Driven by Optimism

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Rowad Co vice-president and co-founder Areije Al Shakar shares her secret to staying ‘eternally optimistic’. Areije is also the vice-president at Bahrain Development Bank’s Development Services Division and spends a lot of her time coaching and mentoring entrepreneurs. She chats with BTW about the essential qualities for an entrepreneur and the various challenges she faced in her life.

Tell us briefly about yourself

I was born in Bahrain and spent most of my formative years abroad. I have a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance from Concordia University, Montreal Canada and Masters of Science in Public Policy and Management from the SOAS, University of London.

Why did you choose banking?

By nature of my undergraduate studies and one of the prime sectors of Bahrain being Financial Services, my career path drove me to investment banks. However, my path to development banking happened after the Financial Crisis of
2008 when I was an employee with Lehman Brothers and everyone
knows the end of that story.

It was after that, that I explored the opportunity to work in development banking and found my passion-helping entrepreneurs and building the startup ecosystem in Bahrain.

How was Rowad Co formed? When was it founded and with what mission?

Rowad is a program helped to support entrepreneurs at various stages of the business cycle. It was co-founded in 2015 to provide entrepreneurs with the right tools and platform to startup, grow, and succeed. The aim was to help support the startup eco- system in Bahrain and connect with the regional entrepreneur community and ecosystems and support the regional movement toward more entrepreneurial economies.

Our work is always aligned to help the overall National strategy to further entrepreneurship and drive private
sector growth.

How does Bahrain provides its youth opportunities to reach their true potential in Bahrain?

I believe that Bahrain has great initiatives and support organizations that help target and grow the youth and talent in Bahrain. The collaborative efforts between all these organizations have witnessed the highlighting of youth in various sectors that show great talent and high potential of success.

What have been the major challenges that you have encountered as a woman entrepreneur?

I do not like to segregate between women and men. All entrepreneurs or those who work with an entrepreneurial mindset, like me, will encounter challenges. With my experience in Rowad was identifying the best way to provide support to entrepreneurs to help their growth and working closely with the efforts that are already available within the ecosystem.

How do you think the spirit of an entrepreneur can be boosted further in Bahrain?

I think all the efforts in place are moving in the right direction. We are all working together as a community and the Startup Bahrain movement led by the EDB is a great initiative that is bringing everyone together under one umbrella of furthering the startup eco-system in Bahrain.

What according to you are the essential qualities a startuper requires in order to ensure the success of his enterprise?

There are different varying qualities, but ultimately the entrepreneur needs to passionate and determined. It is perseverance and the belief in success and the project/idea that prevails. Each startup may start with a plan of how they see their idea, but it may change, the one element that remains is to believe in the idea and the ability to adapt with these changes and alter the original plan to match the reality. Plans can change, but the passion and determination is needs to always be there.

What according to you are the minimum qualities for a person to become an entrepreneur?

There needs to be an idea, determination, passion, and a team to help make it all successful. There also needs to be the acceptance that things may not go as planned and the ability to be dynamic
and alter original business canvases
and models!

What have been the major challenges in your life so far?

My major challenge in life was when Lehman filed for bankruptcy and I did not have a plan. All my life, from very early on as a child, everything was organized and planned. When an event that was unexpected as Lehman filing for bankruptcy and I did not know what my plan would be- there was uncertainty.
My biggest challenge was learning to deal with the uncertainty and has helped me become in both my professional and personal life. Plans may not stay the same, but passion, determination, and the faith that you can succeed or reach a goal is what allows you to move forward and change the plan accordingly. Being dynamic and adaptive is key to face any challenge in life.

Why do you call yourself an ‘eternal optimist’?

I have been accused of having idealistic and utopian beliefs. However, I see myself as the eternal optimist; there is always a rainbow at the end of any dark and gloomy day or incident. I try always to see that a good lesson will come out of any situation and my drive to see the optimistic view is what helps me work well with entrepreneurs.

Who has been your inspiration?

I have had many inspiring people in my life. I credit my family, the entrepreneurs, and my key mentors. I am inspired by those who have the ability to work hard and to help those around them. I believe in collaboration, in teams, and working like a family.

Do you feel that a formal training is essential to become an entrepreneur?

I think entrepreneurship can be innate and the training required is more on technical skills that may help support i.e. how to write a business model canvas. I think you cannot train someone to  have the inspiration, the passion, or the drive to make something happen, but training can help them succeed better in taking their idea and project forward.

What kind of help and support do you seek to help reach your goal?

My help comes from the great team I work with and I always turn to the mentors in my life. It is always important to be able to be humble to ask for help when you are not able to understand a situation or you need help in understanding or solving certain issues.

What are some of your hobbies?

I love to read, and a believer of functional movement. I am a pilates and BOSU instructor.

Anything you would like to tell
our readers?

For me, eternal optimism is what helps me realize that there will always be a way, a rainbow, and a solution to whatever we may face.