UAE-based social enterprise Aurora50’s accelerator program encourages greater gender diversity on boards nationwide

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If the single reason behind the creation of the social enterprise Aurora50 had to be summed up in a singular statement, it would be that of its co-founder and CEO Diana Wilde. “When it comes to board diversity, there is a clear link between female representation on boards and better financial results, but very few GCC boards have achieved balance. between the sexes.”

Located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and built with the aim of training future female board members, Aurora50 was launched in early 2020 by Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan and Wilde. “Our goal is to enable ecosystems to change by removing barriers for stakeholders and bring the benefits of gender-balanced leadership to business outcomes in the region,” Wilde adds.

The launch of this social enterprise comes at a turning point in the Middle East’s race towards gender equality. In the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2020 Gender Inequality Index, the UAE’s progress in gender equality has secured the country a top spot in the Arab world and the eighteenth in the world. This is a particularly encouraging statistic at a time when the rhetoric about the need for more women on corporate boards is gaining momentum around the world. And the government of the United Arab Emirates seems to want to rely solely on this facet of the business ecosystem – in March this year, the Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA), a legal entity created in 2000 under the jurisdiction of the country, adopted a mandate that required all listed companies to appoint at least one woman to their board of directors. But according to Wilde, the responsibility does not stop there. “While the UAE leads the Arab world in board diversity, it still lags far behind the rest of the world, with just 3.5% of listed board seats filled. by women in 2020,” she explains. “The challenge of achieving gender balance on boards is rooted in the ecosystem itself, with female executives not having enough visibility and access to grow compared to their peers masculine.”

And it is with this distinct vision in mind that Wilde and his team launched a flagship program, Pathway20, intended to address the many tangential issues that arise under the umbrella term of “gender parity”. Created with the aim of providing a distinctive framework to support women in their early careers on the board, Pathway20 is a 12-month acceleration program with a holistic approach to hone business skills and empower people. women. “Pathway20 offers a multi-disciplinary learning environment that addresses issues unique to school boards, and the framework involves working collaboratively with our business partners to accelerate change,” says Wilde. “We identify key growth areas for each participant, developing the soft and technical skills required for board roles. We expose Pathway20 talent to peer-to-peer learning and connecting with mentors early in the program. When this talent is appointed to rated boards, which can happen during or after the program, they join Manarat – Aurora50’s network of women on boards – and give back by helping to develop and connect future talents.

What stands out here is the goal of building sisterhood within the Aurora50 community and ensuring that successful women who make it to the board can then pave the way for more deserving women to have the same opportunities. And while increasing awareness is one of the primary goals of social enterprise, increasing media and public discussion around the topic, by itself, will not ensure greater diversity on the board. administration, explains Wilde. “We don’t just raise awareness of how various boards are performing better on their balance sheets, but we’re also taking action to make those changes happen,” she adds. “Our USP is our approach to solving gender issues at the board level, mobilizing the entire ecosystem to collaborate and co-create solutions to effect change. We strengthen the pool of skilled female leaders needed for high-performing, gender-balanced boards by working with leading organizations through our various initiatives.”

The Aurora50 team. Source: Aurore50

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One such initiative is the Aurora50 Board Summit, an annual event that brings together ministers, policymakers, regulators, presidents, board members and senior executives from the Arab Emirates. together to discuss the business benefits of increased diversity on boards. The second edition of the Board Summit was held in September this year, over three days, as a hybrid event. “The event provides board members in the public and private sectors access to women currently serving on boards and those aspiring to become directors,” says Wilde. “Over the three days, boards were able to address the most important issues facing boards today, including innovation, ESG (environmental, social and governance) and diversity, while collectively discovering the future of exemplary board leadership.”

With so many initiatives and programs on its plate, it’s worth noting that Aurora50’s team currently only has six full-time members, two part-time employees, and a handful of interns. “We self-funded the business and have maintained it to this day, and we are also actively recruiting to expand our core team,” adds Wilde. And for a small team like this, the COVID-19 crisis has also brought its fair share of challenges. But Wilde looks back on how it all started with a sense of gratitude. “We launched our initiative to be a change accelerator in January 2020 and soon after we established the Abu Dhabi office when we signed with our lead partner ADNOC,” she recalls. “Despite the pandemic which slowed our momentum, we then signed with our founding partner Mubadala and our first business partners FAB and Abu Dhabi Ports, and established our Dubai office in February 2021. Which has really helped us throughout is the UAE Government’s response to managing the pandemic and providing an economic environment that supports business continuity! »


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