This week on the Go Glocal podcast, we had the pleasure to welcome Manar Al Hinai, who graduated from MA Diversity Management in 2009. Since graduating from LUBS, Manar has worked as a Branding Consultant and writer before becoming an Entrepreneur. Listen now to hear how glocalisation has helped support Manar through her journey. Read the blog here.
Manar 1:00: I'm great thank you. Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be talking to you, to talk to the students at University of Leeds.
Ellen: Likewise, Manar, likewise. It's great to have you on the show. So, in my introduction, I have highlighted some of your amazing achievements. So, I think it would be a great for you to tell us a little bit more about yourself, please.me. So, I made the journey in:
Ellen: Yeah, that sounds amazing. I mean, just the listening to your story and your journey sounds like I've been everywhere with you. So, my next question is, thank you for sharing that by the way. So, my next question is really just looking into, you know your journey at the post-graduation part, what really inspires you to start your business Sekka, and also, I've got a question, does the second mean anything in English?
Manar: Yes, of course so Sekka in Arabic, it means the alleyway that connects neighbourhood to the marketplace. So, it’s that, in that in the old ages, the neighbourhoods were connected in the Arab world. In these alleyways and usually these alleyways, if you take them, it will lead you to a marketplace or like a piazza where people meet, and gather, and converse, and exchange ideas, so we called it Sekka so that through our magazine and website we aim to connect this part of the world, and the people in it, with, with the, with the with the rest of the world. So, we want it to be their own alleyway that connects them with the world, and for people to get to know about people from the region.
Ellen: Amazing. That's an amazing name.
Manar: Thank you so much. It's a very common Arabic world as well. And we wanted a word that is used in almost every Arab country, so that it's not like it's unique to one country or one dialect versus others. And basically, so I started my business, a couple of years into two years after joining the government sector, which was the investment sector and the investment industry, working at the corporate communications field, and I have started writing then, contributing to some of the local papers and the regional publications. And, I got to meet a lot of business owners who manage global business owners and people who manage global brands or who are representing global brands in the Middle East, and they would come to me for like cultural insights, they would tell me okay. You have a communications background, you know about marketing, can you help us with drafting the right message. How do you think for example people in the city of Abu Dhabi would resonate with how the brand resonates with them? So, they used to come to me like for some advice as a friend, and then they told me like, you know we're bombarding you with all of these questions, why don’t you just establish a consultancy? We need somebody like you who could help us with the culture of local insights, and especially when it comes to marketing and communication. So, I started small, I started freelancing, and then I established my company since, I've worked with some of the global brands on their messaging on their events in the UAE and some include our Tory Burch, and Swarovski, and Soneva, the Soneva the travel destination and the Maldives and Thailand.
Ellen: Yeah. That's amazing, and it's so interesting to hear how you've managed to turn from informal conversations into a business. And then, you know, later on in turn yourself into an entrepreneur that's, that's amazing. And so, as our podcast series is focused on glocalization, how do you think the term resonates with you, especially given the current business environment which is you know very difficult and been affected hugely by the global pandemic? Do you think glocalisation is really important strategy for Sekka?tarted my consultancy back in:
Ellen: Absolutely, yeah. And it's great to hear that glocalization it's really a strategy that's embedded in your business as well. So, considering Sekka works on a b2b business model, did you have to adapt, anything that your, to your strategy, to better support your clients across the different sectors or during these difficult times, or do you think that really, that hasn't, you know impacted you that much?
Manar: You mean with the pandemic right just so that I answer correctly.
Manar: Of course. So, so, I mean, it changed the game for everybody. People had to re strategize, you know, especially if your business model is built on, if you're a travel destination for example you know like I had a client that is a travel destination that people stop travelling, especially to luxury destinations. People didn't want to spend money on luxury so what do they do, like how does the brand, maintain that connected, how do they remain connected to their audiences here, that audiences who have been travelling, I've been supporting them. So when one brand, one brand is in the process right now of, you who’ve you know, supporting the local art community in the region by taking the artworks made by artists here and having them hung across, you know, across the resort, so that they're the people who visit their resort the people stay in their rooms and their villas, they will be introduced to the, to their artists. So it was their way of showing you know how we can support artists, especially in the creative industry because the creative industry as you know, Ellen has been hit very badly in the pandemic, you know, really is like the first industry that gets negatively impacted because people deal with as a luxury. It's something that could be postponed. So, this resort this client, they decided that you know what, we're going to support the creative community from the region that our, our clients are coming from. So, our region here in the Arab world. They're purchasing their art, and then they're going to be hanging it in their resort to raise awareness also about the artists so, so they've empowered them monetarily by paying for their arts, and at the same time they are raising awareness about them, so that was one way because, there were travelled restrictions but they aren't thinking of bringing more of their experiences, or their brands here, they want to be supporting more of the local talents, you know, content creators, they want to be working more with content creators from the region, so they are, they are working on a campaign that is targeting the Arab region instead of like working with a content creator, for example, who's from Finland, or from Japan, they know they want to work with a content creator, from the region has going to be working on their advertising visuals, on their marketing, because they know how to take the right, I wouldn't, I wouldn't want to say the right but maybe they know how to deliver the message even if it's supported in a way that would appeal to the target audience, which is their people, basically. So, this is like the, these are the ways that brands are, had to rethink ways. So, in a way I mean, the pandemic has been devastating we've lost so many lives, have lost a lot of people, you know, were negatively impacted, they've lost their jobs, but it's forced businesses to rethink their strategies to rethink more of the about the local communities and how they can positively impact them. I mean, something like working with a content creator from the country that you are targeting their audience, goes a long way, you know, with the audience, I mean, it's you're sending a message to your audience, telling them that hey you know we care about the creative community, like we made sure that even the message that we are sharing with you is made by, you know, one of your community members. So, it's these small touches that actually go a long way with audiences, and brands are starting to realise that.
Ellen: Absolutely. And it's amazing to hear that you've been able to support sectors that's been impacted hugely by the global pandemic, and you talked about how important it is to understand international businesses and being able to tap into local context, so you know that's all of which are fantastic to hear. My next question is, in your opinion, how important is it to be, cross cultural competent, and how much competencies can impact an individual’s future career?
Manar: Well, I would say that I think it's, we have never been connected as a world than we are right now, you know, I don't think there's ever been a time in history, where everybody in the world is connected the way, we are I mean like, right now you know I'm here in sunny Abu Dhabi, and you’re there and we're having this conversation. So, there's no excuse for brands to be culturally ignorant, I would say like you have no excuse to draft a message, that would be misinterpreted, in any way, I would say that, that, that's negligence that you're being careless as a brand. If you don't invest enough time to make sure that the message that you're sending to your audience would resonate well, that would be respectful that you are not, you know, disrespecting them or something like that in any way. There's no excuse to the truth and even the audience members would not give this business as an excuse because the information is out there, the consultants are out there. A Google search can contribute so much information, there are people who are out there, you could hire them, you know, just to tell you about the history or the culture of this, you want to you want to target, you want your business to target or you want to reach. So, it's more important now more than ever, I mean the information’s out there it's free, most of the time on Google. There are a lot of videos there are, there are a lot of shows, there are a lot of podcasts are introducing people. So, it's very important because, as I said the world is connected.
You have even within countries, subcategories so you have different ethnicities people of different cultural backgrounds, living within the same city, so we have to be, we have to be, cultural competency is very important. You have to have it, you can go to the business world, thinking that hey you know what worked, and that's in the end its going to work there. This is not the case anymore because sometimes even within the same city, you have to draft, or, or, or come up with a message in 10 different ways because, you really have different nationalities. And just to give an example with the pandemic this year and having been blessed to be living in a country that has over 200 nationalities, a beautiful combination of people from all around the world, that something as simple as, you know, you, as the COVID-19 instructions, had to be drafted this so many ways, it had to be drafted in English, and Arabic, and Hindi, and Urdu, and Malay, and, you know, in so many languages because so many languages because of the diversity people, had to spread that message in different channels, so we had social media, we had radio only, we have people going to specific communities, physically telling them that hey you have to abide by these regulations, this is how you stay safe this is… So, it's a lot of work and this is just an example to show that within one city you could be, you know, dissecting message in like 100 different ways to get the same message across.
Ellen: Absolutely yeah, I'm just madly taking notes because everything you say was so fascinating, especially, you know you're sharing from a very practitioner perspective, which was really interesting. So, I guess my next question is really kind of coming back to us, as in Leeds students, your audience, who are listening to the podcast right now. My question is what advice could you give to our students on developing a mind, global mindset, but act locally so you know, in previously you've talked to so much about your business, your journey. But what advice can you give to our students, because this is not just for international students, it's really for all student bodies, right?
Manar: I would, I would urge students to have an open mind, or maybe like a thirst to learn about cultures, to meet people from different cultures, I mean, and Leeds and England, across the world, there are a lot of cultural events that take place, a lot of networking events, you don't have to physically attend these and right now you can, there are a lot of events that are happening online via zoom, via other video conferencing tools, on social media. I would say that interact with as many possible, as many people as possible from different sectors, get to know them. It's really amazing how inspired, you could be by just going to these networking events, I mean personally for me it has helped develop my career greatly. It's helped me develop a more open mind and helped me appreciate the people of different cultures and helped me appreciate that just because we do business in a certain way here or in country X or country Y, things could take a completely different turn in another country and that's not wrong, it's, it tells us how to operate that we have to appreciate how businesses are run by different people in different countries, in different in different locations. And I would say that a lot of my personal opportunities that I have received for my business, have stemmed from attending these networking events, you know, and I personally I would, I would advise, as much as possible, if you're going to be attending these networking events whether online, whether physically try to go alone. Because, I mean if you're going with a friend, you'll be probably feeling that you're going to be like speaking with your friend or you know, just socialising with your friends the whole night, that you may not, you know, gain from this opportunity that you are in. So, I would say go to these events alone, introduce yourself, introduce your business, talk to people, learn about what they do, it's inspiring. It's so inspiring, and it's so beneficial also for your business. I got introduced to amazing people that I got to be introduced to me as a clientele, I get to be introduced to amazing business opportunities just because I dedicated time for networking. And I always look at networking as one form of business development, the more relationships you have, the more the more experience, the more experiences you will have as a business owner, or people or person who was working in the business sector, but also you will be, you'll be exposed to so many opportunities. So, I mean I've seen it personally first-hand, the more networking events I attend, the more people I meet, the more opportunities, I get exposed to, the more I learned as a person, I mean, the knowledge that I get that I gained from just talking to people from different sectors is precious. I can't even put a price on that. I've hope that answered your question.
Ellen: You did yeah that was really great advice, I think, you know a lot of times people are very, you know reserved to kind of go forward and especially, we talk about networking. I think we all know, networking is very important, but yet, some people choose to go to networking events with their friends. So, I think you highlighted some really interesting point there where they need to be very prepared, that they need to go in with, with some purpose right, and then they need to go in alone, because then, it’s more effective. And, you know, of course, we're in the, we're in the global environment at the moment where it is not only about what you know but it's also about who you know, right?
Manar: Yes, exactly, exactly. I mean, personally when I was growing up as a teenager, I was a very shy very reserved person you know. But I entered when I went to university of course and I started living alone and then when I joined the workforce and established my business. I had to, like the minute I stepped into university, I knew that I would have to change. So, I was 17, and I feel that, you know like if I was being shy, this is not going to, I needed to work on that for me, you know, there's nothing wrong with being shy but I had like goals and aspirations, you know to be a journalist to be a business owner, and I knew that being shy, was going to get in my own way. So, I had to train myself you know, I had to attend so many events, and that attending events, alone, really helped me, you know, and overcoming that, talk to people, and forcing myself to publicly speak, like I used to get so nervous to speak publicly. I used to shake I used to like I hated it like I would rather die. But I had, I knew that it was, it was for my own good. I had to develop the skills that I believe that I would, I would need to be the person that I wanted to become. I mean it's different for every person and of course it doesn't mean that if you're shy, you're not going to be successful, but that has nothing to do with anything. But that was for my own personal experience and what the plan that I had in mind for myself. This is why I've done that.
Ellen: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that kind of really nicely leads into my next question. As we come into the end of the podcast, it's about, you know, particular skills. So, you mentioned one that jumped out about public speaking, which is really important right, because like you said that there's nothing wrong being shy, as that's your personality, but when it comes to public speaking or networking, you need to have the confidence, you need to be prepared. Maybe that's one of the skills that's really important in this context, do you think?
Manar: Yes, I mean, if you're if you're, if networking is essential as you said, you know like, to building relationships then, public speaking, I would say it's an important skill to develop. I wouldn't, to be honest I didn't take any classes, or I didn’t work with anybody or like a mentor or an instructor on that. I just had I just took it step by step, you know, I started when I first joined university at 17, I started attending events, I joined some clubs in the university. I joined some groups, I tried to, you know at least speak to one new person or students, they just to get to know them to overcome that feeling of mine, so I had to come up with my own plan, of course it takes a while you're, I didn't like suddenly become a confident speaker or couldn’t confidently go to any event alone, that took the time to go, but I'm so glad that I took it gradually you know I integrated that sort of into my lifestyle by dedicating time to attend events to go to clubs, cultural clubs and university, to meet with new students to get to know people online through discussion forums. That helped me slowly and gradually become the person that I wanted to be, you know to be the business owner that I, I wanted to be.
Ellen: Absolutely. Practice makes perfect, right, I mean if you didn't say yes, I would never have ever guessed that you were really shy person that had you know had a fear of public speaking because you're so confident.
Manar: Yeah, I mean, practice makes perfect, as we said, you know, at the beginning was really really hard for me to just get up and like I wouldn't be, I wouldn't know how to go to a cafe and like have coffee alone, it was really weird for me like how can I go out alone, like I wasn't comfortable but I forced myself out of course when I, after, after finishing my bachelor's degree back home, and then went and did my master's degree at Leeds and of course I had to live there, and do a lot of activities alone. I, it really helped in shaping my personality, so I owe a lot of that to my experience at Leeds to be honest.
Ellen: Oh that's wonderful to hear that's wonderful. So, as we're coming to the end of our episode today Manar, I know you've shared so much and you know, thank you so much for, for your wonderful story your journey, and also, it's you know it's very inspirational to hear as well that where you were started, your starting point and where you are now. And so, I just wanted to ask you one last question. Are there anything else that you would like to share with our students or your audience today?
Manar: I would say that I would advise, if they have the time and the means to do that is trying to take, or try to learn as many diverse skills as possible. They come in handy. For example, I took when I graduated from Leeds, I took photography for classes and courses I took oil painting, I took, I've learned some, you know like to put some intensive courses in InDesign, web development, and then when that would the pandemic hit us last year and, you know, we had to, like sometimes some of your staff members are not available, you have to push things online, you have to do that so my skills came in handy, because I work also with a lot of content creators, I have an appreciation for the art and the skills and the skill set that comes with it. And also I learned, I can converse with my team, you know, Because I have sort of like a background in photography and design and web development, we can have a conversation together I understand where they're coming from, they understand what I want to do, so I try to dedicate my free time to learning something new even if it's something small, especially at the time of right now when the technological knowledge that I have against such a crazy pace we have a I mean, we have the robots, to virtual reality, augmented reality, so it's important to at least try to learn these skills, or, or have the basic knowledge of it or you can just read, read about it, even if it has nothing to do with your industry. You would be amazed at, you know how it's all connected at the end, like, somehow it will connect with what you're doing.
Ellen: Absolutely. So, keep up this upskilling, keep developing and challenge yourself, and, yeah, the world is your oyster, I guess. Yeah, so thank you so much for Manar, for joining me today and sharing your journey with us. You know, I think we can all agree the world is getting so much smaller. We've never been so connected as we are now that you mentioned before, therefore it becomes really normal to work within cross cultural compacity, so therefore is a necessity to have the inter-culturally competent. And this is exactly what we're hoping to address here in this episode series, so please remember, if you like Manar’s story and her journey please feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn, or via Twitter. So, thank you very much once again Manar, for joining me, and it's really great to have you on the show and learn so much about you. I do hope that you'll have the opportunity to return to Leeds very soon.
Manar: Thank you so much, Ellen, I've enjoyed our chat very much and I look forward to coming back to Leeds, meeting the students and meeting the amazing faculty there. Thank you so much.
Ellen: So that's all for today everyone, and for the upcoming series of episodes, I do hope to continue inviting more guests to join me and share their insights on glocalisation and how they're tackling some of the challenges along the way. Most importantly I want to raise awareness and the importance of think globally and act locally. If you're interested in finding out more about this topic, please subscribe to our podcast series, or if you're interested to get in touch our contact details are available in the episode description. Until then, that's Go Glocal.