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Wafa Obaidat – raising the bar for Bahraini Female Entrepreneurs

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Many of you may know Wafa Obaidat as Director of Obai & Hill PR company, some of you may know her from her Sketchbook company days and some of you may have recently heard of Wafa’s completion of the annual Iron Man Bahrain.   However you know of Wafa, whichever success story of hers inspires you, or which of her start-ups businesses you have connected with, Wafa is a recognized and respected business woman in Bahrain.

An Interior Design Graduate from Chelsea College of Arts and Design in London, working with famous designers Liza Bruce as well as Vogue Nippon and On/Off Agency, Wafa was inspired to take pave her own path.

Launching an online magazine in 2009 called Sketchbook, spanned six issues over two years with over 400 contributors, Wafa then turned her skills to opening her own PR company, Obai and Hill.   Under Obai and Hill, Wafa successfully launched two accessories brands, Barrel&Drum and Sukkar.

This lead to another organic growth with the opening of Milk Store Concept in Riyadat Mall. The idea behind Milk came when Wafa attended fashion exhibits in neighbouring countries and realized there was no representation of such contemporary regional brands in Bahrain. When she probed further, she found that brands were keen to penetrate the Bahrain market, but they just hadn’t found a place for in Bahrain that was suitable for contemporary regional fashion or accessories

With existing high end stores and smaller boutiques or even boutiques that have a very strong buyers influence in the brands carried, these regional brands couldn’t find a platform that was a neutral space that would showcase their designs in a modern way.

The intention with Milk was to become a hub for those brands and Riyadat Mall was the perfect location, being an incubator mall, and an all women’s mall.  The brands that Wafa hand-picked worked well together and in less than six months of opening, Milk has grown quickly and steadily, carrying 60 brands and almost a thousand products.

In all of this, newly married Wafa took on an extremely difficult personal goal of completing Iron Man Bahrain 2016.  Wafa was inspired to participate in the Iron Man, and the commitment and training involved was intense.  Perplexed, we had to ask Wafa why would a busy, high flying, business woman want to add such a difficult physically, mentally and time consuming challenge to her plate?

Wafa says for the last 10 years, her new years resolution was to have a lifestyle change. Not being new to running, it was when Wafa achieved her own personal goals of 5k, 8k and 10k runs and wanted a bigger challenge.  When a friend suggested the triathlon, Wafa was set on accepting the challenge.

“It was inspiring. To me the Iron Man is bigger than life its not about the race, it’s about the mental strength and determination to cross the finish line. This was the year I turn thirty so I wanted this to be my achievement of the year: Iron Man Bahrain 2016 – I’m going to cross the finish line.

I wanted a lifestyle change. I wanted to start waking up at 5 or 6am in the morning.  All I read in these business books are these business Moghuls are up at 5am, they’re working out by 6am, answering emails by 7am and at work at 8am. And they talk about this energy you get when you achieve these things in the morning’’.

 

 

As well as this, Wafa has always looked up to women who look physically fit, healthy and toned.

‘’Their body says so much about who they are as people. It’s discipline, it’s mental strength, and it’s determination.  When I see women that are in good physical shape, I think to myself: she has her life organized. Rather than making excuses about not having time, or being tired, these women look after their health and to me that’s a symbol of being powerful and being organized.’’

Wafa says that once you realize that your body is a tool, it can give you energy, help can further your career and accelerate your growth. “What the Iron Man did for me was put my whole life in place’’.

Through Iron Man, Wafa achieved the lifestyle she always wanted, as well as meeting a new community of people. The biggest misconception about taking on a new challenge, especially one as gruelling as Iron Man, is the lack of time, but Wafa says it necessary to make some changes to find time.

Wafa talks about editing her life, and prioritizing certain things over others.  Socialising and business networking took a back seat for Wafa.  In addition, she found that she slept less hours but felt more refreshed and energized throughout the day.  Cutting down from 8 to 10 hours, 6 to 7 hours sleep, shaved more time off from the day that went towards Wafa’s training.

 

 

‘’When you put in those 2 to 3 hours a day of endurance and intense exercise you’re exhausted by 10pm. Head on the pillow, it’s the most beautiful sleep. You’re up again at 5am or 6am, you’re fresh and the energy doesn’t stop, so I actually could achieve more throughout the day.  Before where I would get sluggish by 5pm, I would now have energy right up until the evening and be ready for bed by 10pm.
My sleep became better and my food started to taste better, because I was making healthier choices of what to eat’’.

Training for the Iron Man taught Wafa to become picky with her time. Working less hours, but more productively and efficiently, Wafa was able to manage both work and her personal life, ‘’the two three hours that I wouldn’t be at work was a complete switch off.  When I exercise I have to think about the road and the traffic, so it becomes a type of meditation. It worked really well with my lifestyle and I feel like when you start a business it’s like a marathon; you’re building, you’re training everyday and you have new challenges every day, your stretching your mind and body everyday. So the Iron Man goes extremely well with my growth stage in my business, they’re extremely parallel.  I don’t think I could do one without the other so I think that’s the gift it gave me when I signed up for it; Iron man has worked parallel for my personal life, my health and business life’’.

Wafa has been able to take on the Iron Man challenge and add more to her life through it; she has edited her life, become more disciplined, and set healthy priorities for herself.  Work is as successful, if not more. Wafa is more healthier, more productive, more focused with more energy, further encompassing the Iron Man, hasn’t taken away, it’s actually added to who she is.

It’s no surprise then to hear that Wafa plans to compete in next years Iron Man, but what else is next for Wafa and where does she see herself?   Wafa talks about further growing the company and growing as an individual and entrepreneur.  Having established a great clientele in Bahrain, Wafa is now looking to expand regionally.

“I know what we’re good at; local intelligence, local knowledge and being on the ground with our clients, understanding the culture and language of the GCC is what makes us special. My plan is to grow the agency in three different countries in five years’’.

Lastly, we ask Wafa for any advise for people who are starting out in business or in their careers.  “When you are in your twenties and thirties, it’s a real opportunity for you, before you get any responsibilities of family.  This is the time for you to learn and accelerate and take on as many projects as you can. Don’t be afraid of taking on too much or stretching yourself too much. I think everybody has more energy then they believe they have. Yet people get scared with change, they get scared with pressure. Learn to embrace the change, learn to push yourself. Figure out what you love to do and do that for life because you won’t ever feel like you’re working, I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but its true.  Also, it’s important to not have a negative outlook and try to be positive. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with something, why you can’t achieve something, or I cant or I wont or I don’t know, take responsibility for your space and add value to whatever project or business that you’re working on’’.

 

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