As the Lead Ambassador of Ulster Bank’s Business Women Can initiative I was delighted to travel to Belfast for the annual Women in Business Northern Ireland Conference recently. I was joined by many fellow Ambassadors , colleagues and indeed business contacts from right across the island of Ireland.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Minister Foster, conference speakers from Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, United States of America and delegates from across Ireland and the UK, have all joined in hailing the fifth annual Women in Business NI Conference a success.
In ten short years, the organisation has grown to a membership of 1,000 and more than 300 delegates packed into the Hilton Hotel, Belfast, to connect and engage through a series of networking sessions and to learn from leaders in business, in order to make a real difference to developing their business.
Ulster Bank were proud to be the main sponsor of the event and David Thomas, Managing Director , Corporate Banking Division and Elvenna Graham, Head of Ulster Bank Northern Ireland, jointly welcomed the delegates on behalf of Ulster Bank.
Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, officially opened the conference and paid tribute to “the excellent work Women in Business NI does in forging networks to bring together aspiring entrepreneurs and those thinking about taking their first steps into commerce”.
Following the official opening of the conference, Susan Davis, Chair of Vital Voices Global in Washington, told delegates there is one piece of good news to come from the global economic crisis. Susan said: “Countries and companies can’t be competitive by leaving half of their population behind so women have to become part of the solution. Instead of still having the same discussions about the glass ceiling, it’s about our fair share of the economic pie – women need to be part of the solution to economic prosperity.”
She added that investing in women is smart economics and told delegates to ‘forget China, forget India, forget the internet because women are the emerging market’ which was of course met by rapturous applause from the gathered audience.When she started out, 30 years ago, Susan Davis learnt the importance of women’s networks and women’s networking. .”
Minister Foster joined the conference by video. She said: “Northern Ireland women have determination and resilience and I encourage local businesses to use their enthusiasm. I commend the work Women in Business NI have done to bring you all here today and look forward to supporting Women in Business NI for next year’s global conference.”
Lara Morgan of Pacific Direct told delegates of the lessons she has learnt on her entrepreneurial journey. She said: “Business doesn’t happen by remote control – it takes persistence.” She spoke of the importance of Team in her success to date and also the importance of physical fitness to cope with the challenges that a heavy schedule demands.
Next up, Jo Fairley, co-founder of Green & Black’s told how she changed the world, one square of chocolate at a time. Inspired by Anita Roddick of The Body Shop, Jo approached her bank manager for a loan of £20,000 to start the business. When he asked what the loan would be spent on, she replied ‘chocolate’. Jo said: “The brand has officially been named as the ‘coolest’ for the 7th year running by Cool Brands and sales are approaching 100m per year although it did start off with a humble beginning.”
Jo added that Lara Morgan and herself ‘both started businesses in a recession so the only way to go is up.’ And she firmly believes that it’s ‘important to live in the solution and not in the problem.’
In closing the conference, Clinical Psychologist, Dr Maureen Gaffney, shared invaluable ways for delegates to manage their work life balance. Dr Gaffney spoke of the importance of positivity in our lives and said that’ negativity is contaminating in a contagious way – we need a revolution against negativity’
Networking and Contacts
Throughout the course of the day there was ample opportunity to make new connections by formal and informal networking sessions and indeed facilitated workshops .Roseanne Kelly, CEO of WIBNI said“ The extent of real business connections that have been made through our conference will be manifested over the months to come but initially it’s been reported that more than half of those who attended left having engaged firmly with delegates who will be of benefit to their business and workplace.
Roseanne continued that“ The success of this conference is proof that if you are a woman in business in Northern Ireland, you should be a member of Women in Business NI. Whether you own your own business, or hold a senior management, leadership role, the networking opportunities will enable you to connect and engage with those you are trying to target.” Roll on next year where the WIBNI will host an International Women’s conference, taking place between 13th to 16th June and host to 750 delegates from across the globe .