaching was the only profession open to women.
In 2003 she joined Alfardan Automobiles to assist her father and brothers, becoming the first woman to get involved in the automotive industry in the country.
Apart from succeeding in business, Aisha has attained the post of the Vice-Chairperson of the Qatari Business Women Association (QBWA), accomplishing all this while balancing her domestic role as a dutiful wife and mother. Saying, “Women must endeavour to achieve a work-life balance to be truly successful,” she adds, as a corollary, “Both my father and my husband were very understanding and supportive. That gave me the confidence to push forward.”
As one of the most prominent faces of the QBWA, along with the illustrious Chairperson, HE Sheikha Al Anood Bint Khalifa Bin Hamad Al Thani, she is seen as a role model for aspiring women entrepreneurs. She admits that “Being a role model is a big responsibility. I am naturally proud of what we have achieved so far but we have to continue to strive hard.”
She says only 29 percent of women in the Middle East are engaged in the workplace compared to 69 percent in the rest of the world, though in Qatar itself the proportions are becoming more evenly balanced. “We have to address the factors that hinder women and overcome the challenges so that they can pursue their ambitions.”
Largely due to the efforts of QBWA and the legal changes initiated by HH Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, making it possible for Qatari women to play bigger roles and contribute to the development of the country, women now participate in healthcare, banking and higher education and work in all types of industries, including energy and construction. Women-entrepreneurs are flourishing in the country.
“QBWA enables women to exploit business opportunities and contribute to a more inclusive and prosperous society,” says Aisha. “We provide them a platform to network and exchange ideas and generate opportunities.” While they support start-ups and provide assistance, she has a word of caution for aspiring entrepreneurs: “Good ideas are not always feasible business plans, so make sure you have a solid plan as well.”
She owes much of her inspiration to her father, Hussein Alfardan, who she considers her mentor: “It is he who taught me to generate what I think I deserve – by working hard we build our own future.”
Her pioneering endeavours earned her the 24th ranking in the 2006 Forbes list of 50 Top Businesswomen in the Arab World.
She has taken on an additional responsibility, directly assisting her father: “I am now Personal Advisor to Hussein Alfardan. Because of my love for natural pearls, I couldn’t resist the temptation of working with my father, who happens to be one of the most eminent collectors of natural pearls in the world. I take care of his vast collection of pearls, including over 300 treasures. We concentrate on pearls from the Gulf region since that is our heritage and history.”
She fondly recalls, “I was just a five-year old when my father first allowed me to touch the pearls, while he used to grade and separate them by colours. They continue to fascinate me to this day. It’s a love that I share with my father.”
As the Curator of his Pearl gallery she takes care of the commercial aspects as well; “We have some unique pieces of natural pearls
It is not surprising that she is often referred to as ‘The Pearl of the Alfardan family,’ a title that matches her love for natural pearls.
As a role model for young Qatari businesswomen, known for her struggle for women’s rights and for demolishing the barriers imposed on women by traditions, what advice does she have to offer women, who look to her for inspiration: “Everything starts with a dream. With education, ambition and dedication you can make your dreams come true.” A pearl of wisdom indeed!