Iceland has been on my list of must visit places for years, and I know their economy has had some recent interesting turmoil so was really looking forward to learning more by attending Crash & Boon: Iceland, Women & Business Success. This session looked at where things are now for the country four and a half years after their banking crisis. Female entrepreneurs are thriving in four areas of business in particular: mobile, e-commerce, marketing and education. The panel included Helga Waage from Mobilitus LLC, Ingibjorg Greta Gisladottir from Reykjavik Runway ltd, Magga Dora Ragnarsdottir from Mad*Pow and Rakel Sölvadóttir from Skema.
Ragnarsdottir said that all of the sudden all of the banks were just gone, almost overnight. The Icelandic Parliament agreed on a law that would move the
money to rebuild the banks and then two of the three new banks were run by women in 2008. To make sure that the leftover money didn’t disappear the government made pretty severe rules about the money. The public was really angry and people actually took to the streets to protest and the current government was overthrown. A woman was then elected to lead the country out of the crisis. Magga Dora said that the people felt empowered and obliged to rebuild and she noticed a really amazing sense of community.
Waage said she was actually in Brussels when everything happened in October 2008. She went to the ATM and her money didn’t have a value because of the currency exchange. She couldn’t get any money out of the banks and only could use the cash she brought with her.
Gisladottir said that creativity and innovation became extremely valued. There became a shift in thinking. Waage said that the community really came together and people started to talk and think about what was important, they created a society- The Ministry of Ideas, and before it closed 60 companies came out of the ministry. People came here to get the creativity flowing and they hosted their first TED Conference in Iceland.
Ragnarsdottir said people started thinking about their countries core values. People were selected at random to come in and discuss them and 1,200 people sat together to discuss the process. There was a nation-wide call out for assistance with writing the constitution and over 500 people came out. This caused an exciting problem to have- figuring out which 25 people would sit on the official committee.
Sölvadóttir said entrepreneurship in Iceland is continuing to rise. They look at them as the saviors of the country, but looking to the future Iceland still needs to improve as she’s looking to move her company to the states later this year to get it funded.
The ladies unanimously agreed though that Iceland is a Fantastic place to be a woman in business. They’ve never experienced anything they can’t do because they are female. Waage said maternity leave is amazing her because there is equal paternity leave so no discrepancy when companies are looking to hire based on gender.
Sölvadóttir said these powerful women, the bank CEOs, aren’t simply role models but more like idols. Icelandic women could learn from American women though in the way that American women aren’t afraid to brag about their success stories or compliment each other. There are actual national laws though that board members have to be 40% female which is pretty amazing and something other countries could learn from Iceland on.