THE TRAILBLAZER:

Women Leaders

2021

Ghaidaa Hetou

In today’s world of a constantly wavering geopolitical system and evolving political risks, it is not enough to just keep up with news headlines, or look out for fluctuating currencies and global trade policies. To fully comprehend the shifting dynamics of the international playing field, business strategists need to assess every context and political risk associated with market entry in the host country. Understanding the impact and future implications of political instability, legislative, regulatory, and geopolitical shifts will allow corporate leadership to navigate the progressively winding political and security environment.

Ghaidaa Hetou, the founder and principal consultant at iStrategic LLC, and an expert in risk analysis and strategic business planning, believes that by empowering companies with actionable intelligence, cultural knowledge, and sector-specific foresight, they can successfully enter new markets and sustain their operations in the host country. Having worked in this field for several years, and lived in numerous countries growing up, she has firsthand experience of different cultures. Hence, she understands the underlying aspects of setting up shop in a foreign country.

Ghaidaa says, “I grew up in Germany, then my family moved to Saudi Arabia, then I lived in Syria for a few years then I moved to the U.S. in the late nineties. All the while traveling in Europe and MENA. I appreciate how cultures come about, how common sense is locally governed, and how context is made out of people and their history, not just statistics.”

Delivering insightful analysis
Founded in 2013, iStrategic is a political risk consulting company based in New Jersey in the United States, and has associates primarily working in both the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa region. They specialize in political and geopolitical risk analysis, and offer their services to U.S.-based companies looking for opportunities in the MENA region.

In addition, iStrategic also offers its services to NGOs and government agencies to support their ongoing and upcoming missions in this region. They prepare country risk assessment reports and guide the corporations through industry-specific political risk mitigation strategies.

Shedding more light on how they execute their services, Ghaidaa explains, “Context intelligence, powered by HUMINT and OSINT, with cultural understanding is at the heart of what we do. This task is performed by professional teams at iStrategic and associates in and outside the MENA region.”

Briefly stating how it works, she adds, “Anticipating new developments, foreseeing the evolution of current political unrest, and the ability to manage and mitigate risks is what puts corporations at an advantage in a volatile region. With data guided risk assessments and scenario analysis, we empower companies with actionable intelligence, cultural knowledge, and sector-specific foresight so that they can enter new markets, and sustain their operations in the host country.”

“Our risk assessment and scenario analysis build corporate capabilities to anticipate, deal with, and stay a step ahead of the political unrest. While the risk profile varies in the MENA region, it remains an investment destination with a sizeable consumer base, various profitable sector-specific opportunities, and space for economic development.”

Risk and benefits of doing business in the MENA region
As an expert analyst and researcher who has a Ph.D. in Political science, specializing in strategy planning, foreign policy, development, security, political risk, and the private sector in the MENA region. Ghaidaa believes for any organization looking to expand their operations in MENA, political turmoil and economic stability is a huge concern.

Understandably, the region is also a prime focus for NGOs and international humanitarian organizations. If we look at it geopolitically, it lies at the crossroads between Asia, Europe, and Africa, and this region continues to attract great power interests particularly in the defense, security, and intelligence sectors.

Ghaidaa explains, “Our risk assessment and scenario analysis build corporate capabilities to anticipate, deal with, and stay a step ahead of the political unrest. While the risk profile varies in the MENA region, it remains an investment destination with a sizeable consumer base, various profitable sector-specific opportunities, and space for economic development.”

Perception Matters
Ghaidaa always had a natural inclination towards matters associated with politics even as a young kid. According to her, these political discussions only led her to build an understanding and communion with people around her, irrespective of their gender or background.

She reminisces, “I grew up with supportive and trusting male figures. From my dad and uncles to university mentors, the common denominator between all of them is that we mutually enjoyed discussing politics. I remember my first political chat was about the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, I was ten years old, and the interest and passion never ceased since then.”

Commenting on the challenges she ought to have faced being a woman in a field led by men, she adds, “Gaining professional degrees, two masters and doctorate, and work experience became a natural extension of a passionate and confident starting place. I mention this because the field of foreign policy, intelligence, and security is male-dominated, but in my experience, it is not an issue.”

There’s no surprise that Ghaidaa is now a proud owner of a certified Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB) registered with the System for Award Management (SAM) and so far, she has successfully proven herself to be quite influential.

Cultivating opportunities
Overcoming prejudices as a female leader may have simply been a matter of observation and comprehension for Ghaidaa, but there are several other added responsibilities as a leader that need undivided attention.

The thing that keeps her motivated through the daily grind is knowing that she can do what she loves, and is successfully aiding business corporations in mitigating risks related to exploring the Middle East and North African markets.

Ghaidaa shares, “The best lesson I learned is that in business one is either learning or taking things personally, it is always better to learn from every experience and move on. Another lesson is that challenges can be opportunities and a start of a new growth period.”

When asked about her upcoming ventures as an entrepreneur, she simply asserts, “My current goal is to continue working with partners on new projects, and to attract skilled and experienced talents to work with our team.”

Ghaidaa Hetou

Working the work-life balance
Ghaidaa speaks Arabic, English, and German fluently and is presently working on her French and Farsi. Not to be forgotten, French, Farsi, Turkish, Kurdish, and Hebrew are spoken at iStrategic as well.

She contributes her time as an adjunct professor at the Rutgers School of Arts and Science, teaching Political Risk Analysis, Politics of Water and Security in MENA, and Stabilization & Rebuilding after Civil Wars as part of Rutgers’ United Nations and Global Policy Studies Master's Program.

Ghaidaa describes herself as an avid reader who considers reading, along with experience, an essential component of personal growth, “personal growth may be gradual, but it increases one’s capacity to manage, contain and resolve”. Also, a published author, Ghaidaa’s recent publication is ‘The Syrian Conflict: The Role of Russia, Iran and the US in a Global Crisis/Routledge.’ She also wrote op-eds for Forbes Middle East. When she needs to unwind, she loves spending time out in nature, hiking or just relaxing on beach with her family. She also engages herself in routine exercise, and enjoys long runs or yoga to clear her mind.

“My current goal is to continue working with partners on new projects, and to attract skilled and experienced talents to work with our team.”

Encouraging inclusivity
Ghaidaa understands the challenges faced by women aspiring to fulfill their personal mission to become future leaders, she says, “The main challenges that I see women face in the workplace are upward mobility within corporations, and access to capital for women entrepreneurs. Supporting the onward and upward mobility and leverage of women in the corporate and entrepreneurship space will benefit all, we are naturally built to be inclusive.”

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