2018 is here and what better way to kick off the new year than with a Hopscotch Hero who lives and breathes the ideals we strive to achieve. Say hello to Alice Laugher - Co-Chair of the UN Women's Empowerment Principles taskforce here in Dubai, CEO of multi-award winning multi-national firm, CTG (Committed to Change) and board member of the UN Global Compact. As a mum of one and owner of two horses here in the city, it's fair to say this intro simply isn't going to do her and her admirable work justice. So without further ado, let's find out how she's both built and balanced her life, work and family....over to you, Alice.
"I’ve been in Dubai for 10 years. Dubai is a happy place for me. This is where I met my husband, where my daughter was born and where I set up my company, CTG, which has grown from humble beginnings in Afghanistan – a country where I have spent a lot of time and where more than 1,200 staff still work for us.
Whilst not intentional, CTG has become a family business: my father is the Chairman of our Board (he has a group of companies called the Chelsea Group); my brother is our senior vice-president based in the USA; my cousin is also on the team spending most of her time in Somalia, Iraq, Tunisia and Libya, and my step-sister heads up our marketing team.
I’m incredibly inspired by my father Richard Westbury who after an impressive military career started a security company in 1999, that over time grew into the Chelsea Group. Today the group has a ½ billion-dollar turnover, with more than 8000 employees and has an operational footprint in close to 100 countries, with 18 years of experience operating in conflict-affected countries. My father has never taken no for an answer and always says that the most interesting moment of his career is what tomorrow brings. I’m proud to be following in his footsteps and grateful for his input as a member of my advisory board.
As the CEO of CTG no day looks the same. CTG is involved in running important humanitarian projects in conflict-affected countries across the Middle East and Africa. Such as distributing food to people in Sierra Leone, building bridges in South Sudan, to monitoring the movement of refugees in Libya, and advising the United Nations on the political situation in Somalia.
When I’m in the Dubai office, my day usually kicks off with a meeting with my COO and heads of department – our leadership connectivity with our country and client managers on the ground is imperative. Our new brand is constantly evolving so I work daily with our marketing team on our positioning and business and social good strategy, through to writing thought leadership pieces for our blog, curating newsletters, and insights. Lunch will normally be with a staff member – I like to connect with all staff, provide ongoing mentorship and guidance on the company vision, goals and objectives; I also keep in regular phone contact with our field staff (all 2,500 have my mobile phone number!). I will probably have a few meetings in relation to the United Nations Global Compact – I sit on the Board in the UAE, and Chair the Women’s Empowerment Principles Taskforce, a UN Global Compact and UN Women initiative. Due to time zones, I normally spend afternoons and into the evening connecting with our commercial and BD teams, board, group directors and large number of clients and stakeholders who are all based in Africa, Europe and the USA.
We run a Youth Ambassador and Internship programme aimed at young female graduates who are with us for six months at a time and I make a concerted effort to spend time mentoring them, so I usually have an intern by my side. I’m passionate about gender equality and do a lot of B2B networking and advocacy for the empowerment of women across the UAE. This year we’ve launched our Female First initiative which aims to bring more women into our project-related roles, and I’m a vocal advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals – particularly SDG 5 for Gender Equality. I know that gender equality is an area in which we can really make a difference, especially to local women in war-torn countries where women aren’t afforded the same opportunities as men. I find that really exciting. We recently won two awards related to the work we are doing in conflict affected countries – one as a ‘UAE Sustainable Development Pioneer For Peace’ and a second for ‘Most Women Friendly Employer’ so our hard work for sustainable development and in particular women’s empowerment isn’t going unnoticed.
I also commit a large chunk of my time to speaking at conferences around the world about the role CTG plays in the empowerment of the communities that we operate in, which involves quite a bit of travelling to cities. The last couple of months have involved trips to New York, Delhi, Cape Town, and Sharjah! And then, when I can, I travel to the countries where we have field offices so I can connect with our in-country teams around the world.
You have to be committed to carving out family time – when I’m with my daughter it’s phone down, no checking of emails. The business never stops and I’m never going to get to the end of my to do list. Yes, I probably am a workaholic but a main driving force of that is my family. I value our family time and know that it’s precious. Family is the reason for everything, don’t you think? I’ll never be away from home for more than four nights at a time apart from exceptional circumstances – but you should see my travel itineraries!
Like any working mother, I have a fantastic support team. I couldn’t do it without them from my husband, to my Executive Assistant, to our wonderful nanny and staff who keep everything at home running like clockwork. These are all people I know I can trust and who keep the ship afloat. My health and fitness is a fundamental part of keeping a clear head and getting perspective. I train my horses or am out running early in the morning before heading to the office and I really enjoy taking my daughter riding at the weekends. I try and stay as fit as possible as I know that makes me a better mother, wife and CEO.
I know that the work CTG does is making a difference in the lives of vulnerable communities, and this inspires me on a daily basis. Whether that’s through the local people we hire in countries like Somalia and Gaza, or through the projects that we enable such as supporting the running of fair and equal elections in Afghanistan or our medical team that ran three Ebola treatment clinics in Liberia.
The role of private companies in the humanitarian sphere is a controversial subject – when a company makes a profit, are they really in these countries for the right reason? And the answer is yes, an ethically run company like ours – one that has respect for the fundamental human rights of our staff, that takes a zero-tolerance approach to corruption and stays true to local labour laws and with a core mission to be socially responsible – will leave a positive, lasting impact.
When I visit the countries that we operate in, I am blown away by the commitment and dedication of our teams who put themselves second, operating in risky environments, to help and empower others. I’m really proud of these things. I travel a lot to high-risk places that a lot of people wouldn’t travel to. Obviously as a mother you feel that pang when you’re away from your family but I hope that when my daughter is older she’ll understand that I was out there in places such as Gaza, Iraq and Syria, doing work that really does contribute to a better world.
What threatens to hold me back? I’m not a fearful person – that definitely runs in my family! As a family, we tend to think that anything is possible. I think if anything I tend to get over excited and want to achieve everything immediately, this year I’ve realised that slow and steady also wins the race."