Tamara’s quest to support investment in Iraq

By Tamara Ra’ad Shaker: 1992 is the year I was born in Baghdad. I went to Al-Nahrain University, College of Business Economics in 2010 and by 2014 I had earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Investment Management. I decided to continue onto higher education and study for my master’s degree in Economic Sciences and Investment Management in 2018, and it has been almost a year since I started working for the banking sector.  I have chosen to develop myself personally by reading scientific and economic books, as well as stories of success, self-development, creation and finding solutions.

My purpose is to devote my life to the unceasing quest for knowledge and skills enhancement within my purview, building on the talents that I was given by birth, adding to this my determination to start my own project.

A thought about writing a book that tackles small and mid-sized enterprises came to me while I was writing my master’s degree thesis. I looked and found that the small and mid-sized enterprises play a major role in the achievement of sustainable development goals which helps decrease the rate of unemployment and poverty, so I tried to dig deeper into the details researching a variety of literary information. I managed to collect enough data to study the start-up of small and mid-sized enterprises after 2003.

In 2019, I was the first to bring the Swedish SeedStars company in Iraq in cooperation with the central bank in support of investment of small and young enterprises.

My advice to every woman is to keep enhancing mindset and skills, as well as paying attention to education because a degree will be one of the greatest achievements of any person’s life. Try to make and do things that interest you and remember that life isn’t only about starting a family. Know that nothing is impossible.

Drawing is one of my hobbies, I had it as a talent since I was a kid, and still I am practicing it:

Getting ready for the Runway

By Dana Asady : I was born and raised in Basra, Iraq and spent my early life in the city of love and poetry. During the hardship of the 8 years during the Iraqi/Iranian war, just like any Iraqi child raised at that time, I have my fair share of memories where friendships were cut too short, smoke and sirens were my everyday backdrop, sadly a typical Iraqi childhood if you ask me. Despite all of that I was, and still am, an eternal optimist who can mute the noise at once, focusing on the beauty of the imperfections around us, a dreamy and glass half full kind of gal.

Dana’s parents in the 1970’s

I always find myself wondering who and what inspired me to be who I am today? What influenced my journey? Was it the shanashel of my old city, my love for  Al-Sayab and Ahmad Shouqi’s children books,  or was it the endless hours of watching my mother dress up every morning getting ready for work? Fitted with her high knee genuine leather boots, her chiffon pussy-bow blouse under a form-fitting belted jacket. My mother was my vision board.

Just like any Iraqi girl, I had to learn how to knit, sew, clean and maybe cook while maintaining excellent grades at school. Culturally that’s what’s expected from you, perfection! I was always a B student, the type that does the least to get by. My main loves were drawing, creating, designing day in and day out. I will never forget the day when my mother sent some of my drawings to a children’s drawing show on Kuwaiti TV back in the 80s.

Yelling my name to get my attention while playing outside with my friends,

“Dana hurry, your drawings are on TV! “yelled my mom.

Having my lines critiqued and brush strokes analysed on TV was probably the highlight of my childhood, it felt good to be appreciated for something i really truly loved and had nothing to do with how I looked, how well I cooked or cleaned or how high my grades were, it was purely because at that moment my vision mattered.

It’s not a surprise that Iraq is a culture of rich traditions, traditions that are not necessarily tied to your social status but instead tied to your appreciation of the craft, to see young women flooding the fabric market, measuring, touching, inspecting and haggling to buy the perfect yard for that perfect occasion was then, and still is today, a common scene.

My mother and my aunt “Suad” were probably the most influential women in my life, strong, unapologetic, independent and creative. They both taught me how to look for the perfect fabric, how to cut and adjust patterns, how to be patient with my vision, “always iron your seams before sewing them with the machine” they said.

Years went by and my sketch book of designs was and still is my most prized possession, aided by the daydreaming whilst waiting patiently for my high school graduation day, the day I would be part of  the creative minds in the university of fine arts, Sadly, that was not to be my reality. I graduated from Dijlah high school for girls in 1995 with grades good enough to be accepted into an engineering school (remember, B student)  again, just like many of the girls in my generation, I was faced by society expectations. Good girls, cook, clean, sew, knit, maintain good grades and become a doctor or an engineer, all while looking pretty, this is the perfection!

My Iraq was broken, people were hurting financially.  A lack of food and opportunities were the norms after the Desert Storm War, my family was no different than a lot of people who went overnight from being ok to extremely not ok.  Leaving Iraq at the end of 1995 was one of my most painful memories, leaving friends, dreams and the familiar places all behind to a embark on a new chapter of unknowns was terrifying.

Libya became my new reality, in the back of my mind I tucked my dreams neatly away and went about life. Five years later, I graduated from the university of Garyounis in Libya with a degree in physics, moved later to Amman, Jordan to continue my education and earn a master’s degree in Nuclear physics,

In 2003, I met the love of my life and my other half, we got married and I moved to the United States of America. The USA, the new uncharted territory with many unknowns but never ending possibilities . With little to no love for teaching, I started exploring the rapid growth of technology in the new millennium in the midwest and with a supportive partner and two kids under my belt, I started pursuing my training in project management, software development, automation tools as well as Agile coaching. Technology was my saving grace, it put me back on my toes and it gave me a sense of belonging to a creative community, a community that fosters ideas and sees them through to become valuable products. I stayed on the sidelines, learning, absorbing and asking stupid and smart questions along the way, no pride and no holding back. Using all that harvested knowledge, I was lucky to be one  of the founding members of a small SAS company in Chicago that grew within three years to go from 3 employees to 200 with a very heavy client list and after 8 years in the startup community, the company was acquired by another competitor and I decided to join the upcoming startup within the corporate community in Chicago. With continued coaching and mind-shifting, I was unconsciously becoming an expert in team accelerations and a product delivery strategist!

That’s when the perfect storm hit me , I was a middle aged woman with three kids and a high paying job yet no sense of fulfillment. Society expected me to be content until retirement but my mind couldn’t be at peace with it, I wanted more!

Forty was my turning point, it was my now or never moment, dusting off those old dreams of mine, and putting my product development expertise to the test. I stopped saying  “one day Iwill be a fashion designer” because 2017 was my year and i was going to own it, the worst that can happen is failing, at least i will be able to say “ I tried and I failed “ remember the full half of the glass type of gal.

I created my own fashion brand company, aSady, starting with samples to test the market with friends and family, women sought my designs because they stood out, they looked strong yet feminine. I created aSady for the everyday woman who is ready to grab life by its’ horns and to look great whilst doing so! I used bold  cuts coupled with intricate embroidery, embodying every memory of my beloved Sayab , the last standing shanasheel of my beautiful city of Basra, Soummer where goddesses ruled both love and war simultaneously, or was it my simply because of my mother? Whatever the reason, I know that i found Me for the first time at 41 years old.

Mastering the courage to be vulnerable I shared me creations with the world for the first time on Instagram. Soon, my designs caught the attention of the most renowned celebrity stylists and the fashion scene in New York where I made my debut in New York Fashion week and Paris fashion Week.  Within one year, my designs graced the pages of high-end fashion magazines such Vogue UK, Vogue Italia, GQ, Elle Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar  and so many more. I didn’t know I had it in me until I tried.

I can stand today and look back at the endless moments I pitied myself and my lost dreams, blaming the world and life on so many missed opportunities to realize I never actually missed anything. Life, god and the universe was fostering me, teaching me along the way to prepare me for the runway.

 

International Women’s Day from generation Z’s perspective

Image by Neda Dorudi

By Kay Gouw: As a young woman who forms part of the generation Z I have witnessed from an early age the rise in the discussion regarding womens’ position in society, I have been introduced to feminism and have encountered a fair amount of literary work dedicated to the recognition of women’s rights. Yet what I failed to be taught was how these movements related to me, a woman in the making. It seemed to me like those “issues” were just for some, that they didn’t relate to me.

As a child, my peers and I didn’t think too much about the role or the importance of women and, if anything, we held quite patriarchal views about the topic. Our fathers were supposed to be the head of the house and earning the higher salary while the mothers could work, if they wanted to, but we weren’t surprised if they were homemakers. The idea of women pursuing a career without settling down and having a family was a foreign concept, intriguing yet foreign. As a naive child I didn’t question my own or my peers’ ideology and was oblivious to the fact that me myself one day would find myself in the midst of this discussion, as by then I would call myself a woman and not a child anymore.

As a 21-year old young woman I am slowly discovering what being a woman actually means. I never paid much thought to it even throughout my teenage years yet through little interactions and events I explore the topic more everyday. For example, on International Women’s Day I worked a shift where it happened that there were only women on duty. We were really short of staff and we had to rely on each other to get the job done. Despite finding ourselves in a challenging situation the atmosphere was serene. We all volunteered to help do other staff’ jobs, we sat and had deep and inspiring conversations about a range of topics and shared our advice on them while one staff member treated us with freshly baked cupcakes and another prepared a full Sunday-roast dinner for us. The way we interacted with each other, especially on International Women’s Day, got me thinking about what calling myself woman means again.

With the wisdom I have now I can clearly see the differences between men and women, and I am not opposed to these differences at all. My definition on men and women’s equality means that we recognise that there are differences between us and that we shouldn’t try to make ourselves be “the same”. By denying our biological and psychological differences we are dismissing our identity as women and also their identity as men. My aim isn’t to be the same as a man but instead to celebrate my own individual womanhood. I want to learn more about myself as a woman and I want to understand men better in order to understand how we can both work towards establishing a harmonious relationship. All I ask for is that my demands, efforts and voice be recognised and to be considered equally as important as men’s. Nothing more and nothing less. Regardless if you celebrated or not, I hope everyone had a great day on International Women’s Day, may everyday be a celebration of your own womanhood.

Here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them and may we raise them.

International Women’s Day 2020 by Zayneb

By Zayneb Mahdi- When I was asked to write an article for Nina, I thought it would be only fitting to write something within the context of International Women’s day. I started by thinking and researching inspirational women from all over the world – my angle would be to tell the story of strength, collaboration, vision, empowerment, adversity, courage and so much more. All channeled through one inspirational woman that my article would spotlight – one woman to channel all of these characteristics and inspire you.

I paused to reflect – who is this woman? How could I find her? I started researching.

And then I realised – ‘she’ was staring at me. ‘She’ had been with me from the start, ‘she’ was Nina. Nina is all of those things and more…..and rather than telling the story of one single woman, I wanted to share the story of Nina, what ‘she’ was created to do and what ‘she’ means to me. As to me Nina personifies all of these traits and more.

I was part of Nina from the start all those years ago, my connection to Nina is extremely personal. I was born in Baghdad and left after the first Gulf War. I have been living in London since I was 4 and I’m in my 30s now. I count myself as Iraqi (first) and British (second). My Iraqi heritage forms the first part of me and my British-ness compliments the rest. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to bring together the best of both worlds. I have the strong family values, relationships and let’s not forget love for food from my Iraqi side and London has provided me with an enriched life full of opportunity – a great education, a great career, a great network and the list goes on. London has not only given me, but encouraged me, to become an economically empowered woman.

That is the essence of Nina – to promote economic empowerment for women, by women. We wanted to promote the growth and development of a gender that is so often marginalised. We wanted to promote economic empowerment in a region that has suffered from war in all of its forms. The thinking was if we could support women to grow the private sector in these much needed regions, we would be contributing to the growth and stability of the region. For me personally, all of the things that I took for granted when I was growing up in London – the liberty to go to school, the pursuit of an education, the pursuit of a career, the network and skills I built as a result. All of those opportunities brought me to where I am today and it is luck that I was able to get them. The luck to be living in a country where all of that is afforded to you without thinking. I wanted to be involved in a platform that facilitates those opportunities to women that may not have had them as easily as I have had. That’s why Nina means so much to me.

Nina promotes opportunities for women. It couldn’t personify all of the values that International Women’s Day promotes more if it tried. It’s mission is to celebrate and develop women.  And I am excited for the new chapter Nina is entering into. I am excited to welcome our new editor-in-chief, who has refreshed my enthusiasm for Nina. I am excited that we have refreshed our value statement ‘growing stronger by sharing’. We want to give women a voice, we want to encourage you to share your stories because we will not be able to grow stronger without you.

So that’s what Nina means to me – tell me – what does Nina mean to you?