25 inspiring women leaders who've created a 'Lasting Legacy'
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Spotlight: 25 inspiring women leaders who’ve created a ‘Lasting Legacy’

Spotlight: 25 inspiring women leaders who’ve created a ‘Lasting Legacy’

Part of its ‘Priceless’ campaign, Mastercard’s book celebrates the journeys of women who are making a difference on a global scale

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Mastercard lasting legacy

To celebrate 25 years of its ‘Priceless’ campaign, Mastercard recently released its Lasting Legacy book that showcases 25 women leaders who have successfully broken-down barriers in traditionally male-dominated fields.

Jennifer Rademaker, chief future of work officer, Mastercard, said: “A critical factor in redressing this imbalance is to support more women in achieving leadership positions. Apart from the many documented benefits of having women leaders, these women are role models for others, inspiring women to dream and think bigger in their aspirations and expectations. We are proud to showcase women leaders from around the world who are making a difference on a global scale. We find these women incredibly inspiring and have chosen their stories for this legacy project to celebrate their journeys and accomplishments.

“We asked these leaders to be candid about their experiences in their lives and in their work. Many of them have been successful in fields that were traditionally male-dominated, breaking down barriers for the next generation. We also wanted to hear about their inspirations and their vision and hopes for the future.”

Here are the women role models chosen for their impact and ‘lasting legacy’.

1. Laila Mostafa Abdullatif, director general of Emirates Nature-WWF

Laila Mostafa Abdullatif has served as director general at Emirates Nature–WWF since 2017, where she is in charge of its mission to deliver high-impact, science-based, robust conservation solutions. A big believer in the importance of engaging with the public to highlight the vital connection between nature and humanity, Abdullatif first joined Emirates Nature-WWF in 2009 as sustainability coordinator of the Ecological Footprint Initiative.

Today, she forges and nurtures strategic partnerships with a range of stakeholders including the UAE government, the private sector and civil society to bring her belief to life and play an active and sustainable role in protecting our planet. She was recently elected as the chair of WWF Asia Pacific Growth Strategy (APGS) across twenty-eight countries in the region.

2. Zainab AlEqabi, para-athlete

Zainab Al-Eqabi was seven years old when an undetonated bomb dating back to the Gulf War went off in her family’s garden in Baghdad, Iraq, severely injuring her, her father and her sister. A subsequent medical error left the young Al-Eqabi with an amputation to her left leg, changing the course of her life forever. Her family relocated to the UAE in 2001 for her father’s business, and decided to stay as her parents wanted to raise their four children in a stable environment away from the war in Iraq.

It was during her time at the University of Sharjah that she discovered swimming as a way to ease the back pain that her prosthetic leg was causing her – and so, she discovered the freeing power of physical activity. Since then, the now 31-year-old has taken on challenge after challenge, from skydiving, hiking and scuba diving to hauling a 2,000-kilo Jeep during the 2020 Dubai Fitness Challenge.

“Adrenaline is life,” said Al-Eqabi, who inspires over 1.6 million Instagram followers by documenting her no-holds-barred life on the social media platform.

3. Nezha Alaoui, author, impact influencer and CEO of Women Choice

Nezha Alaoui is a Moroccan-born entrepreneur, author, awarded activist for female leadership, and an impact influencer with an active community of two million followers. She began her career as a photographer, commissioned by the United Nations to report on the organization’s World Food Program missions throughout the world. She went on to create The Mayshad Group, a women-centric business comprising enterprises dedicated to leadership, development, diversity and inclusion.

Alaoui ensures that her personal values of women’s empowerment, sustainability and future-thinking practices shine through all her work, with the goal to positively impact the world for generations to come. “The name Mayshad comes from the first syllables of my daughters’ names, Maysoon and Shadeen,” explained Alaoui. “I became a mom at the age of 23, so my daughters have grown up throughout my journey as an entrepreneur.”

4. Sarah Beydoun, founder and creative director of Sarah’s Bag

In the space of a few devastating seconds, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history destroyed Sarah Beydoun’s beloved flagship boutique and atelier as well as her home. Ripping through the Lebanese capital on August 4, 2020, it left an already ailing city shattered. For Beydoun, August was meant to be a better month after the pandemic brought the world to a standstill. Her business, Sarah’s Bag, a social enterprise and luxury fashion house, had just started to adapt and recover when the explosion wrecked the brand’s painstaking efforts to stay afloat.

Despite the setbacks and challenges, Beydoun and her team managed to navigate the aftermath of the explosion by focusing on international sales through the brand’s online boutique, sarahsbag.com. Sarah’s Bag also teamed up with Mastercard to dream up the Priceless Collection, a stunning line of handcrafted clutches and handbags launched and sold exclusively at Expo 2020 Dubai.

The collection features bags inspired by Mastercard’s motto and aesthetic (red for passion, yellow for optimism) and others that draw on Sarah’s Bag’s Middle Eastern heritage. All the intricate, decorative elements of the bags are handmade by the artisans who form the backbone of Sarah’s Bag: female prisoners, ex-prisoners and underprivileged women. In the twenty-two years since the founding of the brand, Sarah’s Bag has become synonymous with the spirit, creativity and entrepreneurial essence of Beirut.

5. Aisha bin Bishr, global digital magnate, vice chairwoman of Emaar Development Board and former founding director general of Smart Dubai

Dr Aisha bin Bishr is one of the world’s most influential Arabs.

An inspirational and warm figure, she headed the establishment of the Smart Dubai Office, spearheaded the pioneering Smart City Index global project, and continues to make huge contributions towards the digitisation – and ensuing increasing happiness – of her city, Dubai.




6. Jennifer Blandos, founder and CEO of Female Fusion

Over a 25-year career, Jen Blandos has done a lot. But she’s not done. She started her career in PR and communications, but quickly found that her passion lay in entrepreneurship. In 2003, she created a PR agency in London, Brussels and Dubai, and later launched a communications-focused training company in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and London. In 2020, as the world reeled from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and business owners suffered tremendously, she took a community Facebook Group and turned it into a licenced business. She established a paid membership that focuses on helping female entrepreneurs start, build, grow and scale their businesses.

Female Fusion counts a membership of 1,000 business owners and a wider community of over 30,000 members. It went global at the start of 2023, and now has members from around the world.

7. Ola Doudin, co-founder and CEO of BitOasis

Ola Doudin is the co-founder and CEO of BitOasis, the GCC and Middle East’s first and largest retail virtual asset platform. BitOasis enables investors across the Arab World to securely buy, hold and sell over sixty virtual assets and participate in the world of Web3. Doudin co-founded BitOasis in Dubai to address a pain point across the region – namely how the next generation of investors could access virtual assets but from a local platform purpose-built for them. Prior to co-founding BitOasis, Ola worked in global technology audit in London and obtained her degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Birmingham. She is involved in various entrepreneurship initiatives supporting and mentoring tech start-ups and social entrepreneurs.

Forbes Middle East named her one of the Top 10 Women Behind Middle Eastern Tech Brands in 2021, and in 2022, Ola was selected as a “Young Global Leader 2022” – an initiative by the World Economic Forum.

8. Nona Gaprindashvili, chess legend

Nona Gaprindashvili was the first woman ever to be awarded the FIDE (International Chess Federation) Grandmaster rank (among men) in 1978, the highest a chess player can attain. The title is, fittingly, for life – Gaprindashvili had been playing chess since she was five years old, and at 81 years old, she continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the shrewd and thrilling world of chess.


9. Valeriya Ionan, deputy minister for Eurointegration at the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine

In her position as the deputy minister for Eurointegration at Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation, Valeriya Ionan oversees the country’s national digital literacy programme, development and growth of SMEs with the help of digital transformation, regional digital transformation, Eurointegration and international relations.

Prior to working in the government, she was an entrepreneur. She launched Quadrate 28, Ukraine’s first company that implemented the “team on request” model in the areas of marketing, sales, HR and financial management. She also co-founded MC Today, the first online magazine for entrepreneurs, as well as organised DISRUPT HR Kyiv, an event series formed aiming at information exchange that is designed to energise, inform and empower people in the HR field.

A mother to a one-year-old, Ionan is an amateur boxer and has also swum across the Bosporus and half-Oceanian Lago D’orta.

10. Jessica Kahawaty, model, entrepreneur and philanthropist

Empathetic and passionate, Lebanese-Australian multi-hyphenate model, entrepreneur, angel investor and philanthropist Jessica Kahawaty has channeled her energy towards fighting for the underdog her whole life.

Her latest venture sees her entering the F&B industry with her mother, Rita. Ask her to choose a label, and Kahawaty refuses to be pigeonholed, preferring instead to continuously evolve and use her unique skills towards doing good wherever she can, using her hybrid model of online (she has 1.2 million followers on Instagram) and offline work.

11. Roya Khajeh, assistant general manager and head of Cards and Payments at Commercial Bank, Qatar

Roya Khajeh’s ten-year plan includes becoming the first female CEO of a bank in Qatar.

The trajectory seems highly likely, as her nearly three-decade-long career continues to go from strength to strength. The assistant general manager and head of Cards and Payments at Commercial Bank – Qatar’s leading digital bank – Khajeh keeps herself at the cutting edge of the fintech industry, a field she developed a passion and curiosity for from a very young age.

Juggling a fast-moving industry with life as a mother, she makes the time to continuously work on her education; Khajeh recently completed her executive MBA from HEC Paris and is on the lookout for a PhD program, and to work on her passion of becoming a motivational speaker.

12. Linda Kirkpatrick, president of Mastercard North America

Linda Kirkpatrick began her career with Mastercard more than twenty-five years ago. She joined the company as an intern and has been part of its evolution from a not-for-profit association to a global leader in payment innovation and technology.

Linda has taken on several diverse roles across the business – from working on the company’s initial public offering, to overseeing global rules and standards, to managing relationships with banks and merchants.

Today, she is responsible for the company’s largest market and continues to inspire, innovate and empower.

13. Wendy Kopp, co-founder and CEO of Teach For All

In 1989, Princeton student Wendy Kopp submitted a 177-page senior thesis titled “An Argument and Plan for the Creation of the Teachers Corps”, which detailed her thoughts on and plans to address a national teacher shortage and the academic issues children from low-income backgrounds face. Little did she know that her paper would go on to have a real world, global impact. In 1990, Kopp founded Teach For America with 489 corps members in New York, Los Angeles, Eastern North Carolina, South Louisiana, and rural Georgia. In 2007, Kopp co-founded Teach For All, taking the Teach For America model worldwide and creating a global network of independent organizations working to develop collective leadership that is locally rooted and globally informed to ensure all children have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Kopp is the youngest person and the first woman to receive Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson Award (1993). She is also the recipient of numerous other awards, including the Schwab Foundation’s Outstanding Social Entrepreneur Award (2008), the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement (2006), and the Presidential Citizens Medal (2008). Kopp was recognised by TIME magazine as one of the forty most promising leaders under 40 in 1994, and later named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in 2008. She holds honorary doctorate degrees from fifteen universities, including Washington University in St. Louis, Princeton University, Harvard University, and Dartmouth College. In 2017, she was among three recipients of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation’s Knowledge Award.

14.  Pontsho Maruping, managing director of South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO)

A self-described career nomad, Pontsho Maruping started her career in the late 1980s in the mining industry working for De Beers and Anglo American. She later joined the South African Department of Science and Technology where she led various initiatives including spearheading the establishment of the South African National Space Agency, co-chairing the Science and Technology Committee of the Group on Earth Observations, chairing the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites, and serving on the South African Council for Space Affairs.

Maruping later joined the Technology Innovation Agency, where she started as an executive and eventually became responsible for a portfolio of over 160 investments in ICT, Energy, Advanced Manufacturing, Natural resources, Agricultural biotechnology and Health. In 2022, she was appointed as the Managing Director of the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), the entity that implements the country’s obligations in the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project, an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope. This project has propelled South Africa to the forefront of one of the major astronomy projects in the world, taking Maruping’s personal and professional journey to new heights.

15. Wanjira Mathai, environmentalist and activist

When your mother is the late, great environmentalist and conservationist Wangari Maathai, it can prove tricky to uphold her legacy. Not when you are Wanjira Mathai. “I am not living in my mother’s shadow, I am basking in her light,” says the 50-year-old Kenyan environmentalist and activist of her journey from supporting her mother’s grassroots organization to today. After completing a master’s in public health in the US, Mathai moved back to Kenya where she assisted her mother with the Green Belt Movement (GBM), an indigenous, non-governmental organization that Wangari had founded in 1997 to focus on environmental conservation and community development.

In October 2004, Mathai was getting ready to travel back to the US when her mother became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace. That is when Mathai decided she would stay in Kenya to support her mother’s work, grow the reach of GBM, and amplify her message that the environment and peace were inextricably linked. Now, she is the Managing Director for Africa and Global Partnerships at the World Resources Institute.

16. Sconaid McGeachin, director of communications and marketing at COP28 UAE and former senior vice president Communications at Expo 2020 Dubai

Sconaid McGeachin wrapped up the “greatest show on earth” in April 2022. The former senior vice president – Communications at Expo 2020 Dubai took in the numbers, the events, the feelings accrued over 182 days during which 192 countries came together in Dubai.

The main takeaway for McGeachin? Pride – at the UAE’s handling of a mega event during a global pandemic and at the team’s achievement in communicating the Expo to the world – and a feeling of being fortunate to have been a part of Expo 2020 Dubai.

In her new role as the director of Communications and Marketing at COP28 UAE, she is championing the UAE’s drive as a global player in the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) space.

17. Raha Moharrak, adventurer

On 18 May 2013, Raha Moharrak became the youngest Arab, and first Saudi woman to scale Mount Everest and plant her country’s flag at 8,848 meters, the highest point on earth. The rest may be history, but it’s a story worth telling.

A graduate in Visual Communications from the American University of Sharjah, Moharrak left a rising career in advertising to – accidentally – become a role model when she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. From that day forward, she knew that she would be dedicating a great portion of her life to mountaineering, and all of it to adventure.

The fiery 37-year-old may have climbed the Seven Summits – Kilimanjaro (5,895 metres), Mount Everest (8,848 metres), Mount Elbrus (5,642 metres), Denali, Mount Aconcagua (6,961 metres), Vinson Massif (4,892 metres), Mount Kosciuszko (2,228 meters), and Jaya Peak (4,884 metres) and become the first Saudi woman and youngest Arab to complete the Seven Summits.

18. Dr Maya Morsy, president of the National Council for Women, Egypt

Dr Maya Morsy took office as president of Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW) in February 2016. NCW is Egypt’s highest national machinery entrusted with formulating and monitoring national plans for the women’s advancement. She has also served as the regional advisor on Gender Policies and Programs in UNDP’s Regional Center for Arab States in Cairo, responsible for providing policy advice and technical support for women’s empowerment in planning and public budgets, and the formulation, monitoring and evaluation of regional and national strategies and plans for the advancement of women in the Arab region.

With over twenty years of dedicated service in this field, she was also the head of the Egypt Country Office of the United Nations Fund For Women; UNIFEM project co-ordinator; consultant for the Girls Education and Empowerment Project of the Ministry of Education in Egypt; and project officer in the Sustainable Human Development Platform for Action and Monitoring.

19. Sudha Murty, author and philanthropist

Educator, author, engineer, philanthropist and leader – these are just some of the many hats worn by Sudha Murty. She is the founder and was the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation, the philanthropic and CSR arm of Infosys, which she headed for twenty-five years. Over the course of her tenure at the helm of the foundation, she championed a number of causes focusing on the fields of education, healthcare, rural development, destitute care, art and culture, mid-day meal schemes and water projects, to name a few. Her legacy of personal service has made unparalleled contributions that have positively impacted millions of lives. She is also one of India’s most loved children’s authors whose literary works have captured readers’ hearts with their simplicity, warmth, and insight.

She is currently the founder and chairperson of Murty Trust, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and celebration of culture, science, knowledge systems born out of India and animal welfare. For her contributions in the field of social work, she was awarded India’s third-highest civilian award, the ‘Padma Bhushan’, in 2023 and the ‘Padma Shri’ in 2006. She is also the recipient of eight honorary doctorates and numerous other awards.

20. Ambareen Musa, founder and CEO of Yabi by Souqalmal

Mauritian entrepreneur Ambareen Musa launched her very first business venture in Australia at the young age of 21. Moving to London in 2004 to work for GE Money, she has since held various roles across marketing, financial literacy, customer advocacy and e-commerce. Wanting to be closer to home and needing a change in scenery, she moved to Dubai in 2008. She went on to found Souqalmal, a hugely influential platform regularly featured on lists of the leading SMEs in the country.

Musa has been named one of the Top 50 most influential women in the Arab World by Arabian Business as well as the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year by The Entrepreneur magazine. Moreover, she has been a member of the UAE National Debt Panel and the UN Task Force on Digital Financing for the SDGs.

21. Piwokuhle Nyanda, athlete and rugby player

Piwokuhle Nyanda, a member of the South Africa national women’s rugby team, is a record-holding, highest-point scoring utility back – rugby lingo for a player who can play in a number of positions – and, to top it all off, an inspiring leader.

Nyanda is a Mastercard Ambassador, and is currently the coach of the Golden Lions provincial under-16 girls’ rugby team, a qualified operations manager, Rugby coach, Netball coach and Track and Field coach.

22. Devi Seetharam, artist

The daughter of diplomat parents, Devi has lived all around the world, before moving back to India in 2021, after a five-year stint in Australia. She is a painter, and primarily works with acrylic on canvas and uses reductive techniques to create grain, texture and form. Thematically, she explores the cultural psyche of the spaces she occupies. A graduate of LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore, she was shortlisted for the Mojarto, Incinerator and Darebin art prizes and featured by Kings Gallery, Melbourne. In India, she participated in a three person show at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Mumbai in 2020; Lokame Tharavadu in Alappuzha in 2021 curated by Bose Krishnamachari; and the fifth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kochi in 2022.

23. Umut Shayakhmetova, CEO, Halyk Bank

Having become the CEO of Kazakhstan’s Halyk Bank in 2009, Umut Shayakhmetova took the financial institution from a national player to a regional powerhouse. At the time, Halyk ranked third in ratings and held a market share of around 10 percent. Today, the bank is the biggest in Kazakhstan, with fifteen subsidiaries and a market share of more than 30 percent.

With her seasoned experience in tow and a keen eye on the future at all times, Mrs Shayakhmetova’s visionary leadership transformed Halyk into a modern, dynamic market leader with a purpose.

24. Natasha Sideris, founder and CEO of Tashas Group

Growing up at the side of her restaurateur father, Natasha learned about the business from a young age. After years of experience working in franchised restaurants, Natasha founded tashas – a casual dining concept with beautiful interiors, fresh food and impeccable service. With tashas, she moved away from the cookie-cutter franchising model and decided to make every restaurant just a little bit different. Her gamble – of delivering brilliant food amid stunning environments – worked, and there are currently fifteen tashas in South Africa and six in the UAE. With the success of tashas, she masterminded other concepts, such as Flamingo Room, Avli, Galaxy Bar and Bungalo34, with many more to come in the future.

25. Naoko Yamazaki, astronaut and engineer

Naoko Yamazaki was the second Japanese woman to travel to space when she made the trip to the far, far away skies in 2010. Though she has since hung up her astronaut’s helmet, she cannot wait to go back.

In the meantime, Yamazaki continues to be dedicated to space, advising the Japanese government on space policy, promoting the teaching of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) among youths – women, in particular – and co-founding Space Port Japan in 2018, an association which promotes the country’s aeronautics industry, with the dream to make space “accessible to everyone”.

Read: Mastercard launches legacy book celebrating 25 women leaders

To read the full book, click here


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