Sophie Le Ray is an entrepreneur, an author and an experienced business facilitator.
In 2003, she co-founded Naseba, a business information company specialised in supporting enterprise development in emerging markets. She was instrumental in its international expansion, and in accompanying the group when it went public in 2006. She was appointed CEO in 2009 and was responsible for its strategic development and overseeing its operations worldwide until 2019.
For 15 years, Naseba pioneered in growth markets: Middle East, Africa, South East Asia, China. First European company to host a business summit in Saudi Arabia, in Algeria, Libya, Irak, the Naseba team conceptualised hundreds of summits from Healthcare to Fintech, Real estate to Renewable energy and facilitated $Billions of business transactions.
Sophie is the founder and spokesperson for the WIL Economic Forum, the first platform for business women leaders in the Middle East and Asia. Based in Dubai for over a decade, she is the co-author of award winner ‘Game Changers: How Women in the Arab World Are Changing the Rules and Shaping the Future’, published in May 2016.
She now lives in Europe where she regularly speaks in global conferences on entrepreneurship and women economic empowerment.
She is the co-founder of EVE List, a global Not for Profit organisation dedicated to connect and equip rising professional women and support organisations aiming at reaching gender parity in senior management.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I am an entrepreneur first and foremost. I grew up in France and studied in the US, moved to London for my first corporate job, loved the experience but i always wanted to be the captain of my own ship so I got together with two very good friends (one whom I am married to now..) and co-founded Naseba, a business information company specialised in supporting enterprise development in emerging markets. I was in charge of its international expansion, and of accompanying the group when it went public in 2006. For 15 years, Naseba pioneered in growth markets: Middle East, Africa, South East Asia, China. We were amongst the first European companies to host an international business summit in Saudi Arabia, in Algeria, Libya, Irak, and conceptualised hundreds of summits from Healthcare to Fintech, Real estate to Renewable energy. After being based for 10 years in Dubai, I decided to move back to Europe and 8“ concentrate on one area that has been very central to my focus for a decade now, and that is increasing gender parity in the workplace.
In 2009, I founded in Dubai, the WIL Economic Forum, an annual gathering for business women leaders in the Middle East and Asia. What started as a “gentlewoman’s club and travelled to India, Saudia Arabia, China and Malaysia turned into an economic forum discussing gender equity in society. As years went by and the forum grew stronger, so my desire to see more tangible impact.
I moved back to Europe and started with two male colleagues, a Not for Profit organisation dedicated to measuring the state of gender equity in companies and connecting them to female talent.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Haha yes I did, and then I took a totally different route. I studied to be an archeologist. I was passionate about ancient cultures, and wanted to travel the world. Life took me on a different journey but ultimately it served my 2 main objectives: connecting and understanding people and places.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
yes of course, many. As an entrepreneur, it’s part of the game. And when your business takes you to frontier markets, you can write a book about overcoming obstacles. From joint ventures going sour, to administrative complexities (impossibilities sometimes), to unlearning and relearning everything we would do each time we’d start working in a new country, It was an amazing adventure and it taught me so much.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
EVE List is for sure my biggest mission so far. We are a small team with a big goal. We know that if we manage to get companies and people to rally to it, it will have a massive impact on closing the gender gap, and that gives me both hope and great expectations.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
I am quite good at failing. and don’t mind picking up myself and starting again. I once was very hard on myself, I learned the hard way it is a massive barrier to progress. So now, when I don’t know or can’t do something, I don’t waste any time and look for someone who does.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I think it is a duty to pass on what you’ve learned and help others grow. It is also crucial to remain a perpetual learner and seek the knowledge of others. I am both a mentor and a mentee, I think mentor/mentee relationship is not a one way road, and that is why multigenerational workplaces can be so rich in learning. The wealth of diversity in a company doesn’t only lay in its gender or multicultural representation but also in its ability to cross generational dialogue.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
Exactly what we are doing right now with EVE list – giving power to the people to make informed decisions about the companies they are/want to contribute to. I am convinced that the generation rising currently wants to choose carefully what they do and with whom. Corporations that will thrive are those who understand how to align their organization mission and purpose with the individual aspirations of their talent.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Whatever you think you love and know about you now, allow it to be shaped by opportunities and life surprises. Be flexible and curious, it will always pay off.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Our challenge this year is to bring 2000 companies to be listed on Eve Score by the end of the year, 5000 by 2022 and see a rise in collective intelligence to close the gender gap! We need help to do that – check it out on www.evelist.org
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