At RISE, we are committed to using our platform to highlight the stories of inspirational female entrepreneurs worldwide. Our Program Associate, Lauren Lewis, sat down with Almira Cuizon, the founder of Phoenix Global Retail, and the CEO of Global Retail Experience for the Middle East. Almira is breaking down barriers for Filipino women and women working in the Middle East. She sat down to share her professional journey with us, starting as a stock associate to becoming a Dubai based CEO.
"Tell us more about how you got to where you are today - what originally inspired your entrepreneurial journey?"
I was born in the Philippines and moved to Canada with my family when I was just 4 years old. I grew up in a very caucasian town, being one of 5 students of color in my entire school. This was challenging but my parents worked hard to ensure that I didn’t feel at a disadvantage from the other children.
From a young age, my parents made me believe in my worth. They often spoke about recognizing and harnessing my potential rather than focusing on my limitations. They also encouraged me to see the greatness in others and help them realize their potential to rise.
As an adult, I once again faced a similar challenge as a visible minority and an outsider when I moved to Dubai and began to work in this part of the world.
Having parents that saw my capability had a huge impact on my mindset - particularly during my formative years. I understood that potential is limitless, and I believed that I had the ability to do anything that I set my mind to. The support around me fed my passionate to chase what I wanted. Obstacles are what you see when you lose sight of your goals. Surround yourself with people that not only help you see those obstacles but make sure they are people that help tear them down... not pile them up.
"What is the hardest thing about being a female entrepreneur for you?"
Being completely raw and honest, starting my own business was very scary, dealing with the constant fear of failure. I would wake up in the morning, wondering how I was going to raise money and encountered a lot of self-doubt. I knew it was important to believe in myself because if I didn’t then why should others believe in me. It’s so critical to believe in yourself, especially during your worst moments, as we are usually the biggest obstacle that holds ourselves back. People will believe what you show them, so you need to show ‘the best version of you' and be confident in your own abilities.
"For many of our entrepreneurs, taking the first step and overcoming self-doubt can be a massive challenge too, what would you tell them to overcome this?"
Celebrate every little success. You need to feel good about what you’re doing. It’s easy to feel undervalued or unworthy when you are at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey. There seems to be an endless amount of hurdles. Still, believe in the power of your niche and what sets you apart from everyone else. It is through celebrating all of your accomplishments, no matter how small, that you will realize the extent of your potential. Also, be unapologetic for who you are and why you are different. After all…the very thing that sets you apart is the thing that helps you win.
"What is the best thing about being a female in the workspace?"
Women have a tremendous amount of intuitiveness, and in turn, have enormous potential to create change. Women take on many vital roles within a workplace environment and are able to use empathy and compassion, which allows us to perform well, connect and grow. Understanding and influencing others is a key leadership skill that comes naturally to many women as it stems from emotional intelligence which women are known to posses.
"How does your work add value to your life?"
I have a degree in psychology that I use every day! Early on I realized that my work is not about the product I am selling; it’s about helping and developing others around me. Through my role, I have transformed store managers into Vice Presidents, and it’s really through inspiring and developing people to own and change their circumstances that I have stayed grounded in my work. I have seen how the power of mentorship mixed with people’s passion for creating change has enabled them to change their own lives. When these moments happen, I know that I have done my job well and have made an impact through my work - lifting others around me. Watching the personal and professional growth of these employees is extremely rewarding.
“Who do you admire and look up to?”
I love how Michelle Obama connects with people and gets them excited about a variety of things – she seems so incredibly down to earth. Similarly, Kamala Harris is so bright and well-spoken and always does what she believes is right.
On the other side of the spectrum, I am constantly inspired by my children. I feel pride and joy, knowing that I have helped shape three incredible human beings: my two daughters, and my son. They are the legacy that I will leave behind, and I couldn’t be more proud.