It often takes a helping hand to get someone to stand on their own. And if that helping hand belonged to a woman, one way to celebrate her would be to nominate her in Kraft Foods Philadelphia Cream Cheese's third Spread Some Inspiration campaign. An open forum has been formed on www.phillyarabia.com, where women in the GCC who feel they have made exemplary contributions to society can share their inspiring stories. Alternatively, they can nominate stories of those who have been active in philanthropic initiatives and community relations. A winner will be chosen by a panel of three eminent women from the region: Azza Al Qubaisi, an environmental advocate and sculptor from the UAE, Dr Aisha Abbas Natto, an entrepreneur and board member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Kuwaiti media personality Iqbal Al Ahmad.
During the press conference last week to announce the initiative, Aisha asserted the need to "focus on women, especially in the Gulf region and in Saudi Arabia". Talking about the development among women — not only in her home country but across the Gulf countries — she said: "I need my children and my grandchildren to see and know what I am doing — and to help improve the lives of people."
"It is not in our culture to say what we are doing, but we are in a period in which we must share," Azza said. She added that prize money from such an initiative boosts community service, but when it comes to nominating deserving women, it takes a bit of a push. "Through the media, they must be heard and read about so others will learn something positive for everyone's good."
The campaign since its inception has brought to the fore some 230 stories across the GCC. Both Aisha and Iqbal said though it is a challenge to select one winner from the deluge of deserving entries they expect. Each one has to be "inspiring enough for anyone to follow".
The Kraft Foods regional management, led by MEA corporate affairs director Azzam Alameddin, also announced a tie-up with the United Nations Women Arab States Regional Office (UNWASRO). Through this, 8 per cent of the sales from January-February and July-August this year will go to UNWASRO. "We have given them the freedom to choose whatever projects for women they want to assist," Alameddin said.
"This initiative will help support UNWASRO's efforts to promote economic empowerment for peace-building by enhancing women's capacity for leadership and access to economic opportunities," said Maha Al Nuaimy, UNWASRO's deputy regional director and officer-in-charge, via video conferencing. "We consider this partnership as the perfect model of cooperation between a UN organisation and the private sector to bring about the aspired change in women's development efforts in the region. Such initiatives can contribute to revitalising crafts while economically empowering young women graduates in the Arab world.
"This campaign will tell the story of the starting over of women whose lives are filled with life's lessons that need to be heard. It will tell the story of the women who are behind the scenes, doing the little things that add up to huge benefits for communities and who are sources of steady support and create meaningful, positive change in the lives of people around them. Whatever their chosen field or profession, the talents and determination of these women will enrich the campaign with diversity and excellence."
Saher Shaikh, the founder of the Dubai-based initiatives Adopt-a-Camp and Care Packages, was the winner of the first Spread Some Inspiration campaign in 2010. "I used the prize money as a scholarship fund and help teach good English to the labourers in the camps. Today, I can proudly say that at least 32 of them have migrated and are working in good positions in countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia."
The winner of 2011's contest, Faiza Natto of Saudi Arabia, pursued her other programmes for Jeddah's first school for hearing and speech impaired women — one of which is the production of an Arabic sign-language book.
How to nominate
To nominate yourself or another inspiring woman, log on to www.phillyarabia.com and write your story. Closing date for entries is February 4. The winner will be announced on March 8, International Women's Day. The winner will receive $10,000 (Dh36,730), while two runners-up will receive $5,000 (Dh18,365) each.
— Ritu Raizada is a UAE-based freelance writer