On the other side of the world lies a wealth of opportunity. International marketing consultant Marcia L. Dyson’s mission is to connect black women with them. As the founder of the Women’s Global Initiative (WGI), Dyson has spent decades building connections in the Gulf region, immersing itself in culture and exploring business partnerships. Today, her expertise in the Middle East has laid the groundwork for a pipeline that connects American interests with global investors. And the introductions begin with a first journey.
This fall, Dyson took her latest delegation of women of color to Qatar — the world’s third-richest country, whose investment regulator QIA boasts a sovereign wealth fund of more than $461 billion in assets. Well before the footballing world set its sights on Qatar, Dyson identified it more than a decade ago as a place where business opportunities and strategic partnerships could be forged between investors and people of color.
Dyson’s cohort of travelers included EBONY Chair and CEO Eden Bridgeman Sklenar, ColorComm Founder and CEO Lauren Wesley Wilson, Erica Lovett, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Cartier North America, entrepreneur Keri Salter-Shahidi and interior designer Dahlia Mahmood. Dyson says she selected the streamlined group of eight based on Qatar’s needs and interests. At its core, the trip, like many before it, gave Dyson a chance not only to make business connections, but also to introduce women to the Arab world and the Islamic faith, which she notes unfairly typifies on social and mass media was caused by government manipulation of the press. “It wasn’t a ‘girl’s trip,'” Dyson insists, but an optimal learning experience that underscores the similarities between cultures.
“Because of the lack of education in the American system, Arabs are stereotyped and often portrayed as terrorists. And indeed, some of us don’t understand the difference between a Sheikh and a Sikh,” Dyson notes. “On these trips, I want to make that clear so people can see and understand that this part of the world doesn’t hate Americans. We must treat each country as an individual, not as a group. It’s the same as saying here in America that a black person does not represent the entirety of the African American experience or identity.”
To put it in a nutshell, Dyson worked with the State Department to create an authentic experience that included meeting a member of the royal family and intimate conversations with successful Qatari businesswomen. These discussions covered everything from the substantive aspects of the free zones to the establishment of Qatar’s tax structures and the processing of visa applications. Lovett, whose leadership role at Cartier has fueled her desire to travel, says these fruitful conversations have helped expand her knowledge, cultural awareness and perspective on how diversity is viewed in different parts of the world.
“Travelling to Qatar with the Women’s Global Institute enhanced my understanding of
Diversity in the Middle East, inclusive partnerships and opportunities in the region,” adds Lovett. “It was my pleasure to meet so many women in Qatar who are at the forefront of their industries and setting an example for women leaders around the world.”
Dyson’s understanding of the valuable talent in Qatar motivates her to help strengthen Qatar-US relations and highlight the need to change the traditional existence of strategic partnerships between the two countries. She also says that’s why she’s constantly working with local women to explore new and innovative collaboration opportunities that span all sectors. She believes that broad and transparent conversations between businesswomen of the two nations enable the exchange of ideas and views and lead to well-developed relationships.
“As a group of women of color, especially African American women, it was refreshing to see the lines blur and the lines of division narrow,” Mahmood, an award-winning decorator, told EBONY. “As a designer, I appreciate being surrounded by the most fascinating elements, so witnessing this coming together of entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators from both sides of the ocean was truly a moment of beauty.”
Although members of Dyson’s assembled delegation experienced Qatar’s allure for the first time, it’s Dyson’s knowledge of his charms that keeps them coming back. “I want to share the beautiful culture. I want to share their respect for their faith in the context of respect for other people who come,” says Dyson. “Everything is culturally and historically rich. Everything evolves, infused in some way with her faith. So if you’re interested and have new ideas you’d like to contribute, they’re ready to give you the information you need. We just have to do the homework and see for ourselves.”
Keri Salter-Shahidi, also known as @chocolatemommyluv to her family of Instagram followers, is glad she did. The Director and Co-Founder of 7th Sun Productions says, “Journeying to Qatar with an incredible cohort of brilliant black women was complemented by the time and dedication of the Qatari business community invested in furthering our common interests in exploring opportunities.” She commends Dyson’s efforts to foster active working relationships between the two communities, noting that the global marketer “goes above and beyond” to create synergy between the groups.
Dyson explains that her enthusiasm stems in part from opposing the treatment African Americans face when starting businesses in the United States. She calls the systemic barriers created for black entrepreneurs “unfortunate” and claims that even companies that say they want to be an ally and support the cause often don’t provide a framework for how this is done can. Dyson suggests that’s the closest we’ve come to one since George Floyd, but even then she credits the trail companies that laid out a “quasi-blueprint.”
“Let me tell you, the blueprint that the Qatari business associations and the Qatar Investment Authority have given us makes it easy to take this map and do something with them in their country,” says the diversity and inclusion consultant. “They’re so willing and qualified because it’s in extreme detail and they interact with the business world at a very high level.”
A link to more than 40,000 women of color in the media industry, Wilson values the transparency and advocacy. “The Embassy of Qatar and the experience they provided in getting to know the country of Qatar and meeting key business leaders helped broaden my worldview and perspective on doing business in the Middle East,” she shares. “Your support of women entrepreneurs of color is unparalleled.”
For Dyson, making these connections and facilitating meaningful discussions between diverse communities is the joy of her life. This is also the reason for her forthcoming book World in front of my door: practicing cultural diplomacy encourages others to go beyond the headlines and connect with other cultures through conversation and travel. “I knew I was made for this,” explains Dyson. “My declared goal is to find ways in which we can further develop humanity. And the only way to advance humanity is to know people as they know themselves.”