Bjarney Ludviksdottir is a personal branding expert and passionate supporter of women’s empowerment with a background in film making and directing. She is well known in her native Iceland for her successful charitable projects such as “Crazy Christmas” in support of mental health. She has also worked with UN Women in creating a documentary about women fighting acid attacks in India.
Bjarney was recently in Dubai for her documentary on female entrepreneurs across the globe and our very own Tammy Urwin, Director of urbanevents, was picked to be part of the series. We’ll have to wait a while for the finished product so we decided to get a sneak preview into her thoughts, impressions and views on Dubai and urbanevents.
How did you get involved in women’s empowerment and personal branding?
It’s always been an interest of mine and everything I have done from film making to starting a modeling agency to founding a women’s support charity has just fueled that passion. In 2010, Runa Magnus, another Icelandic personal branding expert, and I started BRANDit to help female entrepreneurs with the look and feel of their brands, to create their own personal X-factor.
What are some other causes close to your heart?
Besides women’s rights, my autistic son, Brynjar Karl, has made me want to shed a positive light on autism. He is known as “the LEGO boy” because he built a 6.33 metre long replica of the Titanic using 56,000 LEGO bricks when he was 10. He’s 11 now and has written a book about his experience and regularly speaks at events about what makes him tick. He most recently spoke at TEDxYouth events in the US.
This was your first trip to the Middle East – what were your thoughts before you came?
Yes, it was! My daughter and son-in-law had recently moved to Dubai and so I decided to combine my video documentary about business women with a family visit. It is only normal that I had ideas about Dubai and the Middle East before coming here based on images from the media, but I decided to have no preconceived notions until I came to see for myself. Stereotypically, I knew was entering a male-dominated culture and I was curious to learn about how businesswomen were managing in this environment. It’s an interesting comparison as Iceland ranks first in The Global Gender Gap Report 2015, the UAE 117 and Saudi Arabia 134 out of 145!
Tell me about some of the women you met while you were here.
I met with and interviewed over 20 women, Emiratis and expats (most of them who had lived in the UAE for over 10 years), all of whom had started their own businesses ranging from business coaching to interior design.
Pia Ault left the corporate world in IT to coach business leaders and individuals who are stuck, looking for a change and seeking fulfillment in their personal and professional lives. Interestingly, her personal passion is horses and she has integrated “equine assisted coaching” into her offering. Yara and Clara are twin sisters who have lived in Dubai since they were two years old. These young entrepreneurs are currently building their own brand to help students find their passion to go down the right path in their future studies. Everyone I met with was truly inspirational!
What are some of the similarities and differences between the women of the UAE and the women of Iceland?
To be honest, you will find similar patterns the world over. What struck me about Dubai in particular was how much networking is an integral part of the culture here. For example, I was introduced to Tammy through a women in business networking group, and she, in turn, introduced me to other women! What also stood out was that these amazing women were open, helpful, supportive and full of advice for both myself and each other. I definitely think that the women of Dubai could possibly lead the way towards female empowerment for other countries in the Middle East.
In the same vein, in terms of personal branding, I found that businesswomen here were not that different from businesswomen around the world. There are always two groups: one that it on top of things and is really up-to-date using and benefitting from social media platforms; and then there is the other group, where the women are taking their first steps in creating visual marketing material and creating their voice on social media.
And now that you’ve visited Dubai, what are your impressions?
I was fortunate to get to know the country though amazing businesswomen who had established their companies in Dubai. I could really feel the energy emerging in the business and political sectors, from females particularly, and that things were changing quickly with women taking big steps towards filling the gender gap. The structure of the political platform will always be different from the one I grew up with in Iceland, yet I could see really positive and interesting changes. My journey only focused on one of the seven Emirates, but I hope to return again soon to explore further. I was inspired by Dubai, the vision and values of its leaders and I havenever felt so safe in a country before. Well, I felt safe everywhere except for with the crazy drivers on Sheikh Zayed Road!