A luminary in her own right: H.E. Laila Rahhal El Atfani on balancing business with philanthropy

A highly successful women entrepreneur with a passion for humanitarian activities, Her Excellency Laila Rahhal El Atfani is an inspiration to women and youth around the world. Pallavi Biju presents this person of note on the many hats she wears

Philanthropy lies at the heart of human greatness. As a goodwill ambassador, International Ambassador of Peace and Tolerance, Ambassador of Humanity as well as the Founder and President of Business Gate, Initiator of I am Africa, Vice President of FIA Federation, Vice President of the Voice Magazine Middle East, among numerous diverse roles, Her Excellency Laila Rahhal El Atfani is a luminary for all.

In this day and age, where empathy falters in the face of our preoccupied lives where we cannot care about more than one thing at a time, it truly takes a person of great willpower and caliber to juggle her business and her philanthropy without compromising on the quality and output of either

AN ENTREPRENEUR WITH A HEART OF GOLD

With an extraordinary and multi-faceted career that spans across years and countless countries, Her Excellency lives by the adage, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. Being a goodwill ambassador and the constant desire to help people, always demands her 100%. But, as she puts it, to be good to others, one first needs to be good to themselves. “If you’re not a good person, just remove the title of goodwill ambassador from your CV”, says this righteous crusader. Her sage words are to respect humanity, be humble, tolerant, and to bear in mind that no man is an island; you need people as much as they need you.

Switching gears to being a highly successful entrepreneur, she acknowledges that all businesses and entrepreneurs go through similar trajectories – their ups and downs, challenges, and obstacles to overcome. She, however, does not worry herself with competitors; she believes in collaborators. “The key to business is teamwork,” she reveals, “Always strive to build a great teamwork.”

EMPOWERING THE LEADERS OF TOMORROW

Her Excellency is the patron of the Arab Youth International Model United Nation (AYIMUN). This year, the AYIMUN welcomed over 350 delegates from around the world, despite the trials of a global pandemic. She attributes this massive turn-out to the youth of today, a highly motivated and intellectual demographic. As the founder of the Youth Gate in Cambodia, she affirms that if we equip the youth with the right knowledge and empower them with the right skills and tools, they will capably lead the world to success. The youth of today are creative, innovative, and resourceful enough to mobilize the technology available to them in the right way for good. She has wise words for the youth – “Be a brave heart who will lead the change in bringing the best of tomorrow as you are the key to a better tomorrow.”

A person who wants to be successful will only be able to achieve true success when they empower and uplift other people along with them

A visionary entrepreneur herself, she is attuned to the cause of women empowerment. She rejects inquiries of how to be a great woman leader or how to succeed as a woman entrepreneur. “Leadership is leadership. An entrepreneur is an entrepreneur,” she states, “It doesn’t matter whether it is a man or a woman.” To be a great leader, there is some criterion that forms the basis of outstanding leadership, but there is no set mold, and certainly no one gender to be accomplished at it. At the end, the most important quality of a great leader is to empower others. “A person who wants to be successful will only be able to achieve true success when they empower and uplift other people along with them,” she notes.

As someone with a keen interest in empowering SMEs and Micro- SMEs, Her Excellency says, “For me, SMEs are the big businesses of tomorrow, provided they find someone to support, guide, and empower them.” She believes that a business needs a clear strategy and vision, a core team, and a good advisor. But, most importantly, the makings of a successful business emerge from knowledge. “Never enter any business if you don’t study the market. Always seek knowledge and study more, and if you don’t know… LEARN.”

FINDING POSITIVITY IN THE PANDEMIC

The pandemic has been a time of growth and learning for H.E. Laila Rahhal El Atfani. She was able to train and mentor many people online and was able to open doors for online education through her platform. However, she is quite regretful that this global pandemic snatched several lives and livelihoods, and given the physical restrictions, she simply could not help every soul. On the other hand, according to her, the pandemic gave us a chance to rethink who we are and what the future should be about. It helped create a better vision for humanity than what exists today and “to remove our ego, to remove our superiority complex, to remove a system of bureaucracy.” She applauds the people who were able to sustain their businesses during these challenging times. “We need to refresh our minds. The pandemic has taught us that to make our lives sustainable and successful, and we will have to put up a tough fight,” she asserts.

For me, SMEs are the big businesses of tomorrow, provided they find someone to support, guide, and empower them

THE JOURNEY SO FAR AND BEYOND

When asked about how she got to the top of the game, she is clear that it isn’t a journey unique to her caliber alone. If the drive to succeed and reach great heights comes from within us, then the power to do so also resides within each one of us. She says, “The question is whether you can rise to the challenge or not.” While on the journey to success, there are some ideals or role models that we can emulate and aspire to be like. We can be similar to them, but we can never be them. “We have our own DNA and our own fingerprint; we can’t be exactly like another person,” she laughs.

For this exalted soul, her next goal is monumental; for people worldwide to be happy and to ensure that no one out there suffers from a lack of medication, food, water, or education. She urges all of us to put our hands together and help those in crisis. We are not immortals, but the small impact we make in our meager lifetime can change humanity for the better, bringing love and peace to all. “I am not God,” she concludes, “I am just a small drop in the big ocean, whose end goal is to help people and, in turn, humankind.”

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