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Ten years ago, the board of directors of the Arab British Chamber of Commerce (ABCC) approved the appointment of Afnan Al-Shuaiby as secretary-general and chief executive of the chamber, making her the first woman to hold the position.
With the ABCC having just celebrated its 40th anniversary, it is clear this dynamic Saudi national has made a significant contribution to building both commercial and cultural bridges.
In terms of numbers, you can point to a three-fold increase in Arab-British trade, up from $9 billion in 2001 to $30 billion in 2015, but what is harder to measure is the bank of goodwill created by the steady building of solid, dependable relations with key decision makers across the Middle East.
Al-Shuaiby would emphasize that it is a whole team effort that lies behind the successful initiatives of recent years, but ABCC Chairman Baroness Symons, in her address to the assembled guests at a recent gala dinner celebrating the anniversary, made a special point of paying tribute to Al-Shuaiby’s achievements, pointing out that she had served the Chamber for a quarter of its 40 year history. She described her as “a most positive, brilliant example of an Arab businesswoman,” whose contribution to the work of the chamber was recognized internationally.
Asked about the evolution of the Chamber’s work, AlShuaiby said:
“Forty years ago, when the Chamber was established, Arab-British cooperation was based largely on the oil and gas industry. Since then, we have witnessed huge transformations in the world and Arab economies: Innovation, artificial intelligence, automation, and robotics are now key concerns.
“The ABCC was founded to promote the Arab world as a business destination in the 1970s. As the world economy has changed, the Arab-British trading relationship has improved; today the United Kingdom and the Arab States enjoy a dynamic relationship, spanning economic, financial, strategic and cultural spheres.”
A look at her career profile gives some clues as to why she commands respect across the board. Previously, she worked as an adviser to the president of the US Saudi Arabian Business Council in Washington, DC. She was educated at King Saud University, Riyadh, graduating with a degree in English Literature, and went on to complete a Masters of Art in Educational Administration at the American University in Washington, followed by a Ph.D. in Leadership Administration.
Al-Shuaiby holds a certificate in Peace and Conflict Resolution from the School of International Business at the American University in Washington and has a certificate in Executive Education from the Harvard Kennedy School. She was also selected by the International Alliance for Women (TIAW) as a recipient of the 2011 TIAW World of Difference 100 Award in 2011.
She was also named Diplomat of the Year for the Middle East (2011) by Diplomat magazine.
She is deeply committed to furthering opportunities for women to achieve their career goals. She sees signs of optimism in this regard but recognizes there is much work to be done.
“This is certainly something I care deeply about and have worked on during my tenure at the Chamber. A particular highlight was the ‘Role of Arab Women – Supporting Open Economies and Inclusive Growth’ event that we co-hosted. I spoke about the Chamber’s strong commitment to forging relationships between Arab businesswomen and their UK counterparts and this continues to be the case. As I note ambitious Arab diversification projects as well as technological and social changes taking place imperceptibly every day, I am cautiously optimistic about the future. Naturally, there is some distance to go but the Chamber and I will be behind Arab career women throughout.”


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