MEET NOHA HEFNY, AN AWARD-WINNING, MULTILINGUAL LEADER WITH CLOSE TO TWO DECADES OF EXPERIENCE IN COMMUNICATIONS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR AND THE UN. FOUNDER & CEO OF PEOPLE OF IMPACT, A SOCIAL IMPACT CONSULTING AND INNOVATION FIRM AND NETWORK HELPING PEOPLE AND COMMUNITIES DELIVER SOCIAL IMPACT AND ADVANCE THE UN SDGS. PREVIOUSLY, CO-FOUNDER OF “SHE IS ARAB”, ADDRESSING THE UNDERREPRESENTION OF ARAB WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP AND IN SPEAKING ROLES
Who is Noha Hefny? Define yourself
By nature, I am a passionate visionary, an idealist, an initiator, a mediator, and an optimist with an entrepreneurial spirit. My intuition and deep convictions guide me. I try to stay authentic and real, to lead from the heart, connect with others organically to support, share empathy, grow others, and continuously learn and develop myself.
I know that every one of us has an inner gift and power to make a difference; to leave a positive impact in the world. It is my mission to try to ignite this power in anyone whom I interact with. These are beliefs that I have had since my youth, and they continue to inspire my journey and form the basis of most of the ideas I come up with in life and at work. My personality is multi-faceted and has multi-potentiality, a global citizen of the world with full conviction that I exist to be in the service of humanity.
“I love to problem solve and find innovative solutions for complex global issues and challenges, knowing that I can positively touch others' lives no matter how small or big my contribution is”
How were you as a kid?
As a kid, I was witty, charming, chatty, and wise, way more mature than my peers. I was adventurous and curious about life, a performer, a connector, and an artist. A naturally born charismatic leader who loves sweets and chocolates. I was real, active, energetic, and a risk-taker in every sense. I drove my parents crazy, that is for sure, but I always pleasantly surprised them with the outcome of my efforts, my ideas, my creativity, and what I was able to achieve.
You hold a BA in Political Science and International relations from the American University in Cairo (AUC). Why did you choose that course of study?
I wanted to learn about political systems in different countries, to understand the challenges that face countries and the world. I had a passion for human rights and international development. I wanted to get a view on policy development and the root causes of inequalities affecting the world. I always took a global perspective, and I was driven mainly by how I can make a real difference in the world; once I understand why conflicts happen and why injustice exists, perhaps I would address and help solve these one day. My best college paper was about Peace Education. I knew that there is a better world we can create in the future and that my degree would get me a step closer to contributing to that.
Tell us more about your company People of Impact.
People of Impact is an ecosystem that focuses on helping people and organizations deliver effective social impact. We organize capacity building workshops, awareness events, share knowledge and thought leadership on key issues, showcase social impact best practices and the people behind them, innovate and create opportunities to advance collaboration and partnerships for a better world.
You are a global senior executive and entrepreneur with more than two decades of experience in the fields of social impact, strategic communications, partnerships, and humanitarian protection. During your career you represented some of the world's most powerful brands, you were Director of Corporate Affairs and Social Responsibility at PepsiCo covering the Middle East and North Africa, followed by being the Director of Communications at McKinsey & Company covering Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa. You are the recipient of several awards. What´s the recipe for your success?
- Be authentic and passionate, love what you do
- Stand up for and live your values wholeheartedly
- Envision the world that you want to live in and create it
- Be resilient, strong, go out of your comfort zone
- Always be in service, to make yourself, others, and communities better
- Leave your mark, build your impact footprint, and think of your legacy
- Be inclusive, collaborative, and partner with others, we are better together
- Innovate and design ideas that can offer solutions to complex challenges facing your community or the world
- Forgive, have compassion, acceptance, and love, always be kind.
“I believe that in every challenge lies a life lesson, an opportunity to grow, a sign for development. I ensure that I do not get stuck in other people's negative patterns”
You are a humanitarian, you started your public sector career at UNHCR in the field of refugee protection in Egypt and Tunisia, you undertook two field assignments in South of Algeria and East Sudan focused on reuniting families separated by conflict and voluntary repatriation. You were the only Arab woman on the field at the time. At UN Women and UNESCO, you served in a consulting capacity focusing on education and gender equality advocacy and programs. What drives you?
The interconnectivity of the world and the possibilities for all of us to make a difference globally, lead with impact, and encourage others to give back to society. This inspires me to power ahead in my journey. I love to problem solve and find innovative solutions for complex global issues and challenges, knowing that I can positively touch others' lives no matter how small or big my contribution is. I am inspired when I am serving others in a meaningful way.
I am driven by the power of community and the infinite possibilities that result when people come together and when partnerships are born for the common good. I want to re-ignite passion and belief in our shared and collective values as humans.
Everybody has had dark moments in their lives, what have you done to get out of that phase?
I take a step back to meditate, reflect and plan for the next opportunity. I jot down my lessons learned and try to understand the signs in every challenge, what I need to take away and what I should have done differently. Values are the differentiator in my decisions to persevere or quit a project or relationship troubling me. I try not to stay in the darkness for too long by doing different activities that fill my soul with happiness and seeing positive people who ignite my passion for life. I have conviction and faith that I am divinely protected and guided, and that tomorrow will always be better. It is that inner feeling that keeps me going. A good read about life, spirituality, psychology, and philosophy are other ways that help me navigate these times. A profound and touching piece of music which touches my heart always helps. I engage in any activity that will enable me to express my authentic self in creative ways to let go of any negative feelings and to stay positive.
What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership for me is to be of service in every sense, to have empathy, and to align people around a greater purpose that can motivate. It is about being authentic and inclusive. It is about helping people reach their full potential, removing obstacles for them to succeed. It is to engage with mind, heart, and soul, bringing your whole self with passion and love for what you do. It is all about personal impact and having faith and resilience.
Do you have any philosophy that guides your career decisions?
My philosophy is to be open to new opportunities even if outside of my comfort zone, stretching myself to grow and learn in new areas. To be passionate and to love the roles I take on. Always ensuring carefully that the culture of the organizations I work for is a good fit with my personality. Never to take opportunities that contradict my values.
“I think that every stage of our life and career is different and that there are always sacrifices and trade-offs to be made. What I learned is that it is key to self-care, to balance, to set boundaries, to ask for support, and to be clear on our priorities in these different stages”
What do you love most about your job? & what is the most difficult part?
I love that I am building a unique platform, People of Impact to enable people to come together and collaborate for the greater good. I love building the connections, engaging, and inspiring others to deliver impact, to contribute to different causes. The most challenging part is being a solo female founder which can be lonely sometimes, especially when you must make significant choices. Staying motivated and letting go of any worries, mastering my thoughts and mind for success and cultivating resilience can be a challenge at times.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend to everyone else do?
What I do over and over and recommend to others is to never settle or give up on your ideas until you find your true calling and purpose.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I have acceptance, empathy, compassion, and forgiveness at all times; even when others are at fault. I thrive for fairness in all my relationships personal and professional. I see it as essential to understand that while no one is perfect, we are all inherently good as human beings. I believe that in every challenge lies a life lesson, an opportunity to grow, a sign for development. I ensure that I do not get stuck in other people's negative patterns, or in a negative situation for too long, and to always maintain respect, and humility in everything that I do.
“My experience with the glass ceiling had to do with the limited availability of opportunities at senior level in my field. As a high achiever, I grew much faster than expected, and found myself fulfilling roles with greater responsibilities and spheres of influence without the corresponding title or grade”
There are perhaps many myths in the world about how women live in the Middle East, what can you tell us about it?
As Arab women, we face varying misconceptions and stereotypes about who we are, how we live, and our culture. Yet, we are like any other women worldwide, confronting similar challenges to achieving gender parity. While there is some progress, it is slow similar to how it is globally. In the region, there is a significant momentum, and women have achieved great strides, breaking various barriers, and rising to leadership across sectors, including in male-dominated fields.
There is so much to be proud of in the Arab culture and heritage for us as women. A long history of iconic innovations, academic and scientific breakthroughs often led by women even in ancient times. There are so many Arab women role models out there, but they are not sufficiently visible. I have full faith that with the determination of the women themselves and the rising momentum in the region, we can be optimistic about a more equal and balanced future for all.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
- I engage in continuous learning and self-development as I believe change starts with the individual.
- I practice breathing and meditation to help me stay grounded and to regulate my emotions. I always want to tune into my core and stay aligned with my inner and higher self
- I dedicate time to fun and deep conversations with friends as I love people, although I am more of an introvert. I love understanding human behavior. Hence, connection and community help me stay alive, feel what is happening in the world around me, and touch the pulse of others, how they think, this inspires me and allows me to stay fulfilled.
- I express gratitude constantly to remind myself of all the blessings and positive things I have in my life.
“Your fears and inner critic are the only obstacles to your success as an entrepreneur, overcome them and embrace yourself fully”
Many authors say women can and must strive to have everything – a shining career, a blossoming family life and a perfectly balanced lifestyle all at once, others point out that– then women are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves if they believe they can have it all, you are married with 2 kids so according to your experience, what do you think about these statements?
I think that every stage of our life and career is different and that there are always sacrifices and trade-offs to be made. What I learned is that it is key to self-care, to balance, to set boundaries, to ask for support, and to be clear on our priorities in these different stages. It is also important to focus on quality vs just quantity particularly when it comes to spending time with our loved ones. With COVID 19 there has been acceptance and a mainstreaming of remote working and I hope this continues beyond the pandemic as it can offer many women particularly in leadership and demanding roles the opportunity to balance between work and family better.
What are your plans for the future?
I am currently starting the next chapter in my journey and working on launching my next venture, People of Impact, a global network helping people and organizations deliver social impact. I dream of eventually building a social innovation lab that enables every social innovator and changemaker to bring their ideas to life so we can all see a better world with less injustice and inequalities one day.
There is still the glass ceiling for women in the world: Fewer opportunities, jobs underpaid just for that fact of being a woman, etc. Have you experimented with the glass ceiling? if yes, what are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
My experience with the glass ceiling had to do with the limited availability of opportunities at senior level in my field. As a high achiever, I grew much faster than expected, and found myself fulfilling roles with greater responsibilities and spheres of influence without the corresponding title or grade. In turn, my pay while generous was not at par with the responsibilities I delivered. I overcame these challenges by always looking at the experiences I was accumulating in these roles to serve my long-term career goals instead of focusing on the title, compensation, or grade. I also never settled for anything less than what I aspired for, changing my path if needed, exploring new opportunities in new industries or fields, which was pivotal for my continued career growth.
What tips, can you give to young girls who want to become an entrepreneur like you?
Your fears and inner critic are the only obstacles to your success as an entrepreneur, overcome them and embrace yourself fully, live in your power and share your talent and uniqueness with the rest of the world. Your ideas are greatly needed to create a better future.
Who is the woman you admire the most and why?
I admire Oprah Winfrey due to the struggles she faced and overcame in her life, yet achieving ultimate success, while living in full alignment with her values and purpose and influencing millions with her beliefs.
Something else do you want to add or share with us?
I want to say that life is short, don’t waste it on unproductive, negative people and situations. Rise above challenges and have optimism for the future, the world needs leaders, owners of change who can build a better tomorrow, is that you? If yes, start today and make a difference, if not, reflect deeply on why you are stuck in this vicious circle, break the patterns holding you back and carve your path of impact.
Name: Noha Hefny
Sector: Social Impact
Company: People of Impact
Designation: Founder & CEO