Aspirational Women of Excellence are women who have the fire and the spirit to silence the naysayers and go with their dreams. For those who believe that women can grow, and women can thrive. Whether on their own steam or with the support of a dear one, these women are unstoppable. Meet our women of AWE!
The Canadian communications expert of Kennedy Communication Studios talks about her incredible journey from a fated future as an Olympic figure skater to an empathetic communication coach whose speech is her superpower
There is nothing ordinary about Paddy Kennedy’s life. A tumultuous childhood under the hand of an alcoholic father, she sought refuge from the pain by immersing herself in the art of figure skating. And yet, she is renowned as a communications expert with nearly four decades of experience training professionals worldwide, instead of a ‘figure skating Olympic champion’. So how did life take such a turn for Paddy?
Her’s is an unfathomable life story with her newest passion project, ‘Free your voice’, for women to be brave and be heard in professional (and personal) settings.
A CRUMBLED DREAM
As a bright young girl, Paddy’s life was oriented toward competitive ice-skating rinks as a budding Olympic figure skater. “I trained rigorously from the age of 10 until I was 18. But then, I missed the team trials for the Olympic Games by one-tenth of a point.”
It was a crushing setback for Paddy and her family, especially her mother, who had single-handedly raised Paddy and her siblings, arming them with skills that would allow them to escape their harsh circumstances. However, Paddy was simultaneously relieved at the defeat. A nervous system disorder, which caused her tremendous pain and was the reason why she took up the sport in the first place, was tearing her body apart.
Her figure skating dream crumbled; she switched gears, first to be a figure skating coach, training top league Canadian players that had a shot at the Olympics. But a nun in her Catholic School shed light on Paddy’s lesser-explored gift of word. She told her, “You’re an excellent writer and an outstanding orator. And if the skating thing doesn’t work out, you can always fall back on the gift for communication.”
Heartbroken at leaving a lifelong dream but determined to move ahead, Paddy forged on working with Ph.D. and master’s degree students at Vancouver’s local university, helping them edit and stylize their thesis. That unassuming beginning was the embarkment of Kennedy Communication Studios.
Around the same time, afflicted with chronic pain and no cure in sight, Paddy began traveling the world in search of relief, trying out Vedic and Chinese medicine, struggling to find an alternative. Through her travels, she ended up with a highly compelling story that people wanted to listen to. One thing led to another, and from speaking at the Arthritis Foundation giving people hope, she had moved on to speak at huge conventions in New York City. With these humble beginnings, Kennedy Communication Studio (KCS) steadily grew, amassing students in over 110 countries within the next few years.
Over the years, KCS has gone on to help people, industry leaders, businessmen, corporates, and professionals with the nuances of communication. Paddy has also authored two books, ‘Deep-Dive Strategic Internal Communications’ and ‘Strategic Communication in Times of Crisis’.
Free Your Voice, Women of the World
As she now unfurls a new beginning in the UAE, as the co-founder and COO of ‘Ashraf and Kennedy Consulting, Dubai’, a long-awaited dream project is finally coming to fruition alongside. ‘Your Brave Voice’, a communications program that Paddy thinks is critical
to awaken something in the modern world – the suppressed voice of women.
The idea germinated when Paddy interviewed the Dalai Lama as a young, naïve radio journalist back in 1993. As their conversation meandered between environment conservation and threats of a nuclear war, His Holiness confessed his biggest fears for the world’s future.
“Men in power and their love for war toys will take us to the brink of destruction. But, the women of the world will bring us back,” he said. He held the unshakeable belief that we had heard from men far too long; we now needed to hear from women. Holding this lesson in her heart, today, nearly 30 years later, Paddy is putting this vision into action with ‘Your Brave Voice’.
“Working with people in leadership positions, I always hear women saying that they’re not enough. Ten years back, working on a leadership program for women in Europe, I surveyed to understand why women weren’t stepping up into more leadership roles. All the responses I received were to the tune of – I’m not smart enough, I don’t know enough, I don’t have enough. Not enough. Not enough.” So motivated was she to change this limiting mindset that the program ended up being named ‘You are enough’, the bedrock for ‘Your Brave Voice’.
Paddy offers a brief sneak-peek into the program. “I lead the women through a series of evocative exercises to help them uncover their voice. Then, I make them write it down as part of the writing exercises, and then they have to stand up and declare it. Because you can write it down, but once you close that journal, it’s gone. But standing up and declaring it in your own voice, that’s what makes the difference.”
Many more exercises included in the program serve as a reminder and a confidence boost for women who are used to downplaying their strengths or thinking of them as inconsequential. Paddy, who has worked in radio for a long time thanks to her wondrously baritone voice, also teaches women some powerful vocal exercises. This helps move away from a pitchy tone to a deeper, more assured voice that better addresses large groups, gets your point across, and does not allow anyone to speak over you.
The workshop also endeavors to address all the reasons why women falter in leadership roles – be it fear, socialization, shyness, or lack of confidence and tackle some deep-seated untruths and beliefs that hold them back.
I AM EVERYTHING
Paddy religiously follows the lessons that she has espoused in her program. “I keep journals and write one page of ‘I am’ affirmations every day. Don’t feel bad for thinking you’re not enough because every woman has been raised to think so. Loving yourself is not easy.”
While not glamorous in a traditional sense, the work she does is a fitting legacy to her. Having helped thousands of people worldwide uncover their voice, speak their mind, and conquer their fears is no easy feat. At 69, Paddy has a passion for work and life that would make someone from the younger generation take frantic notes. It is no surprise then that she speaks without fear of her life’s eventual end when she would meet her maker and say, “Thank you, Lord. Every gift you gave me, I gave away, and I’m coming home empty with nothing left.”
For Racha Haffar, financial awareness came at a young age in her life, and that has made all the difference. The financial trainer and Ph.D. graduate shares why mastering financial matters is the key to a successful life
For many people, finance is a complex subject that they try to avoid digging into its details. It is worse still when these perceptions embed themselves in women’s minds, as they are, at least, primarily managing their household budgets. The ramifications are compelling. However, Racha Haffar’s life, profession, and endeavor is to subvert the expected, not only attaining mastery over money but lifting other women as she wields her knowledge to empower.
ODD ONE OUT
Born and raised in Syria, Racha’s family moved to Montreal in 1988. Recognizing her knack for finance, her father groomed her in the domain. After graduating as a Bachelor of Science in Economics, she married and moved to Atlanta to start a family. A mother of two boys, she credits her supportive husband who encouraged her to pursue MBA at Georgia State University. The family then moved to Dubai.
Racha reminisces what it was like growing up in a traditional society within Syria, where girls weren’t cheered to show leadership traits or overtly intellectual indulgence. At one point, she candidly admits to being willing to give up her oversized ambition in exchange for her desire to belong. Instead, she advises, “You should not be afraid to dream big if you are doing the right thing. In this era of age, awareness, and knowledge, you owe it to yourself to go back and revisit some concepts. Make sure you don’t stand in the way of your success. If you have preconceived ideas, go forward and strive to overcome them.” She recalls the constant dream of becoming a leader, but as a child, she hid that as she didn’t want to appear different in the way of her thinking. Reading was the antidote to her insecurities. As she dove into the habit encouraged by her mother, it gave her wings, altering perceptions that she held before. The more she read, the more she learned.
COMMITTED TO THE CAUSE OF WOMEN
Racha’s gifted education has enabled her to forge a career path in the world of finance. Between 1995 and 1997, she worked as a consultant in the Syrian Consulting Bureau, focusing on feasibility studies, market assessment, and economic analysis, skills that have come in handy at her current post at United Nations Development Programs (UNDP). Additionally, she also had a impressive stint as a professor at King Saud University, teaching students finance at every level.
Racha has always being committed to the cause of women and being supportive of what her female friends wanted to pursue as a career. “Women empower women when you make them comfortable in their own capabilities, allocating ways to improve and giving them the desired support. In this way, women empowerment became the central cause of my Ph.D. research dissertation, in my work with the United Nations and my personal participation with groups such as WICCI, G100, and other organizations.”
For Racha it wasn’t about gender bias, but more about addressing it, as men got their fair share, but for women, there was much room for improvement. Since she is passionate about the cause, it came naturally.
“Observing women in SMEs (small and medium enterprises), I realized that while women in corporations have access to financial training, women in SMEs lack it due to constraints such as time, budget, and academic process. Not having financial training can be limiting, so I started training them. I posted on social media platforms that I am volunteering to do so as part of my research.” To her, accounting is mere numbers, which is fact-based. However, finance is the playground where these numbers interact on the sheet, creating strategies that make you stand tall. The latter gives you a choice to control your future financial positions.
Today, Racha has designed one-on-one training programs that will help women in business, whether using Excel sheets, mastering online banking, cybersecurity, keeping their accounts safe, negotiating financial support from the bank, and so on. The best part is that these programs are simply designed to teach women in SMEs whatever part of financial knowledge that best supports their businesses, completely customized for them. “They need to know what is essential for them. You don’t need to know all of digital finance at once to run a business. So, I design a basic program to start with, and once they advance, we add some more.”
Now, standing at the cusp of completing her Ph.D., she is thrilled that life has come full circle, as her dissertation revolves around women empowerment specifically through digital financial knowledge, with an emphasis on leadership skills. Given her efforts, she got the opportunity to work with the UNDP to demonstrate these skills.
SELFLESS GOOD DEEDS
Woman empowerment, volunteer work, and education are the three facets to her passion, which come to her intuitively. “Initially, I started as a volunteer with the UN because it was part of my research, and I love working there. The experience, the diversity, the topic, the humanitarian agenda, and mostly creating positive social change that impacts humans across the world is deeply compelling and satisfying.”
Racha is working on her own business on the personal front, which she plans to unveil shortly. “I am considering coaching executives to reach the next level in their careers, as well as their finance-related pursuits. I believe in specialization and niche. If you want to create a successful business these days, you must focus on a niche. While it is not specific to merely the finance industry, I will focus on digital financial knowledge.”
OF UNSTOPPABLE AMBITION
One thing that Racha yearns for is to go back in time and reflect on what she wanted as a child. “When I think of what could have been done differently, I realize I wanted to have more support. My dream is to go back to the school system and implement the basics of financial education relative to people of all ages and industries. Since it is a tool that they will consistently need in their life, they need to have proper education around it.”
For someone with admittedly ‘unstoppable ambition’, Racha says that she always aimed high. “What will hold you in good stead is being Avant-Garde and being prepared ahead of time. My parents told me that time is the most important luxury you have, as it equips you to do what you want to.” With her work reaching profound levels, Racha’s life has traversed the route of Syrian culture, the broadened perspectives of Canada and USA, and now well-settled in the uniquely enriching atmosphere in Dubai, she has managed to attain a life that is the confluence of many worlds.
For Angela Soudi, business, family, and passion met at a glorious intersection with Be Unique Group. The natural risktaker speaks of how she forayed from the employee mindset to the entrepreneurial bandwagon and why women need to take financial independence seriously
Boasting an impressive career spanning 20 years of Sales and Marketing experience in Europe, Canada, and the Middle East, Angela Soudi is the co-founder of Be Unique Group alongside her husband Dariush Soudi and stepson Ali. She also helms the mantle of Director of Hospitality at Be Unique Hospitality. A mother of two young boys, Angela is committed to philanthropy as well as empowering women to reach their full, untapped potential.
A QUEST FOR GROWTH
Born in a small country town in Lancashire, Northwest England, Angela always knew that although a beautiful place to be in, the natural, rustic, unspoiled country living was not her life’s calling. Instead, living and working in a more vibrant, electric environment seemed to resonate more with her dreams of an extraordinary existence. “The idyllic peaceful life wasn’t for me. I wanted to be in a city where things were moving and fast-paced.” Eventually, after training as a therapist, she went on to join Virgin Atlantic as an In-Flight Therapist. During her stint with the airlines, Angela got to see the world outside the UK for the first time. Spanning the globe from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, from South Africa to San Francisco only encouraged her thirst to bid adieu to her homeland and break fresh ground elsewhere.
After a three-year stint travelling the globe, Angela reached Toronto with hopes of making it big in Canada. It was here that a chance encounter with a training program led by Zig Ziglar changed the trajectory of her life. Reaching the location of the four-day seminar led by the renowned sales guru, Angela knew that she was meant to be there. “With around 600 people gathered together, the energy was electric and amazing. They were going through different phases of the sales processes, learning how to negotiate, overcome objections, and close the deal.”
TREADING A PATH OF UNCERTAINTY
Next, she applied with a recruiting firm and was turned down for lack of sales experience in the medical domain, with the suggestion of going back to working as a therapist. “Thank God I rejected this and went ahead looking for an opportunity within the domain of my choice. It was another woman who believed in my self-conviction and gave me a chance as the North Sales Manager,” says Angela, where she proved her mettle and was soon promoted as the National Sales Manager for Sunrise Medical Company.
It was around this time that she met her future husband Dariush. “He asked me, ‘What is it that you want to do in the long term? Do you always want to be an employee?’” she vividly recalls. As someone who had always wanted to start her own business, she soon quit her job and stepped into a new vocation, that as an entrepreneur, treading a path of fear and uncertainty. “As an employee, it was straightforward and easy to have a positive mindset about myself. I was successful, I was achieving, and I was at the top of my game. However, self-doubt took over as soon as the entrepreneurial hat came on. ‘Am I good enough? Do I have enough knowledge? Can I do this? Maybe I’m not worthy.’” However, she edged on, not letting these thoughts overpower her psyche and staying focused on the results. “This is key for any person who wants to make it as an entrepreneur. Focus and Determination,” she says strongly.
Having embarked on this journey, kickstarting their first business in the UK was not a smooth ride. In 2009, which Angela describes as “the worst year of her life,” she lost her father, and her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Around the same time, the couple also got separated for a while as Dariush had to leave for Dubai to restart his business journey and Angela stayed behind to care for her ailing mother and their 18-month-old-child.
Thankfully this did not last long and their luck soon turned around for the better. Her mother recovered from cancer, and Angela soon reached Dubai reuniting with her husband. Landing in a foreign country, she had no network, friends, or connections to reach out to. “At that point, my sole purpose was to understand the market,” reminiscing on her journey in the UAE. “It was to understand UAE as a country, how things work here, and how business is conducted here.” She started investing most of her time building a quality network, attending seminars and learning. Fortunately, she leveraged her background as a Sales and Marketing consultant to her complete advantage, helping companies and organizations rise back up from economic downfalls, thereby building a strong clientele for herself in a foreign land. What had started as a consultancy firm has now expanded into a thriving conglomerate with two headquarters.
A MOM ON A MISSION
We live in a society where women are expected to put their careers on the back burner after becoming mothers. However, Angela, one of the most inspiring women entrepreneurs out there, handles both her roles with ease and grace, according equal priority to both her work and her motherhood.
It is a dream she sees for other women as well. Her mission is to empower women around the world to be able to stand steady on their ground and redefine the way they see money. “Growing up in a working-class family, you are taught to earn and save, rinse and repeat. No one ever teaches you about smartly investing the money you have and generating a passive income early on that will take care of all your needs,” says Angela. “I had to re-train my mindset in the way that I saw wealth and the way to handle my finances.”
“Women can lose their self-worth when they’re reliant on somebody else for every need, big or small. If they choose to be dependent on their husbands, they can be, but if they don’t, then they need to know how to manage their money. I think women owe it to themselves to reach a comfortable stage where they don’t have to work for money, and instead have their money work for them.”
Backed by her incredible multi-faceted career, this motivational businesswoman is ready to take whatever comes her way by the scruff of the neck. Working now is more of a decision and not really a need as her earnings is ‘smartly invested’ giving her a decent passive income. She chooses to don her entrepreneurial hat each day because that is what keeps her fire burning!