In light of the upcoming WILL Summit, which is to be hosted virtually on May 19 this year for its second edition, we are looking back at the first WILL Summit, held back in 2019 in Abu Dhabi. The WILL initiative was launched in 2019 and established by our publisher Nervora with the support of UN Women and the General Women’s Union to break down barriers of gender stereotypes towards women. The event brings together a selection of established women, from entrepreneurs and educators, to athletes, artists and politicians, in support of female-based social action.
The themes for the 2019 WILL Summit were, She Leads, She Impacts, She Works, She Plays, and She Performs, presented through special panel discussions, one-on-one interviews, and live performances. The day event opened with a speech from Dr. Mouza Al Shehbi, Director, UN women Liaison Office for the GCC. Manuel Arnaut, editor-in-chief of Vogue Arabia then engaged in conversation with HE Noura Bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development for the UAE, through which the duo discussed the increasing potential of women in the country.
“The WILL Summit is a very good chance to be more visible and to be stronger in our advocacy,” said Al Kaabi. “We brought women from government and from the private sector to talk about themselves and their achievements. There were a lot of emotional stories today. No one would’ve heard these stories if it wasn’t for the WILL Summit.”
The microphone was then passed to a number of powerful Arab women who shared their own narratives of the male-dominated realms that they have made waves in. Philanthropist Maria Conceicao, who created a foundation dedicated to lifting Bangladeshi children out of poverty, expressed the double standards she has faced, stating, “When I help men, I’m Mother Teresa. When I help women, I’m accused of human trafficking. But when I look in my girls’ eyes, I don’t see poverty, I see potential.”
Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari, who was the first to represent the UAE at global competitions, has also shared words on her journey in sports, mentioning, “When I started the sport it was just me. Now we have more than 100 Emiratis and we have a national team of five skaters that compete at an international level.” Also in the field of sports, Saudi race car driver Aseel Alhamad was the first female member of the Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation, who discussed the need for change for women, by women. “We need women who break barriers and lead the change.”
“Sometimes we compare ourselves to men, because that’s what society makes us do,” remarked Ingie Chaloub, founder and president of Etoile Group, and creative director of Ingie Paris. Yet, women have unique capabilities that deserve to be voiced and trusted. “My intuition is my weapon. Women are very intuitive – use it; don’t try to hide it.”
Being the voices of active change by the means of the WILL Initiative, established women from the region will also represent themselves and tell their stories of accomplishment in this year’s WILL Summit. The themes will include She Inspires, She Impacts, She Works, and She Plays, featuring dynamic and influential women such as Yusra Mardini, Syrian refugee and Olympic swimmer; Hend Al Otaiba, the first female ambassador to France; Mikhail Eldhagen, UN Women regional director for the Arab states; Nisreen Shocair, CEO Middle East of Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, and many more. Scroll for a look back at some of the highlights from the 2019 edition of the WILL Summit.