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Ann Cairns, MasterCard’s President, International Markets on partnering with the Dubai Business Women Council on the Ro’Ya initiative to inspire and support female entrepreneurs


Ann Cairns is President, International Markets for MasterCard, responsible for the management of all markets and customer-related activities outside of the United States. As a member of the company’s Executive Committee and based in London, England, Ann leverages the company’s global structure and presence to the benefit of all stakeholders, and brings more than 20 years of experience working in senior management positions across Europe and the U.S., running global retail and investment banking operations.

Ann Cairns
Ann Cairns

 “…there are numerous challenges facing  female entrepreneurs. Most notably, female entrepreneurs are less likely than their male counterparts to know someone who has started a business in the past; these role models are seen as an important part of the stimulus for budding entrepreneurs to make the leap from opportunity recognition to nascent entrepreneurship…”

Please could you tell us about the partnership with the DBWC and how this came about?

Burj Al ArabOn 25 September 2013, I led a MasterCard delegation which met Mrs. Raja Al Gurg, President of the Dubai Business Women Council (DBWC) to announce a partnership aimed at supporting female entrepreneurs in the UAE.

Ro’Ya, which means ‘vision’ in Arabic, has been conceptualised as a result of this partnership. To complement the vision of the UAE Government to drive entrepreneurship, Ro’Ya builds on the efforts and expertise of both organisations.

Our vision for developing the Ro’Ya initiative is to give females across the UAE a real opportunity to pursue their dreams while also enabling them to support the country’s economy, resulting in long-term benefits for them, their families, and the wider society.

How does the Ro’Ya initiative work?

Under the Ro’Ya initiative, existing and aspiring female entrepreneurs were invited to submit business plans of their proposed ventures through a dedicated microsite on the DBWC website, www.dbwc.ae.

Applications are now being vetted by a panel of judges made up of representatives from DBWC and MasterCard, as well as independent judges.

Shortlisted contestants will be invited to pitch their ideas to the judges at a gala event that will take place on November 18th, after which the top three winners will be chosen. The top three contestants will be awarded USD 50,000, USD 30,000 and USD 20,000 as prize funding. Five additional prizes of USD 5,000 each will also be awarded.

MasterCard and DBWC will continue to work with the winners after the gala event to provide them with personalised and tailored mentorship as they begin setting up their business, and to provide them with networking opportunities as required.

Running concurrently alongside the application process, MasterCard and DBWC have organised a series of coaching and training sessions to share insights into various aspects of conceptualising and managing a successful business.

How many workshops have there been and what were the subjects?

Nine workshops that focused on various aspects of conceptualising and managing a business have been organised for aspiring female entrepreneurs since March 2014.

Key topics that were discussed during these training sessions include basics of developing a business plan, human resource management, financial management, the importance of PR / communications and pitching to investors – just to name a few.

Why are female entrepreneurs such an important group to the future of the economy in the UAE?

RoYa workshopEncouraging entrepreneurship is a high priority on the UAE Government’s agenda and this has been reflected through the setup of various entities like the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development, the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development and the Dubai Business Women Council (DBWC), all of which are dedicated to enhance the role of entrepreneurs and women in business.

Based on several reports and studies, it has been discovered that women own 37% of businesses on a global scale. In MENA, although 95% of the private sector is owned by SMEs, a mere 2.5% are headed by females.

That said, reports also suggest that 80% of Emirati women are actually nascent entrepreneurs. Women in the UAE are progressively making their presence felt in the SME segment; many of them have the potential to start up very successful and unique businesses.

This is why we believe that it is important to roll out programs in initiatives that can help all aspiring women entrepreneurs realise their dreams, succeed in their businesses and contribute to the growth of UAE’s economy.

What are the particular challenges they face?

According to the GEM report on Entrepreneurship in the UAE, over half of the adults in the UAE had a fear that their venture would fail.

The same study reported that, in general, there are numerous challenges facing female entrepreneurs. Most notably, female entrepreneurs are less likely than their male counterparts to know someone who has started a business in the past; these role models are seen as an important part of the stimulus for budding entrepreneurs to make the leap from opportunity recognition to nascent entrepreneurship.

This point demonstrates the importance of coaching and mentoring opportunities, such as those at the core of Ro’Ya.

What are the main ways MasterCard and the DBWC are helping in addition to the Ro’Ya workshops?

RoYa networkingWe really believe that Ro’Ya is not a one-off initiative, but an ongoing effort to empower women in the UAE. After the competition is over, MasterCard will continue to work very closely with the top winners, to provide professional guidance and relevant networking opportunities that will help kick-start their businesses and prepare them for long term-success.

In addition, the Dubai Business Women Council has been working for more than a decade to bring about a positive change in society and has introduced many programs that resonated well with women in the UAE. For instance, the DBWC hosts The ‘Network Majlis’ events on a monthly basis to share information on latest knowledge, skills and best practices for women entrepreneurs and leaders. These networking opportunities have become increasingly popular with entrepreneurs in the UAE.

Internally, MasterCard is very committed to empowering women and helping them become the leaders of tomorrow. Our contribution ranges from our 1000 member-strong global Women Leadership Network that is dedicated to empowering women on a personal and professional level through a culture of coaching and mentoring, to a number of community outreach initiatives aimed at educating and supporting female youth across the world. 

What sort of business proposals have been submitted by the particpiants?

The business proposals we received spanned across a number of sectors, with the majority being in the e-commerce and retail sectors.

What is next for Ro’Ya?

We’ve already received many queries from female entrepreneurs asking about the dates for our next Ro’Ya edition in 2015. We are still in talks with our partner on how we can make our next edition, bigger and better, so stay tuned for more updates!

Ann Cairns at RoYa event








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