Meet Farida, Ramia and Shereen El Agamy, three second-generation family business leaders who are on a mission: to give women who are part of family legacies and enterprises a voice and empower them to show the world what they can do.
Among other entrepreneurial activities, the El Agamy sisters and their family have founded the Tharawat Family Business Forum, Tharawat Magazine and Orbis Terra Media. They are also passionate advocates for diversity in family businesses through the Women in Family Business platform that they have co-founded in 2014.
These three powerful sisters came together for a candid discussion with Laura Taylor, Marketing Manager, KPMG Private Enterprise, about the story of their family, the family business and why they are so passionate about supporting women entrepreneurs.
Laura: Thank you for joining me today — this is truly a family affair and a special opportunity for me to hear about your work together and your commitment to supporting women entrepreneurs. How does your story begin?
Ramia: Thank you, Laura. I’m happy to start with some of our family background and the context for our story. The foundation of our family business is very strong. It’s built on our belief of the critical importance of education and communication — which is rooted the core values of our parents and the purpose behind our family’s businesses.
Being born into a multi-cultural family and joining our parents’ entrepreneurial endeavours at a young age is a privilege. But sometimes, it can also be challenging to find your individual purpose inside the family’s collective purpose. So, as siblings, we helped each other out and supported each other’s personal entrepreneurial drive. That way, we could continue to contribute to what our parents had already achieved and find our own purpose and passions to pursue as well.
Farida: Even though we had been working closely together and supporting each other for several years, the day came when we realized that something was missing. Where were our peers? Where were the other women like us who had different experiences and stories to tell? Where were the role models? Historically, the experiences and opinions of women in family businesses have not been shared with the world as much as that of their male counterparts. There was a content vacuum. We decided that we had the desire — and a responsibility — to fill it. That’s when the Women in Family Business initiative came to life as a content platform to help empower women who are part of enterprising families or family wealth all over the world.
What are the key messages you’re delivering to women who are part of family legacies and enterprise?
Shereen: We’re very pragmatic. How can family businesses last? It’s by recognizing the impact of diversity in the economy of today. It isn’t only about empowerment, but recognizing that women leaders represent a competitive advantage that contributes to the sustainability of a family’s culture and its business.
Representation in the stories we tell matters. With a lot of data and facts, we’re showing that diversity is no longer a choice. It’s a ‘must’ to recognize the impact of women’s leadership in the sustainability of today’s businesses and wealth whether their roles be visible or invisible. Women in Family Business puts these messages at the forefront.
There’s a lot of discussion these days about finding your entrepreneurial passion and purpose. How do you approach this subject?
Ramia: Well, I believe that ‘purpose’ is a very dynamic concept. It changes because life changes, the business changes, the world changes. Look at the impact of the pandemic alone. It has fundamentally changed business models and those will not likely revert to ‘normal’ as everyone is expecting.
In our family, we are regularly asking ourselves “why do we want to do this and how do we want to do it?” These aren’t always comfortable conversations, but we believe it’s necessary because it’s the price of alignment in sustaining a common goal and purpose. It’s what drives innovation and survival, and it also gives each of us an opportunity to take on new roles and keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive.
Speaking of entrepreneurial spirit, are you seeing changes in the mindset of next-generation family business leaders and entrepreneurs?
Shereen: I see young entrepreneurs focusing more on the ESG agenda. But there isn’t a role model yet for how to do that successfully. This is a generation that definitely has to think outside the box and be better informed about the issues, challenges and opportunities than generations in the past who followed more traditional business models. Everything is moving quickly and changing the data and facts that are out there. It isn’t easy, and I believe you have to be a different kind of entrepreneur now.
Farida: Well, I’ve been a startup entrepreneur 3.5 times, and I’ve realized that it isn’t about ESG or sustainability or trying to have an impact. I believe we’ve just woken up to new world order that dictates that companies have to understand what they represent in a different way.
It’s the responsibility of entrepreneurs to come up with solutions to societal problems and to do so in a way that doesn’t create other problems. Every entrepreneurship program will tell you that entrepreneurs have to bring solutions to problems. I think it has taken us 20 years to understand what this century means and what the global challenges are that we’re all facing. If you look at human and social evolution, we have always been on the lookout for efficiency. Today’s new technologies are another step forward in doing that and enhancing the human experience.
But we have to stop segregating making a profit and having a purpose. To be successful and sustainable, the world needs both.
Ramia: Let me just add a point about next-generation technologies. I’m a tech advocate because I think it’s the greatest thing that has ever happened to women. Not only are these tech advances a solution to so many of world issues, but the type of technology that’s emerging has eliminated a lot of the arguments that kept women out of opportunities that were dominated by men in the past. It has enabled women to enter scientific fields, for example, and this is a total game changer.
As women, I don’t think we have realized the impact of this yet. We have a responsibility to make sure we have a seat at the table when it comes to how these technologies evolve, the direction they take and the purpose for which they’re being deployed. If we don’t, we will continue to be an extension of the male thinking behind them. Our contribution here is critical, it’s just a fact.
Is there an important message you want to leave with aspiring women entrepreneurs?
Shereen: Support each other. Things are moving fast, and there are opportunities for increased diversity overall and for women entrepreneurs specifically. But, we can only seize these opportunities and fulfill our individual and collective purposes if we’re generous in sharing our experiences and know-how, continue to support and encourage each other and are quick to call things out that marginalize groups and individuals.
Farida: We each have a responsibility to contribute to a better world — and to build businesses that will last for generations.