Empowering women in business
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Empowering women in business

Brandit co-founder Rúna Magnusdottir: “People relate to people, not businesses. It is important to front your firm.” Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Brandit co-founder Rúna Magnusdottir: “People relate to people, not businesses. It is important to front your firm.” Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

“This world needs both genders,” personal branding expert Rúna Magnusdottir insists. “Women just need to be empowered to be themselves. They don’t need to try to belong to the men’s club. We are an emotional gender. That is a good thing.”

The Icelandic co-founder of Brandit, the personal branding programme, was in Malta to lead a mini workshop at the International Vocational College a few days ago. She returns in March to present the three-day Brandit workshop for women entrepreneurs aged 35 to 55. Her training stints in Malta are the project of IVC student Stephanie Camilleri, who is studying for the Diploma in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at the recently established college in St Julian’s.

Ms Magnusdottir, a mother of two young adults, is intrigued by Malta’s social mores. She first visited the island in 2001 while on holiday with her mother and recalls noticing how, similarly to Iceland – a smaller nation with a larger playground – the Maltese were industrious but very conscious of how others perceived them. She was also curious about the reasons that led so relatively few young mothers to join the working world.

Ms Magnusdottir, whom Forbes.com last year named one of the top 20 Business Women to follow on Twitter, is among the 85 per cent of women who go out to work in Iceland.

The percentage is so high, she explains, because the business environment is geared to grant generous maternal and paternal leave, and working mothers are an intrinsic part of the culture. Her career as a personal branding consultant and international speaker and trainer stems from her own story.

At just 20, she became the first woman to hold the post of private secretary to Iceland’s (female) Minister of Education and Culture and was assigned a project to computerise processes.

In 1988, Ms Magnusdottir decided to change tack, and joined the designer wear import company her mother had founded three years earlier, and soon bought out her parents. After 18 years in the business, she sold the firm, but a clause in the contract meant she could not operate in textiles.

“It was 2007. I took a good look at myself: I had been running my own business since 1988 and was financially independent. I was passionate about who and what I was, and decided to train as an executive coach. My passion was empowering women, and I was willing to travel to promote their capabilities.”

In March that year she tapped another passion – technology – and established connected-women.com, an open platform for Icelandic business women to promote themselves and their firms.

She recalls how the idea had come to her after she attended a conference for 1,000 women in 2005. Few of those women could be found online.

The platform was an undisputed success and has since evolved to host a network of female entrepreneurs from 70 countries. But as the platform’s population grew, Ms Magnusdottir realised women found it difficult to describe what they did for a living and who they really were.

Disaster struck the country a year later: in 2008, 70 per cent of Iceland’s businesses were technically bankrupt and many business people were struggling to find answers to the crisis. It dawned on Ms Magnusdottir that everyone was thinking about money rather than what they were good at. With her business partner Bjarney Ludviksdottir, she ‘imported’ Janet Attwood, the New York Times bestseller author of The Passion Test to speak to 400 Icelanders in Reykjavik and unearth their passions.

‘Love what you do’

The two women used social media and all their connections to bring as many people to the event as possible, driven by a need to do something for their country.

People came, listened, and left, but Ms Magnusdottir saw that over the next few months, the participants had been inspired to start new ventures.

Both women certified as coaches and facilitators of the Passion Test and trained 1,000 Icelandic women in leadership. They volunteered to listen to women’s business ideas and help them with their speeches and presentation skills.

Brandit was officially born in spring last year: Ms Magnusdottir fused her skills with those of Ms Ludviksdottir, a model agency owner and casting director. Their core product is a three-day workshop designed to create or shake up personal and business brands for women business owners.

“First of all, it is a chance for women to switch off their phones and focus on themselves,” Ms Magnusdottir explained. “In three days, we help women bring their uniqueness to the fore, map out their future visions clearly, reinvigorate their mission statements, and fine-tune their pitch.

We give them the skills to talk about who they are more clearly. They leave with a complete marketing tool – at the workshop, we set up a professional photo shoot and a promotional video.

“People relate to people, not businesses. It is important that women truly front their firms.”

The publicity is also uploaded on the Brandit website’s magazine as a way to give participants an extra boost.

Over the years, the programme has been attended by women involved in a range of spheres: designers, social entrepreneurs, eco firm founders, even a Bollywood producer.

Last September, Brandit received its latest accolade: the 2011 European Union Women Innovators Investors Network Award for capacity building.

In March, she hopes to inspire Maltese businesswomen to build a plan that takes their business from success to satisfaction.

“It’s all about loving what you do,” Ms Magnusdottir says.

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