Hailing from a Kiwi-Arab (Sudanese) background, Shamim Kassibawi is a publicist turned serial entrepreneur and appreneur. She has over a decade worth of public relation skills and has led successful media campaigns for various industries including Healthcare, FMCG, Aviation, Lifestyle, and many more.
Shamim possess a strong network and database of key external stakeholders, media, influencers, government entities and celebrities across the globe, and has established working relationships with marketing and branding teams across various advertising, PR agencies, giving her access to key decision makers of brands.
Passionate about children and aunty to nine gorgeous munchkins, Shamim identified a gap within her community where parents and children, especially expats, had very little or no access to playgroups and most importantly, no opportunities for socializing – an important contributor to a child’s positive development in their early years.
Applying her communication experience and intertwining it with the imminent rise of the digicultural age, Shamim founded Play:Date in a bid to promote social activities for children, create a safe space for parents to connect with others to discuss trending subjects on children, and develop a platform that offers discounts on popular brands and services with a conscious understanding of how expensive parenting can be.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I moved to New Zealand from Sudan, along with my family as political refugees, at a very young age. I believe this is something that has deeply impacted who I am today, as a person and leader.
I am the youngest of five siblings and didn’t speak much English back then. Even though I was a social kid, due to the move I did not have any friends, moreover, I looked different and had an unusual name that not many could pronounce.
Early on, I knew I had to get on with life and navigate through a culture that wasn’t familiar at all. This really helped me develop my leadership skills and eventually I was able to fit into the New Zealand culture and lifestyle.
Additionally, my father was a politician and we’d always been moving around, sometimes we had lots but there were times when we could barely make ends meet. It was during this time , where I saw my mother take charge and be the leader of the house. I learnt a lot by seeing how she handled each situation, whether it was seeing her sell off her jewellery to buy us book, manage funds when we had it, or even taking care of my dad when he got sick. She really did put things in order and this has certainly been engrained into me. Coming for a Sudanese background – this is how women have always been brought up back home – well spoken and respected. Lastly, when I began my career in New Zealand , it was a caring and generous management style , however when I moved to the UAE, things changed – very cutthroat.
All these experiences together make me the person I am today , I have sustained the kiwi leadership style of fairness & flexibility, and will continue do so.
How has your previous employment experience aided your current role?
I’ve always tried to have key takeaways from each of my previous roles. Some things that I have learnt include, how not to be emotional, how to be kind yet assertive, where to draw the line, how to treat your employees and how you would like to be treated by an employer.
Having spent a handful of years in Dubai , this cosmopolitan city allows you to meet and work with so many different people from all backgrounds and cultures. I have learnt so much more here in the last few years than I possibly would if I was still based in New Zealand. Definitely lots of big learning curves.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your current role?
Highlights for me would be meeting amazing people , having the community support Play:Date’s concept, as well as having media and brands jump onboard the app.
Some of the challenges I faced were definitely raising funds and proving my proof of concept. For someone who has never raised or ever been invested into, it did become difficult to convince people, in spite of me running a full-fledged PR agency on the side.
In recent times, things have become quite risky, especially when it is said that only 2% of tech companies will eventually make it – hence people are sceptical to invest. Another challenge I faced was raising awareness and not seeing the download numbers the I would have liked to see.
It’s vital to not let these things discourage and affect you negatively.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
With regards to my career in PR & Communications, I would advise woman to go for it and work across as many verticals and industries possible. Gain experience in various organisations , work on several clients, pitch as much possible and really go all out as this will help you in brand/product building.
If we look at the ‘Appreneur’ side of things , I would say dive into something that you are extremely passionate about, something that helps and adds value to the community, and most importantly, work on a business model that is scalable. Ensure you have tested the product before going to investors and/or are launching in the market – your business model needs to be something that is accepted and useful to an Average Joe.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
The most important lesson I’ve learnt is to leave on good terms – whether it’s an employee leaving, client leaving or vice versa. My father always said, people remember the bad things over good things, unfortunately. Lastly, this is cliché but very true – it’s not always about the money, if you truly love your work, it’s priceless. I personally love my work and have fun doing it – it’s not really a job , it’s a hobby!
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This is a tricky one to answer!
When you love what you do , it does tend to overlap with your personal life. However, you need to force yourself to cut off for a particular period of time. I maintain the work/life balance by exercising and socializing. You can even socialize within your business environment, this is something that I do a lot. For instance, if I go for lunch it would be with someone who could probably be a business contact, quite often we become friends, help each other out and bounce ideas of one another. It is very important for me to surround myself with likeminded individuals that have an entrepreneurship spirit – this really keeps me motivated and gives value to my ideas.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
We as women tend to OVERTHINK ! This needs to stop. My parents always told my siblings and I that we are all equal, especially my father.
With the current uprising in Sudan, a certain picture went viral – that of a woman on top of a car passionately leading chants – this is the Sudanese, African/Arab culture in its truest sense – we have always been called second class citizens but clearly we are not. There is no glass ceiling , nothing has ever stopped me from working across industries such as petrochemicals, government entities, etc. – we need to change our mindsets because we are the changemakers.
How can we encourage more women to start their own business?
When it comes to woman establishing their own business, it’s slightly harder as we tend to have more responsibilities, we usually have kids, a house and a business to juggle. I honestly, have a lot of respect for woman who are able to multitask and manage all of life’s everyday jobs.
Nevertheless, if you want to start up a business – go for it! More and more women are contributing to the global entrepreneurial ecosystem and we should continue to support each other.
The internet has made things so much easier, you can connect to anyone around the world within a few seconds. I welcome messages on my LinkedIn profile – if I’m able to help, advice and/or point someone in the right direction, it’s very fulfilling.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
In my 13 years of communications and being an entrepreneur, I have trained so many youngsters. Ten years down the lane, its amazing to see them now, some have gone on to become Directors while others have launched their own agencies. I still hear from them on/off and its very rewarding.
In my personal life, I have made some very good friends along the way, people perhaps much younger to me but surely those I can count on. I have a great support system around me and it’s awesome!
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
For me, Jacinda Ardern stands out as an international leader who inspires people across the globe.
Back in 2018, Ardern made history by being the first world leader to give birth in office, in almost 30 years. She taught us about work-life balance – how pregnancy is a perfectly normal, healthy part of life, and in no way is it interfering with a woman’s ability to work, or in her case, govern a country.
Jacinda Ardern’s vision of kindness in politics has always been revolutionary. She has exhibited a leadership style that is filled with compassion and sympathy rather than being harsh and stringent.
As a woman in the corporate sector, I have always been criticised for my leadership style. People have said I’m too nice and can be taken advantage of. A role model such as Jacinda, has strengthened my belief that you can certainly be strong and kind at the same time.
During the unfortunate Christchurch attack, Jacinda’s poise, determination and most importantly her language of kindness and diversity is commendable. I’ve never been more proud to call myself a Kiwi Muslim.
What do you want to professionally and personally accomplish in the next year?
Professionally, I would love to take Play:Date to the next level. I’d like to see it funded, running on its own and giving mothers and women in general, a working environment that is best suited for them. A place where they can work flexible hours, bring their kids to the office and have a nursery/day care centre at Play:Date HQ – this is my dream.
Personally, I wold love to further my fitness journey, meditate a little bit more and take time out for my mental health . Entrepreneurs don’t realize the importance, and have a tendency to underestimate how much stress can affect them, it can in fact also limit creativity.
What are the top three tips you can offer to an entrepreneur starting out?
My top three tips are the following :
Passion -: this is so very important! You are most likely going to be eating, drinking, breathing and living your ideas – almost 18 hours a day I would say – you need to know your stuff and love it.
Do Not Chase Money -: avoid chasing money, money is great and you might be passionate about it, but that’s not enough. As someone once said “ Don’t chase the money chase your dream”
Create A Strong Support System -: you need to have the right people to look up to, inspire and value you – the inner circle as I call it.