From fashion startup, venture capital, metaverse, AI, to philanthropy. How Muna Abu Sulayman became a global influencer.

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I met Muna Abu Sulaiman in 2006 when she was the co-founder of the No. 1 and longest-running Arab TV program on social issues.

At the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan, she interviewed me to consult with her celebrity-pioneering clothing startup aimed at modestly fashionable women. During the interview, I talked about the high capital required by a start-up, the long logistics, global sourcing and the production process. Ever-changing and demanding compliance requirements, fit and styling issues, and customer returns all lead to markups, excess inventory, paper-thin margins, intense competition, and eventually, if you’re lucky, cancellation. – Very lucky, personal losses. I felt it my duty to warn anyone looking to dip a toe into this industry, especially one with no prior retail experience.

The old joke comes to mind: how do you make a fortune in the fashion industry? Answer: Start big.

After the outbreak, I decided to meet Muna on Zoom. Over the past 16 years, Muna Abusulaiman has become a serial entrepreneur, investor, partner, founder and philanthropist. She is a partner of Transform VC (Tonal is one of the investors https://transform.vc) and co-founder of Helzky Technologies. She serves on various boards, including CPSL board member at the Stanford Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society and the first female UNDP Goodwill Ambassador for Saudi Arabia. She has received many international awards and recognitions such as the Morley Collin Award from The Meding Group, for being a brand with a conscience. Abu Sulayman is a Yale Global Fellow and Middle East Fellow at the Aspen Institute. She was also the former Secretary General of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation. She supports creative and strategic initiatives to fight poverty, empower women, and reframe the Islam-West dialogue. Abu Sulayman is one of the 500 most influential Muslims in media, gender, leadership and education, and Arab media personality and humanitarian work, according to the World Economic Forum.

Chan: It’s been 16 years since we last met. I have been following you on social media and watching everything in your professional life. Please tell me if you start your clothing business.

Abu Sulayman: I started and stopped My fashion clothing line. Without a doubt, it was the most fun I’ve ever had in my career. My fashion line was my first foray into the business world. Without any training or experience, I followed my heart. I saw an opportunity in Milan to design and produce a stylish, modest fashion line for regular and plus size women who want to look like Middle Eastern fashion. And we met in the process of my research, and they gave me very useful advice.

In the year I was a pioneer in 2006 because modesty was no longer fashionable. Unfortunately, mistake number one was investing my money instead of raising money from friends and family to cover the risk. So when the business failed, I lost all my savings. But the experience taught me what it takes to be a successful business person. It doesn’t mean you won’t enter an unfamiliar field; You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to make sure you have a team that knows what they’re doing. I didn’t, which was mistake number two.

Although I failed at that business, I learned my lessons and went into education, philanthropy, healthcare and technology and succeeded.

Chan: What lessons have you learned from this experience?

Abu Sulayman: You have to have the right team. The second lesson is to move on.

After closing the clothing line, I started a consultancy called Directions, which focused on ESG strategies and processes for corporations. These were pre-ESG buzzwords days, so we were ahead of our time. Strategy, risk and reputation management consulting is my area of ​​expertise, and we have been very successful. 3S Consulting Group acquired our company in 2018.

At the same time, I co-founded the Arabic Digital Innovation Institute (ADRI). It is an AI translation platform. We create knowledge and update educational content in Arabic to make people globally competitive in their language. We are breaking down language barriers, enhancing the learning experience and improving the international standing of our students.

The tool is a plagiarism checker to allow journalists and universities to translate information from Arabic to English and fact check in Arabic and English, so you can tell if someone has plagiarized from another language. This device does not exist in the world, and we are the first to do this.

It is B2B and will soon be B2C. The algorithm is the secret sauce, and we will revolutionize education in the Arab world.

In the year In 2019, I realized that the world is changing beyond recognition, and in the next 20 years, many things will happen based on a deeper understanding of these changes. So I decided to take a year off to learn and study. It was not easy to leave many board positions and practical work. Still, it was important to find a place to dive deeper into future global social, economic, and business trends.

Chan: You certainly have a very credible reputation in various industries. As a venture capitalist, what is your mission?

Abu Sulayman: At Transform VC, we are based in Silicon Valley with a focus on technology and innovation. Our mission is to bring the best and brightest minds from underrepresented groups, especially from the Middle East, and give great ideas and startups the opportunity, support, network, guidance and structure to succeed globally.

The team is amazing: Raed Almasri, our managing partner at Transform, is a genius, and Rama Chakaki, one of our LPs, is the most multi-talented and also one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever worked with. Rama and I have worked together on refugee issues for a long time, and when you have people like this with you, you know you can go far.

At this stage in my life, I am grateful for the opportunities in the venture capital industry to make a difference in the world through economic growth and increased job opportunities. Universal opportunity for all is a different side of my mission coin.

But I enjoy my non-profit work with the UN Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Aid Fund, supporting the efforts of women leaders working in the world’s most complex conflicts, where they receive little resources and funding.

Chan: Tell me about your role as part of Gucci’s Global Equity Board.

Abu Sulayman: It’s a fantastic board. Marco Bizzarri, CEO of Gucci, Suzanne Coccacchi, President and CEO of Gucci, The Americas, and Robert Tryfus, Executive Vice President of Brand and Customer Engagement, are outstanding experts. We also have amazing non-executive directors from all disciplines, rounding out the board.

Angela, I have been on many private, public and non-profit boards. Still, Gucci is deeply committed to achieving equity in their businesses and supply chain suppliers, and working diligently on every issue that affects that.

Additionally, Marco Bizzari’s laser focus on how to solve a problem combined with his high risk tolerance allows him to make important decisions quickly. We can quickly test solutions and see what works and what doesn’t.

Chan: You have worked with many people around the world; Who are the female leaders you admire the most?

Abu Sulayman: I’ve met so many amazing and thoughtful leaders around the world, and it’s hard to pick just one or two.

I admire one woman, former and first female CEO and president of PBS, Pat Mitchell. She wrote Being a Risky Woman: Embracing Risk to Change the World. Her life story is extraordinary in that she was a force in the world of media and opened up to other women in what was a man’s world.

She is a convincing example of women empowerment. She brings together women leaders from around the world on an equal footing. Usually, when you bring in women from the developing world, there’s a bit of condescension and white feminism. Pat Mitchell’s leadership may be the first platform for true equality for women leaders. Women are not a homogenous group, and differences in culture and priorities must be openly and comfortably discussed in order to create solutions that make the world more just.

Chan: Looking back on life, do you have any regrets?

Abu Sulayman: I have almost no regrets. But I wish I had gotten some advice about work life and personal balance earlier. For that, the learning journey was exhausting.

I’ve been working hard and putting everyone’s needs first for decades. I didn’t realize how much I neglected myself until I was older. I’m also not happy with my successes because I’m always looking at the next mountain and making sure everyone is thriving.

My regret is that I could have adjusted these needs a little better.

My advice to my daughters is to always enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

Chan: What’s next?

Abu Sulayman: From my work in ESGs and universal opportunity for all, I’m doing a lot of VC work, traveling and meeting founders and scientists. I am also very interested in recycling and have many ideas to increase the amount of recycling in the Middle East. I’m also kicking around some ideas for metaverse accommodation for Arab and Muslim communities.

Chan: Some people say that aging is the next #MeToo movement; What are your thoughts on sexual aging?

Abu Sulayman: All over the world, women are aging. It is a hidden bias that favors the youth. Many senior female executives in companies start not being invited to certain meetings, not getting big projects and not being asked to represent the company, and that’s how exclusion begins.

I’m glad that powerful women like Viola Davis and Jane Fonda from the entertainment industry and others from the business world are openly talking about gender ageism.

The longer you have a career, the more knowledge you gain. I went from education to media, fashion, philanthropy, business and technology because I was curious. This profession and discipline allows me to see solutions and connect issues and networks that may not seem obvious to others.

My career path shows other women that you can reinvent yourself as long as you are curious.

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