Suzanne Afanah- Managing Partner at Advvise
Suzanne Afanah is a former Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, a communications professional and award-winning journalist. She has vast experience as a senior executive in media, television, and mass communications.
Afanah won the “Best Political Story Award” for her contribution to CNN’s Emmy Award winning show The World Report.
Appointed by Her Majesty Queen Rania to the executive committee of the Arab Women’s Summit, Afanah led efforts to create the Arab Media Network and launched an award-winning media campaign to empower Arab women that reached 100 million viewers across the Arab World.
She was also part of the core team that created the Zain brand, leading the rebranding of operations in 24 countries in the Middle East and Africa.
What does it mean to be a female entrepreneur?
It means that women are not confined to be job seekers but they can be job creators. Women can make a difference in the work environment, and a difference in the way the community at large views them. Being a job creator gives women a voice socially and politically, and makes them a power to reckon with.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned throughout your journey?
I have learned to embrace change, as intimidating as it may seem. When I left my career in TV mainly because of changing family needs, I thought it was the end of the road for me. However with every new challenge I took on, I found that I gained immeasurable knowledge and skill. I gained experience in areas I would have never thought I would, from community development to telecommunications to marketing and branding. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
Why did you choose this business in particular?
I feel there is so much to be done in this part of the world and we lack the proper communication channels and trust to achieve that change. I believe in addition to creating jobs and being profitable, every business needs to have a larger purpose and affect the community it serves. This is our purpose.
What makes a good leader?
One who recognizes that for change to be sustainable, it needs the buy-in of all involved; it needs to be slow but sure and needs to be institutional. I started quite early in life. When I was appointed Director of TV at the age of 29, I was the first female and by far the youngest in such a senior administration position. I wanted immediate results, so I focused on quick gains, worked with the best, bulldozed through the job and took no prisoners. By the time I left, the changes were not sustainable, because they depended on my hands-on approach and energy.
What are some of the main challenges you face as a female entrepreneur?
Throughout my career I have never allowed my gender to get in the way, nor was I ever made to feel that I was worth any less as a female. I competed in both public and private sector domains on merit and hard work alone. I have found that even the most difficult of workplaces value those who get the job done regardless of their gender.
While many of the world’s billion dollar club entrepreneurs were aged in their 20s when they set up shop, research suggests that the average age of successful entrepreneurs is around 40, which was very reassuring to me as I set out to start a business in Corporate Communications and Public Relations towards the end of my career. Nevertheless, I set up shop with a handful of top professionals in the field and before we knew it Advvise had become one of the top 3 agencies in the country competing with international brands who had been in the field for decades.
Do women have to work harder to prove themselves?
Absolutely! As a working mother of three, I was very cognizant of the stereotype of mothers in the workplace so I never used my children as an excuse. I would more likely pretend to be sick than to say I’m taking the day off because my child had the flu. I would hide the fact that I was pregnant till I couldn’t conceal it anymore as if it were an ailment.
Now as a business owner, 70 percent of my staff are women, most of them mothers. Family should always take priority and with a supporting ecosystem, that doesn’t mean that the job won’t get done.
Who inspires you?
I am inspired by my father, an academic overachiever who started from scratch and managed to lead his own company by the age of 25, creating jobs for more than 400 people from his community. I am inspired by my mother who after raising six successful children, and becoming a grandmother of 10, decided to go back to university for a master’s degree. I am inspired by my husband, who is a great business mind. Last but not least, I am inspired by my children, my daughter’s artistic sense, my son’s critical thinking and my youngest’s passion to achieve whatever he puts his mind to.
This is part 11 of a 12-piece story. Other parts include: