In her words: Wafa Alobaidat and 5 lessons of an entrepreneur
Inside a historical brick building in Washington, D.C. dating to the 18th century, sits Halcyon—a nonprofit organization with a mission to fuel the entrepreneurs whose ideas will help define the 21st century. Halcyon serves as a home to innovators and creators, working with these pioneers to understand their ecosystems, identify their needs, and explore new programs and partnerships.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is collaborating with Halcyon to support innovation around the world, particularly in the Middle East. In 2020, AWS and Halcyon launched the Halcyon 2021 Bahrain Women’s Intensive, which aims to foster leadership and scale early-stage, women-run businesses based in Bahrain. The intensive provides participants with monthly programming, AWS Promotional Credit, personalized support from AWS solutions architects, and a week-long residency at Halcyon’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. The program seeks to inspire female tech entrepreneurs in Bahrain—one of the fastest growing ecosystems in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) for impact-oriented business—and the broader region.
One of the Intensive participants is Wafa Alobaidat, founder of Women Power Network, an organization that aims to accelerate the success of women founders and professionals through networking and live events including the Women Power Summit. Alobaidat is also the host of the Women Power Podcast, a series for ambitious women based in MENA, and the chief executive officer (CEO) of Obai and Hill, a public relations (PR) and design agency made up of young, emerging creatives in the design, PR, and marketing fields.
Alobaidat shared her career path and what she sees the future holding for women entrepreneurs. Here are five key lessons that Alobaidat has learned through her work:
1. Global problems have personal solutions
Alobaidat’s passion for women’s empowerment took off in 2018 when she came across a World Economic Forum report that stated that closing the gender gap would take 257 years. “That really upset me,” said Alobaidat. “And if you look at MENA countries specifically, we ranked very low when it came to gender equality for so many different reasons. My team and I at Obai & Hill asked what we can do to address this issue.”
They started by organizing a summit for women founders and professionals. Alobaidat said it came naturally to them to start an empowerment event—Women Power Summit—because their ultimate goal was to get different women to talk about their experiences, how they obtained leadership roles, and what they faced on their journeys to the top.
“We had 300 speakers over three years, and they all shared their playbook to success,” Alobaidat said. The event includes a pitching competition for women in tech, mentorship sessions, and an exhibition area to showcase female entrepreneurs’ work—in Alobaidat’s words, “a festival of bold, incredible women.”
2. Vulnerability leads to honesty
“We wanted truth,” said Alobaidat. “We didn’t want to hear the stuff you would give a magazine. We wanted to know, what does it take to become part of that 1% of successful women in the region? It was super vulnerable.”
The challenges posed by COVID-19 drove Alobaidat to bring the conversations from the summit ballroom to women’s living rooms. And so she launched the Women Power Podcast, in which fear of failure or rejection is a common thread.
“For a lot of women, when they feel they’re not ready, they say, ‘No, not yet. No, thank you. Maybe later,’ and they miss out on these massive opportunities when actually they were ready. So just learning to say yes to these moments—and decriminalizing failure—is so important.” Alobaidat believes in talking about failure and embracing weaknesses. “I think that when these women find real happiness is when they’re just being their authentic selves.”
3. Technology can expand the conversation
At the start of the pandemic, Alobaidat’s team questioned what to do about the Women Power Summit. They shifted the event to the Women Digital Festival, hosting all of their speakers, partners, and attendees virtually. “I feel so proud that we were able to pivot our event and really get people, at a time of crisis, to still believe in what we were doing.”
Beyond the event and podcast, Alobaidat is building an education technology (EdTech) platform to reach yet another audience with her message. “What I’m trying to do now with my team is say, okay, the world has changed; people want digital education tools, but there’s still a craving or appetite for the type of content we had at the summit.”
The EdTech platform will showcase the same stories from the Women Power Summit, but in a more chronological way. “We wanted to create beautiful content that was well curated, where we could give women the space to share their journeys to success in a way that you can also learn—kind of turning the stories into skills.”
4. Failure has valuable lessons
During her agency’s first 10 years, Alobaidat “started and failed multiple times,” including unsuccessful attempts to launch a concept store for emerging fashion designers, a wooden eyewear brand, an accessories brand, and a talent management firm. “I dabbled with these things and then I went back to the service space. I think I realized that I need to build something with purpose. So this is why I’m here with Halcyon, trying to learn as much as I can to scale up this EdTech company and to make a real difference in the world.”
Halcyon has given Alobaidat’s team access to leading consultants and advisors, as well as a community of bold women. “One of the biggest things that I’m taking away so far from this journey is having accountability. You’re in this community of other people, and you’re all promising to achieve these things. Working within a community of entrepreneurs and just learning from each other – getting feedback from each other – has been really valuable. Everybody is trying to do good in the world, do it at scale, and do it for different groups of people and for women.”
5. Unapologetic ambition is a gift
One of Alobaidat’s guiding principles is to be unapologetically ambitious. In speaking about the Women Power Network, Alobaidat said, “At the end of the day, we wanted to create a safe space where women could be passionate about what they were doing, unapologetic about their ambition, and have a space where they could be vulnerable and talk about things they’re stuck in, whether it’s divorce or work-life balance. We really wanted to create a place where women could be courageous with their stories.”
Alobaidat believes the summit, podcast, and new EdTech platform further these goals. “I’m building this tech platform because I feel that if you see it, you believe it and then you can be it, right? When I see a woman that looks like me become CEO of an organization, I then feel it’s possible for me.” Alobaidat believes that seeing how these women rose to their positions is key. “We want local heroes to be transparent about how they’ve made it, and then that gives us permission to want those things as well. We know that there’s a different playbook for women to succeed than men. We’re going to get successful women to tell you how they have hacked the system, how they became world leaders, CEOs, board members, managers, and thrived in their industry.”
Learn more about the Bahrain Women’s Intensive and Halcyon’s other Intensive programs. And check out more thought leadership.