Dubai: Three years ago, Selma Ewurabena Quainoo had not seen the world outside her country, Ghana.
She had never imagined that she would fly into Dubai, receive training in the hospitality sector, work for leading hotel brands and return with the skills and knowledge needed for starting her own business back home even amidst an unprecedented pandemic.
All this became possible after the young and resilient woman witnessed a turning point that would set the rest of her life on course towards a career that she loves.
It was after she completed her national service in the hotel sector that Selma attended a hospitality challenge for hoteliers in in late 2018. There, she was introduced to Assia Riccio, founder of a social enterprise called ‘Evolvin’ Women’, an organisation on a mission to empower women from underserved communities so they can stand on their feet.
According to Riccio, the social organisation works closely with the private sector in the UAE, serving as an incubator for professional training that helps women find jobs and advance their career growth.
At the time of their first meeting, Riccio already had their operation set up in Africa alongside the Evolvin’ Women exchange programme in Dubai.
Quainoo met Riccio again when she returned to Ghana after setting up the new exchange programme for women to travel to Dubai for training and work experience.
“She called a couple of friends as well as myself, and we decided to go through with the selection process. To my surprise I was selected,” Selma said, sharing her inspiring story ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8.
Flying for the first time
Selma’s training under the Evolvin’ Women programme began in Ghana and soon she was brought to Dubai to train further and start her work placement.
“Getting this opportunity to travel made me really excited because I am the first woman in my family to travel outside the country. Most of all I was looking forward to meeting new people, and seeing how things are done here, so that I can learn these ways and take them back to improve on how things are done in my country,” she said.
“When I first met [Riccio] at the Evolvin’ Women office in Dubai, she told me this will be more than just a job placement – this opportunity will have a positive impact on my career and even on my life. Now that I look back, she was right.”
Over the course of the training programme, Selma learned new hospitality skills, as well as teamwork, conflict resolution, personal development and social media skills.
Following her training, she began her professional journey working at Swissotel Alghurair and then moved to Sofitel the Obelisk by Accor. She was fascinated by the bustling hotels, full of guests from all walks of life, from all over the world. During her work placement, she continued to take on different challenges that shaped her knowledge in the hospitality sector.
Over the course of the programme, Selma was introduced to her mentor, Alina Abdululina, director of Marketing and PR at The Retreat Palm Dubai, M Gallery by Sofitel, as well as a Mentor of the Evolvin’ Women programme.
Abdululina had weekly meetings with Selma where she mentored her on the ways of working in the hospitality industry in Dubai. They also talked a lot about a keen passion of Quainoo’s – event management.
“I have always liked event management. It is an exciting field as no event is like the other. Evolvin’ Women took note of my interest and Alina taught me everything I wanted to know about event management. This really made me realise I have a special passion for this, and I want to have an event management company in the future.”
During the mentorship programme, Abdululina encouraged Quainoo to hone her passion for event management at her job and organise events at Sofitel Hotel. Selma assisted hotel staff at social and corporate events and they were pleasantly surprised by her existing knowledge and skills.
“Professionally, I am who I am because of Alina’s mentorship. I always liked working on events, but I never thought I could open my own business – my time with Alina expanded my knowledge and skillset and eventually inspired me to work on opening my own events company after I go back to Ghana,” said Selma.
She said she overcame many challenges, fear of public speaking being the foremost. The monthly presentations held as part of the Evolvin’ Women training programme helped her with that.
“Our meetings were one of the best parts of the programme. I met women from different parts of the world who had similar challenges but were given the same opportunity by Evolvin’ Women,” Selma said.
“Earlier, I used to depend on my parents for everything. I could not even address a room full of people. Now I am more confident and independent. Everything I have learned at Evolvin’ Women has had a positive impact on my career.”
She was also officially appreciated for her progress and dedication which was complimented by her guests.
Towards the end of the programme in 2021, Quainoo was put forward for an interview with the help of Alex Rawson, vice president, Talent and Culture at Accor.
After clearing the interview, she returned home to work as a restaurant assistant manager at Ibis Style, Accra.
Selma said she also plans on opening her own events company in Ghana. “My aim is to instil the same high level of hospitality and customer service I learned in Dubai, taking it back to the industry back home.”
She said her own business will be instrumental in supporting the national economy and empowering the women of her community. “I want to give jobs, transfer my knowledge and skills to young girls back home, so they can start their own professional journey as I have done with the support of Evolvin’ Women,” Selma added.
She is one of the more than 120 Evolvin’ Women who have benefitted from the socially responsible initiative for diversity and inclusion, according to Assia.
“We are incredibly proud of Selma’s success and how she has dedicated herself to developing into a confident, successful career-oriented woman. Her success and so many others’ is a testament to just what can be achieved when we come together to support and empower each other, and we look forward to seeing her thrive as an entrepreneur in the business world,” Riccio said.
“We firmly believe that when you empower one woman, you are empowering generations to come. That is our vision at Evolvin’ Women. We strive to provide learning and employability skill development to determined, ambitious women in order to stabilize their futures and advance their communities back home.”
Pointing out that every organisation has a role to play in advancing individual success and gender equality, she thanked the public and private partners who have supported the vision that enabled to develop more than 120 Evolvin’ Women, with a talent pipeline of many more.