On the other side of the world lies a wealth of opportunities. International marketing consultant Marcia L. Dyson has made it her mission to connect Black women to them. As the founder of Women’s Global Initiative (WGI), Dyson has spent decades establishing bonds in the Gulf region, immersing herself in the culture, and exploring business partnerships. Today, her expertise in the Middle East has laid the groundwork for a pipeline that bridges American interests with global investors. And the introductions start with an initial trip.
This fall Dyson took her latest delegation, composed of women of color, to Qatar—the third richest country in the world, and whose investment authority, QIA, boasts a sovereign fund of more than $461 billion in assets. Long before the soccer world set its sights on Qatar, Dyson, more than a decade ago, identified it 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 Chairwoman 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 the needs and interests of Qatar. At its core, the trip, like many before, gave Dyson the chance to not only connect on business but to also expose women to the Arab world and the Islamic faith which, she notes, has been unfairly typecasted on social and mass media, and through governmental manipulation in the press. “This was not a ‘girls' trip,’” Dyson stresses, but instead, an optimal learning experience that underscored the commonality between cultures.
“Due to the lack of education in the American system, Arabs are stereotyped and often portrayed as terrorists. And, in fact, some of us don't understand the difference between a sheik and a Sikh,” Dyson notes. “So on these trips, I want to spell that out so that people can see and understand that this part of the world does not hate Americans. We have to treat each country as an individual, not as a group. It’s the same as when we say here in America that one Black person does not represent the totality of African American experience or identity.”
In order to make the point, Dyson worked in tandem with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to create an authentic experience that was inclusive of a meeting with a member of the royal family and intimate conversations with successful Qatari businesswomen. These discussions covered everything from the nitty gritties of free zones, to the setup of Qatar’s tax structures, to how to handle visa applications. Lovett, whose executive role at Cartier has intensified her desire to travel, says these fruitful conversations helped to expand her knowledge, cultural awareness, and perspective on how diversity is viewed in different parts of the world.
“Traveling to Qatar with the Women’s Global Institute deeply broadened my understanding of
diversity within the Middle East, inclusive partnerships, and opportunities available within the region,” Lovett adds. “I was delighted to meet so many women in Qatar who are at the forefront of their industries and setting an example for women in leadership positions globally.”
Dyson’s understanding of the valuable talent in Qatar is what motivates her to help strengthen Qatari-U.S. relations and highlight the need to change the traditional existence of strategic partnerships between the two countries. It’s also why she says she is constantly working with women on the ground to explore new and innovative opportunities for cooperation that include all sectors. She believes that having broad and transparent conversations between businesswomen of the two nations allows ideas and views to be exchanged, leading to well-developed relationships.
“As a group of women of color, particularly African-American women, it was refreshing to see lines blurred, and divides narrowed,” Mahmood, an award-winning decorator, told EBONY. “As a designer, I appreciate being surrounded by the most intriguing elements, so to witness this convergence of entrepreneurs, business leaders and trailblazers from both sides of the ocean was truly a moment of beauty.”
Though members of Dyson’s assembled delegation were experiencing Qatar’s allure for the first time, Dyson’s knowledge of its charm is what keeps her coming back. “I want to share the beautiful culture. I want to share their respect for their faith in the context of respecting other people who come,” Dyson says. “Everything is culturally and historically rich. Everything evolves, imbibed in some kind of way with their faith. So if you're into that, and if you have new ideas that you want to bring, they are willing to give you the information you need. We just have to do the homework and we have to go and see it for ourselves.”
Keri Salter-Shahidi, also known as @chocolatemommyluv to her family of Instagram followers, is glad she did. The Principal and co-founder of 7th Sun Productions says, “Traveling to Qatar with an incredible cohort of brilliant Black women was matched by the time and dedication the Qatari business community invested in furthering our joint interests in exploring opportunities.” She applauds Dyson’s efforts in fostering the active working relationships between the two communities, noting that the global marketer goes “over and beyond” to create synergy among the groups.
Dyson explains that her enthusiasm is, in part, rooted in countering the treatment African Americans face when starting businesses in the U.S. She calls the systemic barriers that have been created for Black entrepreneurs “unfortunate,” asserting that even corporations who say they want to be an ally and support the cause, oftentimes don’t provide a framework for how to make it happen. Dyson suggests that the closest we came to getting one is in the aftermath of George Floyd, but even then, she calls the path companies laid out a “quasi blueprint.”
“I'm telling you the blueprint that the Qatari business associations and the Qatar Investment Authority gave us makes it easy to take that map and do something with them in their country,” says the diversity and inclusion consultant. “They are so willing to do so and qualified to do so because they are about extreme details and interacting with business communities on a very high level.”
Wilson, a connector of more than 40,000 women of color in the media industry, appreciates the transparency and advocacy. “The Embassy of Qatar and the experience they provided to learn the country of Qatar and meet key business leaders helped to expand my worldview and perspective of how to conduct business in the Middle East,” she shares. “Their support of women of color business leaders is unparalleled.”
For Dyson, it’s her life’s joy to be able to make these connections and facilitate meaningful discussions between differing communities. It’s also why her forthcoming book World at My Door: Practicing Culture Diplomacy implores others to go beyond the headlines, and bridge relationships with other cultures through conversation and travel. “I knew that I was made for this,” Dyson declares. “My ordained purpose is to find ways in which we can evolve humanity. And the only way you can evolve humanity is to know people as they know themselves.”