CEO, Founder and Chairwoman of Huda Beauty
Huda Kattan is a woman who needs no introduction. Growing up in Tennessee to Iraqi-American parents, she grew tired of working in finance very quickly post-graduation, and the now CEO, founder and chairwoman of Huda Beauty is one of today’s biggest beauty sensations. Having moved to Dubai in 2006 – “I just fell in love with this region because it really is the land of opportunity it – it nurtures entrepreneurs from all fields with such visionary and entrepreneurial leaders, so we’re so glad to call the UAE our home,” she tells MOJEH – it is a place she has lived and loved in ever since.
Looking at the global powerhouse Huda has created, you’d be forgiven for thinking she’d had a lot of help along the way, but that couldn’t be further from the truth: “I took a US$6,000 loan from my sister Alya to get the business started, but it was a super challenging time because so many doors were shut on us and people were treating our brand like it was just a hobby,” she explains. “I remember being laughed out of investor meeting rooms and not being taken too seriously as a woman trying to start something in the beauty space.”
Thankfully she persevered, and today Huda is not only a household name and beauty guru to the masses with a huge 50.9 million-strong following on her Huda Beauty Instagram account alone, but she also happens to be one of the most influential women in the Middle East with a business valued at over US$1 billion. This even led Forbes to recognise her on the America’s Richest Self-Made Women list. And as if that wasn’t enough, Huda also hopes to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs through her HB Angel Investment Group, an early-stage investment fund to enable new businesses to get up and running. We can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Yasmin Al Mulla
Creative Director and co-founder of YNM
When Emirati fashion designer Yasmin Al Mulla co-founded YNM in 2014, her mission was to leave an unforgettable impression on the global fashion industry. “Infusing my designs with a cultural twist gives me indescribable joy, as my ultimate goal is to always connect the beauty of my Emirati traditions with the world,” she says.
Certified by the London College of Fashion and recognised by the Dubai Design & Fashion Council, Yasmin is driven by the desire to leave behind a legacy. Having collaborated with some of fashion’s biggest names, she counts collaborations with Christian Dior, Givenchy, Shiseido, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton and Christian Louboutin, among her career highlights. “Every achievement is beautiful by itself, it’s the fruit of long nights, dedication and hardworking days.” Focusing on designing handmade contemporary classics, Yasmin’s preferred aesthetic is reflected in her vision of clean lines and impeccable fit, and her dedication to the production process. From inspirations and colour selections to hand sketching entire embellishment patterns, followed by the final hand-stitching, Yasmin remains involved in every part of the process. “In addition to being able to combine my passion with my career, the ability to craft, outline, and create experiences is one of my utmost favourite parts.”
Rania Masri El Khatib
Founder of The RMK Collective
Rania Masri El Khatib is a busy woman. Known as the brain behind Dubai’s legendary Level Shoes and the transformation of Middle Eastern titan the Chalhoub Group, her decision to ‘step back’ from her wildly successful career as a global retail executive in 2021 resulted in the founding of The RMK Collective. It’s a wide-ranging consultancy incorporating coaching, personal branding and mentorship for individuals, as well as bespoke, strategic advice and ‘brand health check’ programmes for businesses. If this what stepping back looks like Rania’s world, colour us impressed. “I love to coach and mentor executives and entrepreneurs, it gives me a sense of purpose,” says Rania. “I love the quote by Pablo Picasso: ‘the meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away’. I’m currently very excited about my podcast, ReShape by Rania Masri El Khatib. I love exposing my audience of listeners to my intimate conversations with people that are looking to redefine the metrics of success.”
Speaking of success, what does Rania think has been the pinnacle of her career? “It was being awarded Retailer of the Year for Level Shoes in 2014 by the Footwear News Achievement Awards,” she smiles. “It was a great recognition for a concept we worked on with a lot of passion. Most challenging was saying yes to leading the transformation mission of Chalhoub Group. I knew that I was getting out of my comfort zone, but when discomfort happens, growth is on the menu. And that is something I’ve learnt to always embrace.”
Tamara Al Gabbani
Diamonds are formed under pressure — and Tamara Al Gabbani’s sparkle is the proof. “During Covid, I was displaced due to visiting Saudi Arabia at the time of its onset,” says Tamara, a Saudi and Serbian fashion designer, TV personality and model. “I couldn’t come back to Dubai and my life turned upside down. I had to put my fashion brand on the back burner which was painful, but with time I applied my focus to my social media career and used it as a tool for creative expression. It’s been a blessing, and I’m grateful for it.”
It’s not surprising that Tamara managed to navigate her unexpected circumstances with such aplomb — with multiple successes spanning her varied career, she’s unafraid of the occasional bold career pivot. Rising to fame as a TV presenter in Dubai, before long Tamara was fronting the Dubai International Film Festival and interviewing global superstars such as George Clooney and Paulo Coelho. After establishing her House of Glamo and eponymous Tamara Al Gabbani brands, she was awarded ‘Best Dressed at Cannes Film Festival’ — wearing her own design, no less. But in spite of her many achievements, she hasn’t let it go to her head; Tamara has her feet firmly on the ground. “I love hearing stories from girls who have studied abroad and become independent women because they felt inspired by my story and life choices,” Tamara enthuses.
So what has she been up to since she found post-Covid freedom? “I just attended New York Fashion Week with Tom Ford and Tom Ford Beauty which was an incredible experience,” she gushes. “And I am going to Paris for a new campaign that will be launched very soon!” It looks like the pressure that formed this diamond went to very good use — she’s going to sparkle for all she’s worth.
Founder and Managing Director of Ruth Bradley Consulting
We’ve heard of girls-about-town, but luxury communications consultant Ruth Bradley is a woman-about-world. Middle Eastern publishing and PR veteran Ruth has spent two decades jet-setting out of her Dubai base, first as editor of Emirates Woman magazine, then working for Louis Vuitton, and finally opening her boutique consulting agency eight years ago. “From Beirut to Bahrain, Amman to Cairo, and Doha to of course Dubai, there’s nowhere in this region that I don’t know the ins and outs of,” says Ruth. “I love jumping on a plane and really getting under the skin and creative underbelly of a city or a country. The MENA region is so nuanced, inspiring and rich in culture and diversity. Through constant travel in the region I have been lucky to meet so many incredible people from all walks of life, many of whom became my clients.”
With clients from the worlds of fashion to art and all manner of luxe business in between, Ruth works out of her beautiful Alserkal Avenue address on projects ranging from creative content, campaigns and brand strategy to plotting her agency’s expansion both regionally and into Europe — all while indulging her passion for communication. “I’m a people collector,” she laughs. “You can put me literally anywhere, in any country and in any situation, and I am immediately in my element. I thrive on talking to people. I’m curious, always learning and I love to talk, as anyone who knows me will tell you!” When she’s not in the Middle East, Ruth splits her time between London and Milan — where her family and business are thriving — and is always on the go. “Time is my biggest luxury and my biggest challenge,” she says. “If there’s a spare second free in the day, I’ll find it — and be sure to use it.”
Artist, educator and designer
Inspired by culture and identity, Emirati-born Sarah Alagroobi juggles her time between two professional roles: a senior interpreter at the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi, and an adjunct instructor for art and design at Zayed University. Moving between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sarah’s current focus is on her multidisciplinary art practice surrounding collective and personal experiences and cultural critique. The co-curator of BANAT Collective, a creative community that discusses intersectionality, gender and identity politics in the Arab world, Sarah’s approach to art and design is driven by an infectious inquisitiveness. “The continuous feeling of childlike curiosity is what fulfils me the most,” confesses Sarah, whose work has been exhibited regionally and internationally in London, Milan, Istanbul, the Venice Biennale, Dutch Design Week, ME Collectors Room Berlin and Warehouse421, Art Jameel, Art Dubai and Abu Dhabi Art. “I’m predominantly working on research that is uncovering half-Emirati identity,” she says. “I continue to make paintings and work on curatorial projects but first and foremost I am focused on my practice.” Among her most notable creations, Sarah recalls exhibiting a unique piece of furniture inspired by her late grandmother and displayed at the Salone Satellite Milano. “She passed away before the ‘Prayer Chair’ was completed, so it was named after her,” she says.
Driven by a desire to mix storytelling with technology, Dubai- based British artist Amrita Sethi is fearless in her quest to discover new possibilities within the experiential forms of art, mixed media and technology. “After a successful career working with some of the world’s largest multinational financial companies, I left the corporate world for a deeper calling, leading to the creation of my new multimedia art form SoundBYTEs,” she says. The most challenging part of her journey has been following her dreams and inner voice to emerge as a leader in a nascent field, showing people a new way to experience art. “My NFTs bridge the gap between physical and digital art, and I use augmented and virtual reality integrated with art and fashion,” she explains. “I want to inspire people to go inwards, reflect, and rediscover themselves, retelling their SoundBYTE story.”
By introducing a novel concept in art and mixed-media technology, Amrita strives to help people explore new opportunities in the metaverse, using crypto-assets and NFTs for new forms of creative expression. “I want to show people that NFTs, web3 and the metaverse are more than just hype and that it will change how we create and interact with art,” she says. “It will no longer be a 2D, flat visual experience but a multi-dimensional, multi-sensory immersive experience that will fundamentally change how we understand what art is, creating a paradigm shift in creativity and an experience for generations to come.” Some of her most notable achievements include creating the award-winning, world-first, sound augmented reality NFT mural at the DIFC Innovation Hub as well as the world’s first augmented reality abaya and fashion line. She is currently venturing into virtual reality, integrating human behaviour into technology through art and experiences.
Founder and Creative Director at Maison Yeya
When it comes to blending her cosmopolitan Arab heritage with a chic European sensibility, Yasmine Yeya’s work at her brand, Maison Yeya, is so deft that it’s enchanted royalty and the fashion industry’s great and good alike. Born and raised in the Egyptian city of Suez, Yasmine grew up surrounded by French architecture which still influences her modern and drama-filled creations today. She cultivated her passion for hand-made perfection by taking up intricate knitting at the age of seven, and has won acclaim for her couture since launching her fashion House in 2006. “Maison Yeya initially started in Cairo, but in 2017 we shifted our headquarters to Dubai, where we operate out of the lavish area of Dubai Design District,” shares Yasmine. “As a brand, we have been able to reach the levels that we have in the most organic manner, utilizing our in-house talent and potential without the need to outsource to outside agencies or other forms of help. This has been one of the biggest achievements of my career.”
Never happier than when working with her hands as a personal couturier, Yasmine’s designs have been shaped to fit high-profile clients including Egypt’s first lady among other members of the political elite. Proportions and ratios are of utmost importance in her work, with each fold and structure in scale to the body. “Being a sole woman entrepreneur and founder, one has to handle various aspects of the business, from creative or legal to financial, and occasionally all at once,” confides Yasmine. “But as brand we are working on expanding our product offering, while actively working on our social and environmental impact.” And with Yasmine overseeing the creation of each and every item that leaves her Maison, she’s sure to remain as hands-on as ever.
Professional show jumper and mechanical engineer
There aren’t many women who can say they have ridden a horse for both His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, but then again, Amna Banihashem isn’t your average woman. Born and raised in Dubai, Amna, a mechanical engineer by profession with a master’s in moral economy and sustainability, also happens to be one of the most decorated show jumpers in the region — and a UAE Championship 2021 winner at that, all before she has even turned 30. Her love of horses began at a very young age, and now boasting qualifications in thoroughbred riding, breeding, horse care and stable management, she is a well-respected figure in competitions both regionally and globally.
Keen to challenge gender stereotypes in the region (she carved out a career in mechanical engineering at a time when female participation in STEM-related fields remained disproportionately low), champion female achievers and pave the way for women in male-dominated sports, the Emirati is also a staunch advocate for women’s empowerment, and works tirelessly to inspire women from the Arab region and around the world to follow their passions in life, whatever they may be. Dedicating her precious spare time to volunteering with people of determination and sponsoring a number of charitable projects in Africa, Amna goes out of her way to make this world a better place than she found it.
Alia Al Shamsi
Author, artist and Cultural Programming Manager at Louvre Abu Dhabi
Passionate about art, culture, poetry and photography, Emirati-Italian Alia Al Shamsi has dedicated her career to exploring and promoting Emirati culture. In 2018, she spearheaded a new unit for academic and community outreach and was soon after promoted to take on the role of the cultural programming manager at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Working with creative communities and teaching photography at the American University of Sharjah, Alia remains committed to instilling values of arts and culture in people and society, through photography and poetry. “What fulfills me the most is being creatively and intellectually stimulated,” she says. “I’m forever learning and experiencing new ways of engaging with the public through my writing, art and cultural programmes at the museum.”
Her children’s book Alayah won the Dubai Culture Publishing Award in 2017, while her Night and Day publication became the first silent book to be published in the UAE. Capturing candid emotions of introspection, Alia’s first poetry book The Ocean Sees Through My Soul published in 2020 and delves into the journey of every individual keen on growth, reinvention and purpose. Speaking about the challenges she has overcome to pursue her passions and hone her talents, she says: “The only challenges are the obstacles we create in our mind, believing in limitations which can be shattered. Challenges are welcomed as growth opportunities.” Chasing the silver lining in every situation, Alia’s photography exhibitions are a window to her soul. Having exhibited alongside the likes of Julia Margaret Cameron and Cindy Sherman in Italy, she takes pride in representing the UAE and its traditions and heritage through dialogue and collaboration between local and international creatives.
Private equity partner
Something old, something new — for multi- dimensional businesswoman Chabi Nouri, her career has seen a little of everything. Currently working with a portfolio of cutting-edge brands for private equity firm Mirabaud’s ‘lifestyle and innovation unit’, Chabi has also spent time at Richemont with some of the most traditional luxury retailers of all. “I am extremely proud to have been able to put some well deserved light on historical brands, and specifically Piaget, and most importantly on the skillsets of extraordinary craftsmen and craftswomen and doing everything to preserve their heritage,” says Chabi. “I am also happy to have been able to support and coach many exceptional women in their own development and projects, and I wish to continue doing that as it also allows me to learn a lot and meet wonderful people.
As CEO of Piaget, Chabi was the first woman to helm a watch or jewellery brand under Richemont’s luxe umbrella, causing waves amongst the ‘grey men’ group chairman Johann Rupert was reported to have said he wanted to see fewer of, prior to Chabi’s appointment in 2017. But from the historic to the futuristic, Chabi’s current work sees her supporting the growth of mushroom-based leather supplier MycoWorks, streetwear publication Highsnobiety, refillable cosmetics brand La Bouche Rouge and lab-grown gem company Diam Concept. “Being close to entrepreneurs, contributing in the value chain creation and having an impact supporting exceptional projects from these entrepreneurs across the world is very rewarding,” says Chabi. “Seeing their passion becoming a reality and a reality that is loved and used by clients is really the icing on the cake!”
Hiba Safieddine Nesr
Founder of Near Art Foundation and Director of Communication and Sustainability at Webcor Group
“Knowing that through the work I do I am able to be part of someone else’s growth. That our presence in someone’s life is invaluable to their journey, which gives more meaning to our lives. I consider myself immensely blessed to serve this purpose,” says Hiba Safieddine Nesr, of what fulfils her. As the director of communication and sustainability at multi-national food production and distribution company Webcor Group, Hiba oversees the company’s social responsibility strategy, focusing on quality education and zero hunger. But beyond this role comes her personal humanitarian work: Together with her husband she cofounded the Nesr Art Foundation, dedicated to supporting artists from Angola and its surrounding regions. “Today, African artists are still underrepresented despite their vast cultural heritage and talent,” says Hiba. “Our artists are a testament to this. Growing the work and scope of the foundation through establishing partnerships with existing international programs gives better exposure to our artists and their work. I believe in the power of partnerships; they enable greater action through collaboration and shared experiences.” She adds, “through our work, we hope we can reframe perspective and understanding of African art, prompt and support artists from the region, and encourage people to read more, see more and acquire more art made by African artists.”
Hiba is also the co-founder and vice-president of the ANEP Foundation, which supports youths with fully-funded scholarships to prestigious universities, from application to graduation. Hiba is also the president and founder of Luz Banco Alimentar, an NGO fighting hunger in Angola. Her women’s empowerment program in rural Lebanon delivers training programs to increase incomes and professional opportunities. Resident in Dubai along with her husband and four children since 2014, Lebanese and Belgium national Hiba has advice for anyone wanting to follow in her busy footsteps: “There is so much I want to do and believe in, but I know that time for me is a limited resource. I try to be realistic of my time and give each initiative its fair amount of time. And so, I do not want to sacrifice any of my set goals by spreading myself too thin.”
Executive Director of Expat Sport
When it comes to Middle Eastern media, UAE publishing veteran Sue Holt has seen — and launched — it all. She served as MD of Dubai’s ITP Media Group, with her fingerprints firmly on their most prestigious launches — including Condé Nast Traveler and Cosmopolitan. She even launched ITP into Saudi Arabia, making it the first independently owned media house to enter the Kingdom. But as 2021 came to a close, Sue launched herself into something completely different. “I decided to leave the media after 25 years to work on the FIFA World Cup 2022, as our family sports tourism company is the UAE’s exclusive agent,” says Sue. “It’s been a great challenge and in November I’m launching Dubai’s first football fans hotel experience for international tourists. I have been working with international markets including Mexico, South America and the qualified European countries which has been really interesting.”
With such a dramatic change of direction, how does Sue plan on parlaying her skills into this new sector? She says it’s all in her approach to business. “Basically, I love a launch!” laughs Sue. “I love exploring market gaps and opportunities then building great teams to launch new brands or brand extensions. This then provides growth opportunities that can help individuals develop and progress in their careers. I love to see people flourish.” After 15 years in Dubai, Sue has seen plenty of ups and downs, and names drastic economic downturns — such as during the pandemic — as her most challenging times. “I naturally enjoy building and nurturing people and brands so it’s not pleasant to see both suffer through external market conditions,” says Sue. “All you can do is manage the situation as best you can until conditions improve, which they always do, particularly in Dubai.” Wise words from a lady who launches — long may she continue.
Author and journalist
The relationships between religion, culture and modernity have always fascinated Hafsa Lodi, who relocated from New York City to the UAE with her family at the age of 14. With a BA in Journalism and an MA in Islamic Law under her belt, she would write about everything from honour killings in Canada’s South Asian communities to the use of DNA evidence in rape cases in Pakistan and the industrialisation of the Holy City of Makkah before turning to penning a book about her most passionate topic — Middle Eastern fashion. Motivated to challenge Islamophobia and racist mindsets about women in the region, Hafsa launched her debut non-fiction book Modesty: A Fashion Paradox at the Emirates Literature Festival in 2020 — written while she was pregnant. Not letting the opinions of, in her own words, “conservative, closed- minded community members who would rather see women restricted to age-old cultural customs and traditions” deter her, she’s closes her ears to unnecessary criticism. “Sometimes this negativity manifests in trolling on social media but I’ve learned to block, mute and ignore it,” she adds.
The American journalist continues to tells stories that bring change within the community, empower Muslim women and help them to see the difference between culture and religion. “The former often boxes them in, limits them and restricts them, using the latter as a mask of legitimacy,” she says. Now pregnant with her second child, Hafsa is currently taking a short hiatus from the world of freelancing, but will continue to challenge stereotypes and educate the masses while enlightening and influencing women at the same time.
CEO of Havas Media Middle East
It’s two decades since Houda Tohme moved to the UAE, and she is flying high — as CEO of Havas Media Middle East she oversees the brand’s entire regional operation, fulfilling the agency’s mission: ‘unite people and brands through meaningful connections.’ “The people I work with are the driving force behind my motivation,” says Houda. “It’s their dedication and commitment to their craft that gives me the greatest sense of fulfilment. A supportive environment defines our workplace culture at Havas Middle East and gives the teams the feeling that when they’re here, they’re with family.” Over her years in Dubai, Houda has seen quite some changes — and when it comes to work-life balance it’s all been for the better.
“As much as it was rewarding to grow in my role, it came with a lot of guilt related to ensuring I was present at home for my children,” Houda confides. “Thankfully, times have changed; the workplace is adapting to inclusivity and businesses are making more and more allowances for a healthier work-life balance. With working from home options, managing your own time, extended maternity leave and many other perks that have made the workplace more accommodating and flexible for working moms, I encourage all young women to chase their aspirations and never give up.” Lebanese national Houda’s whole career has been in media and marketing, working with brands as diverse as Chanel, Coca Cola and Gilette. But when it comes to choosing just one highlight, she’s at a loss for words. “I’ve been fortunate enough to experience many milestones and to have had many accomplishments that I’m proud of,” Houda says. “Every achievement, no matter how big or small, is a success worth celebrating and I cherish every moment.”
Executive Director of Art Dubai
When Benedetta Ghione joined Art Dubai in 2015, she was keen on taking up the challenge to see it become the leading international art fair in the Middle East. The fair’s main goal is to put modern, contemporary and new media art from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Southern and Central Asia on the global map, encouraging collectors and art lovers to discover and support the regional growth of the art market. “The unique role that Art Dubai fulfils within the cultural ecosystem of the region and beyond means that I get to work on a broad range of fascinating projects and strategies which is something I hugely enjoy doing,” says Benedetta.
With a BA in History of Art and an MA in Contemporary Art Theory, Benedetta has been involved in all aspects of Art Dubai, focusing especially on strategic development, innovation and year-round programming, including institutional and public engagement and the nurturing of artistic practice. “Being part of a cultural institution that helps to cement Dubai’s position as a global cultural destination and to expand Art Dubai’s influence on the international art scene is perhaps one of my career highlights,” she says. “One of the brightest examples of this innovation and creativity is the Dubai Collection, a recently launched digital museum of the emirate’s best art.” Following the pandemic, one of her greatest challenges was to host a successful Art Dubai 2021 edition and bring the community together safely and meaningfully: “We harnessed that energy in a big way for the 2022 fair, which happened in March and was our most successful to date.” Looking to the future, Benedetta is working on the 16th edition of Art Dubai which will take place between March 3-5, 2023 at Madinat Jumeirah, featuring a comprehensive educational programme and special events around the city.
Dr. Radmila Lukian
Dermatologist, founder and medical director of Lucia Clinic
During a visit to Dubai to deliver a lecture and training at a dermatology conference, Dr Radmila Lukian was invited to stay and work in the city. “I quickly realised this was a great challenge for me as a dermatologist and aesthetic doctor,” she shares. “In Dubai, we have a superb mix of different skin types and approaches to every skin type, and I always felt welcomed as a doctor and as a woman.” From then on there was no turning back for the Serbian national, who made Dubai her new home by setting up her clinical practice.“By nature, I am a sportswoman, so I love challenges,” she says, explaining how she embraced setting up her clinic, understanding the laws of the land to operate a business, and doing everything herself without any support from investors or an agency. “My work has been recognised in the USA, and I am thankful that I became an educator for the new techniques and technologies for non-surgical facelifts.”
A member of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine and the European Society of Cosmetology and Dermatology (ESCAD), Dr Radmila is a constant participant at world congresses in the USA, Europe and Asia, and always seeks to work with experts, opting for hands-on training from the best in the field. At the Lucia Clinic, Dr Radmila remains dedicated to building a legacy by leaving a trail of satisfied and happy clients who trust her for all their requirements, including the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Jelena Jankovic and Huda Kattan to name just a few.
CEO for the Middle East, India, Africa and Turkey for Cartier
Sisters are doing it for themselves – and Cartier’s CEO for the Middle East, India, Africa and Turkey, Sophie Doireau, is happy to help a sister out whenever she can. Breaking barriers as the first female area CEO in the regional luxury industry, she then got busy bringing empowerment to the masses with the ground-breaking Women’s Pavilion at EXPO 2020 Dubai – which welcomes over 350,000 visitors. “The Women’s Pavilion was a platform dedicated to instilling the conviction that when women thrive, humanity thrives,” says Sophie. “The pavilion’s main function was to embody this motto, to illustrate the pivotal role women have played throughout the ages, but also to highlight challenges they are still facing and to raise awareness, so that everyone realises they have a role to play in closing the gender gap. “One of my proudest moments was witnessing this project unite so many people and organisations under the belief that gender equality and women’s empowerment is a priority and a goal that needs to be achieved,” she adds.
Starting out with Cartier some 14 years ago, Sophie has risen through the ranks and moved to the UAE in 2014 as marketing and communications director for the Middle East before being made managing director for the UAE and India subsidiary in 2018. And then, just last year, came the biggest promotion. “Last year, juggling my new role as a CEO, opening the Women’s Pavilion at Expo 2020 and taking care of my family was a tough exercise,” Sophie confides. “But managing a region that oversees more than 30 countries, with different paces of development, various cultural backgrounds and strong granularity of projects, not only fulfils me, it also allows me to have a better understanding of the world around us.”
CEO of Omnicom Media Group MENA
In the media industry, it’s survival of the fittest — the fittest to transform, communicate, recruit and train. With a constantly shifting landscape of new developments, it takes a keen eye and mind to stay ahead of trends and future-proof your business. Enter Elda Choucair. Constantly fine-tuning the media services division of Omnicom Group — Omnicom Media Group MENA, or the aptly-named OMG for short — and making sure the agency’s talent is performing to the very maximum degree, this dynamic CEO has an organic approach.
“My work is all about planting and nurturing, whether it’s people or opportunities,” says Elda. “Everything about that is fulfilling; some of it doesn’t work, but even that is ok, because success comes as a result of trying and sometimes failing.” But failing doesn’t seem to be an issue for Elda — her multiple projects to accelerate the group’s transformation have included developments in automation, predictive modelling and eCommerce, not to mention her efforts to bring the agency’s training and upskilling to the very highest level possible. “I love being surrounded by people who make me who I am as a leader; my boss who empowered, challenged and supported me, my team who leaned in and pushed through high and low moments, my family who stepped in for me when I needed to be at work, my competitors who made me more determined and resilient… It’s all connected,” says Elda. With a 15-year history at Omnicom and plenty of accolades under her belt — PHD MENA was named MENA Media Network of the Year by Campaign Middle East in the same year Elda became CEO — she also lends her expertise to industry groups the Advertising Business Group, the Interactive Advertising Bureau GCC and the International Advertising Association UAE Chapter. “It’s been an exhilarating journey,” says Elda.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Savoir Flair
“I was born and raised in the glorious city of Dubai, and am proud to say I’ve been living here for 38 years,” says Haleh Nia — and no doubt she’s been as good to the city as it’s been to her. When she was just 24 years old, Iranian-born Haleh became the Middle East’s youngest publisher with the launch of SavoirFlair.com, making her a pioneer of the digital revolution with the region’s first online fashion magazine. Thanks to the tireless hard work of Haleh and her team, her empire has grown steadily ever since, with Savoir Flair getting millions of hits per month and her other businesses — Halo Media, the umbrella group for Savoir Flair and its Arabic language sister website Savoir Flair Al Arabiya, independent creative agency Halo Studio and influencer marketing division Halo Collective — going from stylish and up-to-date strength to strength. “There was no formal degree for digital publishing when I first started out, so everything I learned I had to teach myself,” says Haleh. “Having a platform on which we can use our voice for good is incredibly fulfilling. I’m also enormously proud of the women’s empowerment work we do.” Never failing to innovate, Haleh continues to push her ideas forward and quite rightly celebrated in a big way when Savoir Flair reached its first big milestone. “Publishing a coffee table book with Assouline for our magazine’s 10th anniversary was wonderful,” says Haleh. So what will this visionary come up with next? We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Haleh.
Managing Partner of Wallis PR
For any business needing to make the most of their presence in the Middle East, a safe and knowledgeable pair of hands is essential — and Eileen Wallis is all that and more. “Helping to build a successful, independent communications agency that continues to represent some of the most dynamic and respected regional and global brands has been the highlight of more than two decades of working in the MENA region,” says Eileen, originally from the USA. “Seeing the increased appetite for integrated communications strategy and delivery underscores the long-term opportunities to continue growing in this sector. Development of human capital can be a challenge in the MENA region because highly qualified people are always in demand and the region can be transitory, but it’s very rewarding to develop and work with such an engaged team of colleagues. The next generation of home- grown communications professionals, which is needed to create a more sustainable sector, is emerging across the region.”
And it’s this local knowledge which makes Eileen and her team so sought-after. After all, the Middle East has changed rapidly over the past 20 years, but Eileen has managed to maintain her business and thrive — surely she can help others to do the same. “Because we were founded here in the MENA region, our insight and experience on the nuances of the region’s business and consumer landscapes are consistently in demand,” says Eileen. “It’s fantastic to see how communications is a foundation of the business strategies for our clients, enabling them to achieve their goals across the MENA region. I also love the breadth of insight that we get into some of the region’s fastest- growing industries, from healthcare and art and culture to technology and logistics. Effective storytelling is at the heart of what we do, and it is never boring.”
Founder and Managing Director of HFA Consultancy
When Saudi-born entrepreneur Haya Akhdar founded HFA consultancy she didn’t think she had in it her to become an entrepreneur. “Taking that leap of faith at that time, when I didn’t think of myself as an entrepreneur, was unsettling as I had to let go of the stability and comfort that comes with a more traditional career path,” she confesses. “Looking back, it was the best decision I made. It enabled me to work with some of the most talented people I know in the industry who I’m proud to call members of the HFA family.”
Today, HFA Consultancy creates closer customer-brand relationships by linking prestigious brands to the region’s foremost publishers, as well as the most exclusive audiences in the Middle East. Passionate about people and never one to shy away from a challenge or putting in the hard work, Haya has left a trail of accomplishments that mark her ability to influence decisions and achieve goals. “I love working with clients and helping them achieve,” she says. “Few things are as rewarding as seeing the impact and outcome of a project after you’ve invested 100% of your collaborative effort.” When she isn’t spending time with her family, she invests her energy into her team. “Being able to guide and empower them, and then watching them grow into their full potential is, without a doubt, one of the most fulfilling parts of my career,” she says. Living in Dubai since 2003, Haya has been keen on progress and growth. With an office opening in Riyadh later this year, she credits HFA’s ongoing expansion to the support of her husband, who manages the business with her.
Founder and CEO of Peacefull
There are many brands out there cynically capitalising on inclusivity — paying lip-service to our differences, in the hopes of achieving subsequent business success. But for Salama Mohamed, her luxury skincare line Peacefull is intended to celebrate everyone, both inside and out, and it truly walks the talk. “Having been blessed with vitiligo and sensitive skin from an early age, I searched for skincare products that suit my skin type and tone,” shares Abu Dhabi native Salama. “I also had to take into consideration our region’s climate and how it, in turn, affects our skin. Thankfully, I stumbled upon Korean skincare and, as they say, the rest is history. The attention and precision that Korean brands dedicate to their products is unparalleled and using them completely changed my relationship with skincare. Through this journey, I discovered the healing powers of Korean active ingredients, and that ultimately led to the creation of Peacefull.”
Now based in Dubai both for life and work, Emirati Salama’s aim is to help everyone feel comfortable in their skin, using her own journey to self-love to guide her. This ‘from the region, for the region’ brand is inclusive of all genders and communities, encouraging Peacefull’s devotees to love and nurture whatever skin they are in “We aim to educate the community on what inclusion truly means across the skincare and beauty industry,” says Salama. “My biggest challenge started off internally, finding the courage to translate my vision into fruition. I knew that I would be exposing myself, my insecurities and sensitivities to the public, sharing my personal struggles as well as my journey of self-love and acceptance.” With exciting brand collaborations, product launches and more in Peacefull’s future, Salama has nothing to worry about – her courage continues to help skincare devotees in the region, and beyond.
Asma Hilal Lootah
Founder and owner of The Hundred Wellness Centre
When the current First Lady of the United States of America Dr Jill Biden invites you to give a speech about your experience as a successful female Emirati entrepreneur at the School of Research Science in Dubai, you know you must be doing something right. That’s exactly what happened to Asma Hilal Lootah back in March 2016 when then-US Vice President Joe Biden visited the UAE. Fitness and helping others have always been two of Asma’s biggest passions, and after discovering her love of Pilates in 2002, the proud Emirati left her role at Etisalat to open The Hundred Wellness Centre, a holistic healing haven located in the heart of Dubai and designed to empower residents to transform their physical, mental and emotional health through natural medicine, holistic therapies and positive nutrition.
Asma’s dedication to improving the health and quality of life of people in the UAE knows no bounds, and her contributions to the region’s wellness industry have most certainly not gone unnoticed. In 2010 she was awarded the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Award for Young Business Leaders for the best business in healthcare by the Crown Prince of Dubai. In 2011 The Hundred was ranked #45 in Dubai’s top 100 small and medium enterprises, while being selected as the best health and fitness facility in the UAE by the Sports and Industry Awards. The centre was also awarded the Best Small Project in the GCC states in 2015. Not one to rest on her laurels, Asma is also a keen sportswoman herself, having completed the London Royal Parks half marathon as well as climbing Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain. “I am incredibly proud to be a female Emirati entrepreneur, and I believe we are the future of the UAE — trendsetters, mentors, and role models in shaping our future generations,” Asma tells MOJEH. “When a woman leads, others follow.”
Content Producer and TV Host
Media personality and journalist Diala Makki is a woman who has changed the media scene in the UAE with her thought- provoking interviews and shows over the past 17 years. With exclusive access to some of the most prominent names in the world of luxury, Diala has unveiled the inside scoop on business and the secret to success from icons such as Tory Burch, Elie Saab, Carolina Herrera, Giorgio Armani and the late Karl Lagerfeld and Alber Elbaz, to name only a few. Although based in Dubai, she mostly produces and shoots in Europe, spending much of her time exploring and connecting with designers, CEOs and founders to keep them connected to the Arabic-speaking audience in the Middle Eastern region. “What fulfils me the most is storytelling in a manner that leaves an impact on people’s perceptions,” she says. “I love success stories and tales of resilience.”
During the Covid-19 lockdown, Dalia pursued her second master’s degree and found an innovative way to host international designers with the purpose of bridging cultures. Hosting her prime-time show on Dubai TV since 2005, she has remained true to her passion over the years. “I diversified my content, moving from lifestyle and fashion to watchmaking and beauty, and now to hospitality. My passion lies in uncovering the craftsmanship in luxury brands and empowering collective artisanal arts.” From shedding light on established and upcoming Arab talents to sharing content and engaging with her followers, Diala does not stop at anything. “I am currently producing a new series of documentaries on multiple platforms that airs in October on Dubai TV and the streaming channels,” she shares — and we can’t wait.
Jeddah-based, Saudi-Palestinian artist Dana Awartani is best known for the exceptional use of traditional geometry seen in her artistic practice which varies from paintings and sculptures to performance and multimedia installations. “The most fulfilling part of my art practice is that I get to work with my hands,” she says. “I find so much joy in being able to completely switch off from the rest of the world and just focus on creating an artwork. “Most of my art pieces are extremely labour intensive. Whether I am painting, drawing or sculpting, I fully immerse in the making of it and it becomes a sort of mediative act.”
Much of Dana’s work is displayed in some of the most prestigious galleries and museums around the world, including the Sheikh Zayed National Museum, Jameel Arts Centre, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, The British Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum and The Guggenheim Museum. But she struggled to find acceptance from family and friends when she first started as an artist. Today, among her many career highlights, she’s especially proud of the most recent interactive, public sculpture produced for the Diriyah Biennale, entitled Where The Dwellers Lay and exhibited at Desert X AlUla, Saudi Arabia. A graduate of Central Saint Martins, Dana is thrilled to be participating in an upcoming exhibition at Hirschhorn Museum, Washington DC. “I will be exhibiting alongside historic artists that I deeply admire, who I studied when I was a student in London, such as Anni Albers, Barbara Hepworth, Guerrilla Girls and Agnes Martin,” she enthuses. “To show alongside such important artists as an equal is a highlight in my career.”
Founder of KETISH
When Emaan Abbass was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 21, following her first ever visit to a gynaecologist, she didn’t know where to turn to for support. After all, in her conservative Egyptian American home, no-one talked about sexual health. Having decided she would make it her mission to give women a different, more educated experience with their feminine health than she had received, Emaan put pen to paper and came up with the idea for KETISH, a combination of product line and expert advice, which immediately secured start-up funding as the first angel investor product from Huda and Mona Kattan’s HB Investments. The rest, as they say, is history.
While her seemingly ‘taboo’ brand was quick to receive backlash, Emaan refused to give up, and today KETISH has cultivated an incredibly vocal and supportive community that continues to grow each day. So much so that it was awarded the Most Promising Brand of the Year by Entrepreneur Magazine just five months after launching. “I encourage women to open, to learn, to have conversations, to discover more about their bodies, to lean on one another for support through it all,” Emaan tells MOJEH. Her products, which include the likes of refreshing wipes and body oil for period cramp care, also encompass educational content and CSR partnerships. “I look back and realise that the moments of darkness, pain and fear I had in my life, have now led me to create something like this, something I believe in so incredibly much,” she says. “Something that has the power to impact and help women, and it has made all of the challenging moments worth it.”
Kitty Fox-McGregor Elguel
Founder and creative director of Pardus Consilio
If it’s a magic carpet ride that you’re looking for, then let Kitty be your navigator — because she certainly knows her way around her floor coverings. The creative mind behind trendy Dubai interiors brand Pardus Consilio, her quirky Tibetan Tiger rugs and Habibi/Habibti cushions have been popping up in stylish homes all over the region. “Throughout the Covid period of time there were ups and downs, my imports were not coming in from India and I had to pause the business,” says Kitty. “But after things settled down business picked up a lot. I think people were at home a lot more and concentrating on their interiors, which, surprisingly, worked out very well for me.”
British-born Kitty was inspired to start her brand when she couldn’t find the perfect carpet for her home, so took a deep dive into the process of making her own instead. She’s a passionate admirer of the artisans who hand- produce her wares, citing their traditional craft as one of her motivations for embarking on her retail journey. “I love the process of designing something and seeing it made into a beautiful finished piece,” says Kitty. “The process is so interesting and I have learnt a lot along the way, about how the carpets are handmade and the highly skilled artisans that produce them. It fulfils me to know that the way I do business is ethical and sustainable, and I love hearing from happy clients. My bespoke furniture and cushions are handmade in Dubai which supports local business, a value that is important to my brand.” Now pushing eight years based in Dubai, Kitty is about to realise her dream of opening a showroom space in Al Quoz — sure to be a roaring success.
Based between London, Dubai and Dhahran, Saudi artist Manal AlDowayan has spent two decades of her career exploring human behaviour, questioning gender-based customs and evoking a response through her art installations. Among the highlights of her career, she lists the permanent installation of pool-like trampolines in AlUla titled Now You See Me, Now You Don’t and her collaboration with Dior for the Dior Art Program presenting Arab heritage and culture on Lady Dior bags. “I find deep satisfaction when the public reacts to my artworks the way I intended,” she says. “I love seeing people jump on my trampolines or carry the bags I designed.”
With an MA in Contemporary Art Practice in Public Spheres from the Royal College of Art, London, Manal seeks to shed light on the cultural metamorphosis engulfing the Kingdom. Best known for her work in site-specific installations, sound, neon and sculpture, she shifts between photography and art, interactive installations and research-driven presentations that initiate dialogue and engage viewers. Even though she is passionately driven, Manal admits that it has been a challenge to strike a balance between her business and creative skills. “They don’t teach you business skills in art school and it is a steep, painful learning curve for any artist to manage their creativity in parallel to their finances,” she confesses. Currently working alongside other renowned artists, Manal will be presenting an installation at the Wadi AlFann (Valley of the Arts) in Saudi Arabia. Inspired by the mud architecture of AlUla’s Old Town and titled The Oasis of Stories, the site-specific installation is scheduled to launch by 2024. We can’t wait to pay it a visit.
Founder of Comptoir102 Concept Store and Wild & The Moon
Defying the odds to become Dubai’s queen of eco-lifestyle cool, Emma Sawko came from living between New York and Paris to Dubai in 2012 with an idea that she was told wouldn’t work — and smashed it. “Ten years ago, shopping malls were the place to be and fast food was king,” she recalls. “I missed New York, the city I was born in, as well as the Parisian art de vivre. That’s how Comptoir102 started: a laid-back villa with furniture, design, fashion, jewellery and a healthy café all under one roof. I wanted everything to reflect the way I lived. “It was explained to me that this wasn’t possible, that bankruptcy was guaranteed and that people in Dubai ‘wouldn’t go for it’. But they loved it and were more passionate about healthy food and wellbeing than
After the success of Comptoir102 — including awards and international acclaim in travel guides — Emma decided to expand her healthy eating concept further by launching her restaurant Wild & The Moon. “That’s the way I grew up: my mother cooked healthy, simple organic food, and I just did the same,” says Emma. “Wild & the Moon is a 100% plant-based food concept. My aim isn’t to label it vegetarian or vegan or organic… Simply to eat well by really enjoying myself, respecting my body and the environment. We are reducing our carbon footprint, making our health and the health of the planet our absolute priority. Zero-waste and plastic-free are fundamental, and we favour local farmers and small producers.” What other tricks does Emma have up her sleeve? New designers at Comptoir102, Wild & The Moon franchises in Qatar and the Netherlands, further expansion in Paris and new collaborations at Paris Fashion Week are all in the pipeline… Now that sounds like a really healthy business.
Founder and CEO of Tashas Group
If you live in, or have ever visited, Dubai, chances are you will have eaten in one of Natasha Sideris’s venues. A keen restaurateur passionate about creating spaces that boast beautiful food, stunning environments and five-star service, Natasha is the brain behind the likes of hugely-popular eateries Tashas, Avli by Tashas and Flamingo Room by Tashas, to name a few. It’s hardly surprising, then, that she is one of the most recognised figures in the UAE’s F&B industry.
Growing up in South Africa, where she became the maverick of the casual dining scene, Natasha opened her first restaurant in Atholl in 2005. Seventeen years later and she now has a whopping 20 locations spanning both South Africa and the UAE, where she has called home since 2019. Just one glance at her breathtaking concepts and it’s clear that Natasha is a woman with taste. All rose gold accents, lush greenery and clever lighting, her spaces make for some of the most visually stunning in the region. “If I wasn’t a restaurateur, I probably would have been an interior designer,” she says. And there’s plenty more to come. Not only will there be a Flamingo Room by Tashas opening in Riyadh at the end of this year and Abu Dhabi in early 2023, as well as a new beach restaurant concept at The Pearl Jumeirah and Nala on the cards, Natasha is also opening her first Tashas Café in Battersea, London, in May 2023. She really is a force to be reckoned with.
Maryam Fattahi Salaam
Owner and CEO of Physique 57
“I was born to Iranian parents in the UAE and left for the US at the age of 17,” says Maryam Fattahi Salaam, as she recalls the start of her journey in the business of fitness. “It was during my years in New York City that I was exposed to the wonders of Physique 57, an internationally renowned fitness company that encourages health and wellbeing with a signature blend of fun and empowerment at its core.” That first class inspired her to return to the UAE and to bring back something that she envisioned would grow into a community of like-minded women. “When I moved back in 2010, I saw a void in the Dubai fitness market, so I sought to create what I was looking for,” recalls Maryam. “A fun, safe, effective and dynamic workout.”
The Berkeley graduate and attorney soon set out to achieve her vision, inspired by the legacy of her sister: Negin Fattahi-Dasmal, the Founder of N.Bar, 1847 and JetSet, fought a thirteen-year battle with cancer. Filling the market gap with a mix of fitness and fun, Physique 57 launched in 2013 and, when the pandemic hit, Maryam was ready to switch strategy. “We launched a daily schedule of live-stream classes that saw women maximizing their self-care time from home via our virtual Zoom studio,” says Maryam. “We stuck together to keep unleashing the unlimited potential of our bodies knowing that in doing so, we would unleash the unlimited potential of our lives, too.”
Aya and Mounaz Abdel Raouf
Co-founders and co-creative directors of Okhtein
When Egyptian sister-duo, Aya and Mounaz launched Okhtein, meaning sisters in Arabic, they had a vision to bring true luxury back to their home country, while drawing international attention to the inherent refinement of Egyptian artisanship. For them, the dream was to make luxury accessories available at an accessible price point, supporting the cultural value of Middle Eastern craftsmanship. “Every phase of our career has its challenging part,” say the design duo. “New challenges arise, and they keep changing.” Producing in Spain, the UAE and Egypt, their collections are inspired by history and jewellery. For Mounaz, her aesthetic is vibrant, as she mixes gold, black and silver, constantly leaning towards the beauty of the brass metal for a regal touch. “We feel fulfilled from the very beginning, looking at our sketches and then the final result is always the most rewarding moment when the sketch turns into reality,” they say. Constantly innovating and collaborating with international brands, the design siblings are enthusiastic about opening a new store in the MENA region and introducing a brand extension in the near future. They have their heart and hopes set on a historic moment: “We are very excited about opening a store in the Grand Egyptian Museum. It is a historic milestone for our country and we are very glad to be a part of it.”
French Lebanese designer Sandra Mansour is renowned for her approach to luxury fashion, creating artistically-driven pieces with timeless silhouettes that border on contemporary and classic. Soon after founding her eponymous brand in 2010, Sandra dedicated her time and attention to creating enchanting collections appealing to modern women, offering classic, ready-to-wear and bespoke bridal wear. Combining her knowledge of art with her passion for fashion, Sandra’s signature hand-embroidery technique soon became the central focus of her collections and creations, eventually garnering attention from celebrities and royals alike. “Building a career from scratch is a challenge within itself,” says Sandra. “However, with challenges comes growth which makes the process exciting”
With a commitment to sustainability and ethical products, Sandra pays attention to every detail in her boutique fashion house’s personalized, semi-bespoke service. “The most fulfilling part is, without a doubt, the design process,” she admits. “The journey from dream to design is nothing short of magical. I am proud of what the brand has achieved throughout the years from the smallest to the largest gains.” Her pride is well placed, considering her pieces have been worn by the likes of Lady Gaga, Gigi Hadid, Princess Ekaterina Malysheva of Hanover, Sara Jessica Parker, Princess Cleo von Adelsheim and many others. As she continues to grow her footprint, Sandra is working on a new classic collection that brings to life her vision of dressing a woman for every occasion, from casual outings to gala dinners up until her wedding day.
Founder and owner of Caravana Concept Store
Whether she’s at home in the UAE or scouring far-flung markets, Aurélie Durand never stops her treasure hunt for the quirkiest pieces to bring to Caravana Concept Store, her trove of wonders. “One of my career highlights was working at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, surrounded by architectural magnificence and beauty,” says Aurélie. “Now I’m curating beautiful and rare pieces in my own way! Bringing together pieces of homeware, jewellery and clothing from artisans and designers worldwide.” Caravana Concept Store was dreamed up a little before the pandemic, and a 2021 trip to Vietri Sul Mare in Italy — with its inspiring, artisanal ceramics just begging to be brought back to Dubai — sealed its fate. By March 2022 Caravana’s first pop-up was launched, showcasing a blend of painstakingly curated pieces from the world over.
“It might sound cliché, but being able to transform my true love of objects and design into my own business has been so rewarding,” says Aurélie. “I love being on the hunt for rare and unique finds. I want each piece to be a meaningful acquisition that my clients can cherish and keep for a long time.” Aurélie initially had trouble pinning down exactly what Caravana would be — “I had so many ideas, my creativity and inspiration ran wild and I had to rein myself in!” — but soon enough her idea found its stride. “A successful entrepreneur must be able to dream big and know when and how to bring some of those dreams to life,” says Aurélie. “It took me a while to settle on the concept, but when it finally took shape I knew it was right.” Now Aurélie is focusing on growing her product selection and putting down roots with a permanent space — we can’t wait to step into her whimsical world.
Founder of YogaMagic
Working with children and teachers, enabling them to build practices and skills, and helping them become more conscientious, resilient and confident, is what fulfils Kate Sheikh the most. Based in Dubai since 2017, the German-born author and speaker is the driving force behind YogaMagic, the UAE’s first mental wellbeing consultancy for educational institutions, promoting children’s yoga and mindfulness — her mission being to bring them into every classroom and household in the UAE. “When I go into schools and I speak to teens and parents, or we deliver our training to the teachers, I can directly see the impact our work has on the children and whole families,” she says.
It was during the pandemic that Kate launched her first yoga storybook and yoga cards for children, while teaching yoga to 15,000 children online. She realised the impact, benefit and importance of yoga on parents and children by helping them to integrate these practices into their daily lives. “Thus, YogaMagic was born,” she recalls. “I went on a journey to source the most inspiring children’s mental well- being products from across the globe, as well as partnering with my business partner to create The Complete SchoolKit.” Through the e-commerce platform of YogaMagic, Kate curates a selection of unique products from independent businesses around the world and is in talks with some of the best schools in the UAE to integrate The Complete SchoolKit framework into the 2022/23 curriculum. In addition Kate, through YogaMagic, has partnered with the Special Olympics AD to create and source their Early Intervention Kits containing affirmation cards and a wellness journal as well as other items which are distributed and designed to help those joining the Special Olympics Family.
CEO Middle East for YOOX NET-A-PORTER Group
Working with a portfolio of four leading brands, YOOX, Net-A-Porter, Mr Porter and The Outnet, Nisreen Shocair is renowned for her remarkable strides in business. As President of Virgin Megastore for the Middle East & North Africa for over a decade, she has won several notable titles including being awarded the Female CEO of the Year by CEO Middle East and Businesswoman of the Year by Women in Leadership. “Showcasing Middle Eastern talent and building the next generation of inspirational talent has been a mission close to my heart,” she says. “We rise together as an industry: designers and retailers keep each other strong. In the past two years, we successfully launched key global brands such as Elie Saab, alongside regional favourites such as Renaissance Renaissance, L’Atelier Nawbar and more.”
Nisreen co-chairs the Retail Leaders Circle, a think tank for the Middle East retail industry, and is a regular speaker for the World Retail Congress, Retail Leader’s Circle, Retail Week and the Financial Times. Her focus in the ME market is to connect brands and businesses to innovations and trends driven by consumer awareness of cultural topics. “We are lucky to be in an ever-growing market and have our Middle East office based in an environment such as the UAE’s, helping to attract talent in the top of their field from across the globe,” she says. Currently working on revealing new integrated digital technology for Mr Porter, Nisreen is keen on giving shoppers a detailed and closer insight into the lifecycle of a product, making this a possible first in the region.
As an exclusive industry ruled by a select few, the elite world of art can be a tough nut to crack. Yet even with few connections and no formal training — she learnt most of her skills through hard graft, dedication and continual practice — that wasn’t going to stop Nat Bowen. Now one of the world’s leading British abstract resin artists, Nat moved to Dubai one year ago and is disrupting the industry with her artworks. “I love having the freedom and space to express myself creatively,” she tells MOJEH. “I use my art as a way to communicate my inner feelings nonverbally to the outside world which I find therapeutic, and I’ve realised having a creative outlet is paramount for my wellbeing.”
Through hard work, dedication and raw talent, Nat’s works have been displayed in London’s renowned Saatchi Gallery while, in Dubai, she recently worked with McLaren to create the McLaren Artura Art Car using one of her resin paintings. You’ll currently find her work on display at one of Dubai’s hottest new venues, BCH:CLB at W Dubai the Palm, where beachgoers can admire her signature paintings adorning the walls of the restaurant and private cabanas, as well as a huge outdoor sculpture at the VIP entrance and a large, Instagrammable exterior wall of her artwork near to the pool. A philanthropist at heart, Nat will be auctioning her artwork this November at the Global Gift Foundation in Ras Al Khaimah, raising funds for the non-profit organisation which aims to have a positive impact on the lives of children, women and families in need. “I’m also exploring taking my art into the virtual world by opening my own gallery in the metaverse and I have some exciting collaborations in the pipeline,” she adds. “But I need to keep my lips sealed for now.”
Director of Art Jameel
Embracing challenges, risks and rewards, Antonia Carver is a woman who thrives on community efforts and transformative experiences. As director of Art Jameel since 2016, she has witnessed several firsts in her career, including the opening of the Jameel Arts Center, Dubai’s contemporary museum which opened in November 2018, and Hayy Jameel (Jeddah) a multidisciplinary creative hub that launched in December 2021. Additionally, she was also the editor and projects director of the first Middle Eastern art and culture magazine, Bidoun, published in 2004. The most fulfilling part of her career, she says, is: “Working with the Art Jameel team, and with artists and young people — and seeing exhibitions, learning projects, and community programmes become transformative for everyone involved.” A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a Master’s in Social Anthropology, Antonia has written extensively on Middle Eastern art and film, edited books and journals and advised and programmed for film festivals, arts, and educational initiatives. Moving to the UAE in 2001 was an exciting period in her career, if not the most challenging, as she took on several new roles in pioneering organisations which led to working on new events, spaces, and programmes — something she describes as ‘“playing catch-up to the bold imagination, often with the infrastructure, and even legislation” of those organisations. The upcoming projects that she is working on include the annual flagship sustainability event at Jameel Arts Center, along with a group exhibition titled An Ocean in Every Drop featuring the work of 15 artists from around the globe and their exploration of human relationships to water. In Saudi Arabia, the opening of Hayy Cinema, Saudi’s first independent picture-house dedicated to screening original cinema from around the world and nurturing the next generation of Saudi filmmakers, is hot on the agenda.
Nadine Abdel Ghaffar
Curator and founder of Art D’Egypte
Meet the woman on a mission to bring Egyptian art to the masses — one breathtaking exhibition at a time. Passionate about the level of talent in contemporary Egyptian art, through her consultancy Arte D’Égypte Nadine aims to bring domestic, regional and international appreciation of her country’s creativity out of the ancient times and right up to date. “Raising awareness about the role of soft power and the importance that art and culture play in our society, supporting young artists to get their work displayed and published and cataloguing Egypt’s modern and contemporary art heritage — that’s what fulfils me,” says Nadine. After studying curation at London’s Central Saint Martins and organising exhibitions in Egypt and Dubai, Nadine founded Art D’Égypte in 2016 and went on to curate four highly successful, interactive art shows in some of Egypt’s most stunning historic sites, including the Egyptian Museum and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Historic Cairo. But Art D’Égypte’s latest show has been the most spectacular of all.
“The Forever Is Now exhibition took place last October at the Pyramids of Giza and was the first exhibition that Art D’Égypte curated with not only Egyptian artists but also artists from all over the world,” says Nadine. “It created a more diverse cultural dialogue between Egypt and the world and attracted approximately half a million visitors.” Forever Is Now will be back at the Pyramids of Giza for a second edition from 27th of October to 30th November this year, with NFT tickets available for people to virtually attend the exhibit from anywhere in the world.
Chief Academic Officer at Al Mawakeb Schools and AMSI
Alissar Nasr, born to a Lebanese family who arrived in the UAE in 1975, is an education professional who knows where her heart is. “Forty seven years later, Dubai remains my home,” says Alissar. “And I certainly remain its daughter.” When her father, along with his Emirati partners, founded Al Mawakeb school in 1979, Alissar had no idea just what impact it would have on her life — or what impact she would eventually have on the school too. “We have been home to over 200,000 students and I am an alumnus myself, having graduated in 1984,” says Alissar. “I went to the USA for my BS in Mathematics in Cleveland, Ohio and I came back to my school and started teaching Math in 1988. Three years later, I joined Harvard University where I completed my Education Master’s degree, coming straight back to Al Mawakeb to take on a leadership role. As the schools grew and more campuses were open, I took on more responsibilities and I am now and have been Chief Academic Officer since 2007.”
Taking on such responsible roles in the world of education has carried pressure for Alissar, in more ways than one. “Being an Arab woman in a sector mostly driven by female teachers and junior leaders, yet dominated by men in senior positions, yielded its own set of challenges,” says Alissar. “I consider myself lucky to have been surrounded by men who supported my journey. I am dedicated to helping girls at our schools find their voice, and to making our boys realize their role in their empowerment. While we have made huge strides as women, we still have a long way to go, and the success of many women must not make us underestimate much of the work that still needs to be done.”
Founder and president of Etoile Group and creative director of Ingie Paris
Fashionista or not, you will have heard the name Ingie Chalhoub. Founder and president of the Etoile Group, which was established back in 1983 when Ingie opened her first Chanel boutique in Kuwait (followed by more openings in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East), the Dubai-based CEO is one of the most avant garde Arab woman’s style inspirations to date. Today the Group runs an operation of over 70 boutiques including Ralph Lauren, Tod’s, Etro, Valentino and Aquazzura, employing 500-plus workers across the region and making it one of the most well-known names in the industry with an impeccable reputation throughout the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Lebanon.
With a career that spans decades, Ingie has seen her fair share of highs and lows — the latter specifically when the Gulf War meant her business had to stop and she had to rebuild her empire once again. Not one to give up, Ingie quickly rebuilt, and went on to open her very own multi- brand concept store Etoile ‘La Boutique’, followed by the launch of her label, Ingie Paris, in 2009. Combining French craftsmanship with Middle Eastern glamour, the international style set fawn over her exclusive collection of delicate evening gowns, red carpet dresses and RTW season after season. Kendall Jenner, Dua Lipa, Olivia Wilde and Juliette Binoche are just some of the high-profile names to don her designs. “I believe that women in any given industry have a power to pave their way to success, rather than following a path that has already been set for them,” Ingie tells MOJEH. “When I started in this industry, particularly with Etoile ‘La Boutique’, it was very much seen as a man’s world. Making myself known in a society where people did not understand why I worked so hard was no easy task. These preconceptions of who people expected me to be rather than who I desired to be propelled me to want to achieve success — on my own merit.”
Brand Consultant, writer, founder and managing director of Little Farasha
When Maha Gorton couldn’t find any decent dribble bibs for her babies, she did what any mother with a strong entrepreneurial spirit would do — she decided to design them herself. Not only did the mother-of-three (and dog mum to one) turn her idea into a hugely successful retail business — Little Farasha’s handcrafted, Middle Eastern-inspired fashion and lifestyle accessories can be seen sported by the region’s trendiest little ones — she is also shedding light on important issues and raising awareness around breast cancer following her diagnosis at the young age of 33. From building her own brand, releasing her debut collection, hosting events with the likes of Tory Burch, being part of the Estée Lauder Breast Cancer Awareness campaign and working tirelessly to promote insight through the CH Pink Campaign, Maha is a symbol of strength and positivity for women all over the region.
“I love the variety and multi-faceted nature of my work,” she tells MOJEH. “It’s an outlet to be creative and expressive, creating an impact and having a platform to shed light on and raise awareness about matters that are important to me. I love having the connection with other women — seeing a need and working with organisations to help fulfil it.” What’s more, through rebuilding her career after predominantly being a full-time mother for 14 years and having the courage to work for herself to maintain flexibility as a single parent, Maha is walking proof that women really can have it all.
Who doesn’t love a little sparkle? But for Artist Sara Shakeel, just a little will never be enough — especially when it comes to sprinkling her star-dusted aesthetic over all manner of exciting partnerships and collaborations “The positive reactions, reinforcement, and global engagement that my work sparks has been so immensely fulfilling,” says Pakistani-born and London-based Sara. “I receive beautiful messages from all over the world, and have so fortuitously been able to create a little community-slash- online family of a million strong. I speak and communicate through my art, and when that resonates, I feel immensely accomplished as a person. Positively impacting people and discourse is why I do what I do.” And she does it so well. There isn’t an everyday object or concept that Sara can’t improve with a little of her signature fairy dust — and big brands are sitting up to take notes. Collaborations with Huda Beauty, La Mer, Jimmy Choo, Mercedes Benz, Amazon and Reebok form part of her ethereal portfolio, and the ‘artrepreneur’ isn’t ready to stop there.
“I value and treasure every opportunity that has come my way,” says Sara. “Each partnership has sparkled in its own unique spotlight. The impetus of my work is to spark joy, perpetuate conversation and dialogue, and for my visual messages to be reflective of the times that we live in.” Sara cites having her work imitated and negative reactions to her aesthetic as her biggest career challenges — but as a girl from humble beginnings who followed her dreams, she still counts herself blessed. “I’m so grateful for the brands who continue to believe in my artistry and vision,” says Sara. “My team and I are in the process of wrapping up some wonderful new partnerships. I’ll reveal more, in due time, and I promise it will be absolutely full of sparkle!”
Zahra Lyla Khalil
Creative director and podcaster
As human beings, storytelling is in our DNA — but not everybody is able to think far enough outside the box to see how their own story should be told, whether they’re businesses or individuals. And that’s where Dubai’s very own Zahra Lyla Khalil steps in, ready to spin yarns to capture any audience. “I’m able to do what I love every day, which includes helping individuals and brands understand their positioning and potential in a creative and fun way, whether through social media, fashion or beauty,” says Zahra of her social media venture The Other Agency.
Through her agency’s work she tailor- makes digital storytelling for her clients, projecting a more human image on their public presence. As a graphic designer who studied at the London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins, she’s worked with big names such as Harper’s Bazaar UK and The Sunday Times Style as well as assisting top fashion figures Mel Ottenberg, David Bailey and more. Brands such as Bottega Veneta, Cartier, Boucheron and La Prairie have also benefitted from her social know-how, but as Zahra explains, even outstanding success can’t always guarantee self-confidence. “Dealing with imposter syndrome and navigating through a judgmental and sometimes toxic industry has been challenging,” she says. “But launching the 22nd international edition of Vogue in the Middle East, as well as launching my own social media agency, The Other Agency, have been just some of my career highlights. I also have a couple of new launches happening soon, so watch this space!” We will indeed be watching with interest – because if anyone can tell a luxe tale to its greatest effect, it’s Zahra.
Creative director and founder of Bil Arabi
“Being creative every day, I don’t feel that what I do is a job — rather, it’s a love affair,” smiles Beirut-born and 22-year Dubai resident Nadine. “It’s an amazing journey where I keep on learning. Every single day there’s something new.” That’s easy to believe when it comes to a woman this multi-talented. Principally known as a photographer and award-winning jewellery designer, her brand Bil Arabi is a love letter to her heritage — as is much, if not all, of her work. Fiercely proud of her Middle Eastern roots, she incorporates Arabic calligraphy and symbolism into her jewellery and everyday Middle Eastern life in her artworks. “Creating a new trend related to culture and identity, making Bil Arabi not just a regional brand but also succeeding at reaching international markets, has been a real career highlight,” says Nadine. “I never see things as challenging, but rather as learning curves. Loving what I do doesn’t bring challenges, I’m not the type that looks at the negative so I always see the bright and positive.”
Nadine’s diverse career path has seen her put her two degrees from the Lebanese American University — in Communication Arts and Advertising Design — to good use. After working in various design and journalism roles, her move to Dubai pushed her further towards photography, culminating in having her work shown at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2006. Nowadays she works out of her studio in Dubai’s Design District, on diverse projects including as co-founder of the Design Ras Al Khor (DRAK) initiative as well as collaborating with brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton. “At the moment working on new collections and prototypes, and there are a few collaborations on the way,” says Nadine. “There’s always exciting things happening!”
Lush, atmospheric arrangements, emotive lyrics and pure, enticing vocals are characteristic of Dana Hourani’s music, securing her a firm place in the modern Arab music landscape. With her debut album hitting the charts in November 2021 and a string of successful singles already under her belt, she’s had number one success on the Official Lebanese Top 20, and her story is just beginning. “I worked on my debut album full time for around three years, so when it finally came into full fruition is felt like the highlight of everything I’d been working on,” says Dana. “I love the creation process of every track. Being in the studio, writing and experimenting with sounds and everything to do with finalizing a track. It’s probably the time when most of the expression is released.”
Now hard at work on her second album – “set to be released in 2023!” says Dana – she doesn’t have time to sit back and relax “The most challenging part is making sure there is some kind of evolution, while staying authentic,” she shares. “Once something is released I have an internal pressure to evolve from it and do something better. There is no formula or set way of how to do things, so I have to figure it out each time all over again as if it’s the first time I’m doing it.” But looking at the success of Dana’s previous releases — including her beautiful tribute to her ‘goddess’ Beirut, Enti Ana — and the diversity of her music so far, we are sure she’ll have no problem continuing her winning streak.
Creative director and artist
Citing herself as ‘a true Dubai kid, born and raised’, Dina Sami is the poster girl for what the confidence and creativity of children who have grown up in the Emirates can do. Illustrating and storytelling her way through life, Palestinian-American Dina studied in New York and has since found her niche living between LA and Dubai. “Being in different time zones, and working on different projects, I have so many plans and ideas,” says Dina. “Working between Dubai and LA has been both fun and challenging at times, but as the saying goes, the bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity for growth.”
And it’s growth that Dina lives for — her work has adorned everything from magazine covers and clothing to packaging, and altogether bigger canvases too: “Being selected as the artist to represent and illustrate Apple’s first Middle Eastern retail store mural, that took up two floors of Dubai Mall, was sweet to say the least! “Being a Dubai kid myself, it was an honour to illustrate the community and to represent Apple. The deadline was insane, but it all came together after my late nights and mornings,” Dina explains. So what is it that keeps Dina’s creative juices flowing, feeding her inspiration to create ever more stunning designs? “I love the ability to move people emotionally through my illustrations and designs,” Dina confides. “It is a beautiful feeling that my work connects with people in their own way and makes them feel something. My artwork has always been a story within a story, the more you go back the more you realise, so it’s nice to see how different people interpret that.”
Founder and managing director of Sharmila Dance Centre
Having worked with big names such as Lionel Richie, Nancy Ajram, Kim Kardashian and even the great Amitabh Bachchan, you might think that Sharmila Kamte’s greatest achievements have been her star-studded performances or event projects involving hundreds of dancers. But when it comes to what makes her truly happy, she’s much more down to earth. “To have a small part to play in the growth and wellbeing of a young, developing child is something I don’t take lightly, and I can’t help but give my all both inside and outside the studio to guide the next generation of dancers to become formidable human beings,” says Sharmila. “To see the dancers that I trained from a very young age grow up and become successful artists in their chosen fields both internationally and locally makes me so proud. My former student Dina Shihabi has starred in TV and movies, Rana Roy danced on stage with international stars and later went into acting, and after Joseph Taylor graduated from my academy he went on to the Elmhurst Ballet School and eventually landed a place in the prestigious Birmingham Royal Ballet company. “Many of my students have been accepted at leading colleges and dance schools. The feeling I get when they mention me in interviews and talk shows, or simply by a personal message about the role I played in their success, makes every minute of what I have done for the past 25 years a gift.” Working from her Al Barsha studio near Mall of the Emirates, Sharmila has called Dubai home for more than 23 years and adores the multicultural society that surrounds her. The career I chose as a young girl still gives me so much joy, I love every moment of what I do,” smiles Sharmila.
CEO and Founder of Secret Skin
When business know-how and a passion for healthy, sustainable skincare come together, cosmetic magic happens — and Anisha Oberoi is the one with the wand. A high-flying e-commerce expert, she was part of the founding team to launch Amazon Fashion in India and Australia before moving to the UAE in 2019 to mastermind the Bloomingdales Middle East online platform. But back in 2010 a health setback gave Anisha a different perspective — she was frustrated by a lack of safe skincare options while undergoing cancer treatment, unable to find toxin-free beauty and personal care products. She resolved to create a trustworthy brand that would reinforce the importance of women’s health, not just beauty, as a priority and in 2020 her platform Secret Skin was born, curating conscious beauty brands from around the world. “My rich career experiences enabled me to create Secret Skin,” says Anisha. “Having a customer’s trust in our mission to create value in the women’s health and wellness space, and seeing them return continuously to better their beauty journey — that is my greatest reward.”
Since its launch in October 2020, Secret Skin’s accolades have rolled in. And considering that 55 per cent of Secret Skin’s investors are women, this is a brand with some serious girl power. “Whether as a corporate professional or a first-time entrepreneur, the learning curve has been steep for me personally,” says Anisha. “Coming into, and holding on to my own as a business leader in every new geography has been quite a challenging evolution. At the end of the day, you just have to trust the universe to guide you.” But we don’t need the universe to guide us to great, healthy skincare — Anisha’s genius platform does that for us just fine.
Arwa Al Banawi
Creative director and CEO at Arwa Al Banawi
When it comes to being the queen of Middle Eastern sneaker chic cool, Arwa Al Banawi keeps her crown — and her fashions — polished. Spotting a regional gap between stylish streetwear and high-end fashion, the Saudi designer gave up her career in investment banking to launch her eponymous brand in 2015, filling the void with snappily tailored pieces and exciting collaborations “I love the endless possibilities of creating beautiful things and meeting and working with incredible individuals along the way,” says Arwa. “Like my recent global collaboration with Adidas Originals on the release of our new sneaker.” Her high/low aesthetic is intended to appeal to the young businesswoman — professional enough to take into the boardroom, but with enough fashion-forward cred to tick the style boxes too. Business is booming with stockists in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the brand’s online presence set to expand into e-commerce very soon, as well as menswear being in the works. But the global economic downturn due to coronavirus hit Arwa’s business as much as anyone’s. “I would have to say that the time during Covid in 2020 was really challenging,” she confides. “I was stuck overseas away from my office and we also had to close our ateliers for some time for safety precautions. That was definitely a worrisome time, but I’m sure a lot of people were facing similar challenges at work.” Still, Arwa has bounced back and her plans are bigger than ever. Just like her brand’s muse of the ‘woman on the go’, she’s got a verve and work ethic that just won’t let her take no for an answer. Wait to see what tricks she pulls from her perfectly-tailored sleeve next.
Dima and Tania Nawbar
Co-founders of L’Atelier Nawbar Fine Jewelry
With a family business legacy dating back to 1881, Beirut is where it all began for Dima and Tania Nawbar — and it’s where they intend to stay. The Lebanese-British sisters moved to Beirut in 2011, and have been steadily growing their luxe jewellery business ever since. “It’s beautiful to watch a dream develop into a reality, and our new-born brand has flourished, with steady and healthy growth,” say the sisters. “The most fulfilling thing is watching your designs move from paper into reality, and then on to being worn by people that you bump into all over the world.” Dina and Tania’s jewellery pedigree runs deep: as children they played dress-up with their father’s and grandfather’s designs, longing to create their own masterpieces and become the fourth generation in the Nawbar dynasty. Continuing the family tradition obviously fills them with pride, but does the continuing legacy carry a pressure as well?
“The biggest challenge is to break all the rules; taking big risks and not knowing the outcome or how the world will react,” the sisters admit. “But we did that with our concept and with our designs in every collection.” And with their timeless, modern-day heirlooms available not just at the Beirut flagship store but also all over the world — from Harrods in London to Neiman Marcus in San Francisco, Bloomingdale’s in Dubai and on global premium fashion and jewellery websites — it seems that the risks are paying off. “We are also opening our second stand-alone store in Riyadh, which we are super excited about,” the sisters conclude. “With us, it’s constant commotion as we are restless, and workaholics.” And long may they continue their hard work — if it keeps the beautiful Nawbar jewels coming, then nobody will complain.
Amanda Azadeh Navaian
Chief Impact Officer
As an accomplished businesswoman, Amanda Azadeh Navaian doesn’t get excited about just any little thing – so for her to say “it’s truly a dream come true!” there must be something seriously big afoot. “I have been living and working in London for three years now,” she gushes. “This is where I went to university and the place I always wished would be my home country!” And her excitement is understandable — after learning the tricks of the luxury trade working at Chalhoub Group and subsequently launching her upscale accessories venture Amanda Navai in Dubai in 2009, the Swedish- Iranian entrepreneur has steadily grown her business into its new identity – MĀRĪCĪ – and its current peak of success right in the heart of the UK’s capital. “We are embarking on our third season in exclusive partnership with Selfridges and we are very excited to be launching a new collection with them this month!” Amanda explains. “My latest venture MĀRĪCĪ was declared by Selfridges as the world’s first luxury plant-based handbag brand, part of the store’s Project Earth initiative, and I’m really excited to be involved in championing a new movement. We received a luxury positioning in our first season, sitting next to Tom Ford and The Row due to the quality of our materials and craftsmanship.” Citing the need to perform consistently up against big-name and big-budget luxury players as her biggest challenge, it sounds like she met it head on — her Amanda Navai brand’s 20 consecutive seasons in Bloomingdales Dubai stands as testament to that. So what drives her? “Being a part of change and challenging the status quo,” she says. Long may she continue.
Dr. Linda Sakr
Holistic counselling psychologist and founder of the Keyani Wellness Centre and From Kili With Love
Linda Sakr’s mission in life is to make positive changes in yours — from her career as a psychologist licensed both in the UAE and the UK, to her community support projects in Dubai and Tanzania, her focus is on helping people be the very best version of themselves. Based in the UAE since childhood, Linda has over 25 years’ experience of sharing her care and compassion for others. “I spent 12 years studying and working in the UK, mainly working with refugees,” says Linda. “It taught me a lot about compassion, empathy, kindness and, above all, perseverance. A refugee’s story is the exemplification of courage, determination and inspiration, which are the foundations that have shaped me and my career.” A keen yogi and mountain climber in her spare time, Linda scaled Kilimanjaro in 2017, an experience that led to her ongoing project From Kili With Love. Setting up a tailoring shop in Arusha, Tanzania, Linda wanted to provide job opportunities for the women in the community her climb’s crew came from. Now From Kili With Love’s handicrafts are sold worldwide, with the proceeds empowering the makers and going towards educating their children.
Through her work as a counselling psychologist, Linda recognised the need to spread the word about the benefits of holistic wellness, leading her to dream up her newest project, the Keyani Wellness Centre. “Holistic wellness is a whole new world for a lot of people,” shares Linda. “So in an effort to make a difference and a positive, lasting impact in people’s lives, I had a vision of creating a warm, supportive community where one can nurture a more authentic and meaningful relationship with oneself, with others, and within society as a whole. A place where people can take time to connect, heal, learn and transform.” And with plans to take Keyani global, Linda’s mission continues — without limits.
Amna Al Haddad
Inspirational speaker, mental health advocate, former Olympic weightlifter, writer and real estate agent
Amna Al Haddad could be the epitome of ‘multiple threat’ — excelling in the many directions her life has taken her, she’s a woman who grabs life with both hands and squeezes it for all it’s worth. “My career does not fit into the box of an orthodox trajectory,” says Amna, the first female Emirati athlete to be immortalised as a waxwork in Dubai’s Madame Tussauds museum. “Each aspect has a highlight that I am proud of. This includes having a key role in the UAE’s 2016 Rio Olympics in weightlifting. As a mental health advocate, being chosen as a voice to write and speak about it through the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism. And now, I am looking forward to my new adventure in the world of real estate!” Amna shot to recognition in the sporting world as the first Arab and GCC national to compete in the Crossfit Asia Regionals in 2012, before going on to international fame with her 2016 Olympic weightlifting qualification. Working with Nike to design and produce the Nike Pro Hijab has been a career high, as well as being a contributing author to 2020’s The Possibilities Project: A Young Person’s Guide To Career Success.
“I love making a positive impact on the world through my activities,” says Amna, evidenced by her appearance in best-selling children’s book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. “We live in a world conditioned to put everything in a box, to label specific things. I believe we are in a constant state of change and adapting creates room for creativity, individuality and tolerance to live your best life while progressing society as a whole.” Whatever direction her future takes, one thing is certain — Amna will continue to smash those glass ceilings, inspiring a generation of girls to follow her.
CEO and founder of TheMMG.com
So much more than just a pretty face, Gosia Golda arrived in the UAE in 2003 as a model, and quickly parlayed her experience into opening her own creative content agency in 2008, currently the largest in the GCC. TheMMG.com has many branches, including MMG Talent online casting platform, MMG Models, MMG Artists & Production, MMG Studio and online art space MMG Art Gallery. Representing models, cast and creatives, as well as offering production services for fashion and lifestyle photography and video, TheMMG.com is a one-stop-shop for advertising, editorial and events — and the company’s Middle Eastern success has led to expansion into the European market, with its London base opening in 2019. “My baby has grown fast!” laughs Gosia. “Running a company with great people who have become my extended family makes my heart full. Working as an entrepreneur is a constant learning process which I personally love. I am a bit of a nerd! But it can be challenging to try to live in balance and harmony while running all the businesses, to stay grounded while still dreaming big.” But her big dreams continue nonetheless — “there’s a lot that you will see soon!” she says — and she has a special eye on TheMMG.com’s upcoming expansion into Saudi Arabia. Her ambition extends to her hobbies too: a motorsport fanatic, she and her team partner Marek Dobrowski took third place in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2022, riding their SSV to the podium and allowing Gosia to become one of the first women to stand there in the race’s 30 year history. Her next ambition is to be the first Polish woman to cross the Dakar’s finish line — a dream we’d love to see come true.
Maliha Al Tabari
Founder of Tabari Artspace Gallery
A pioneer in bringing modern and contemporary MENA art to both the region and further afield, Palestinian Maliha Tabari — who grew up between Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and spent several years studying in the USA — opened her Dubai gallery in 2003. “It felt deeply rewarding to return and be part of the region’s trajectory and the UAE’s development into a global cultural centre,” says Maliha. “As we approach our second decade operating in Dubai and London there’s much to be grateful for. We represent talented and boundary-pushing creatives, from the internationally known and established to the emerging. We have the chance to capture some major moments in SWANA history and share them with a global audience. We have seen our artists enter important institutional collections, from the British Museum to Centre Pompidou and LACMA. And the increasing global interest in the artists of our region has given them the chance to play an active role in the MENA region’s thriving and dynamic cultural scene.” Of course, regional art hasn’t always been appreciated, but thanks to the foresight of champions such as Maliha, it has flourished.
“As a gallerist, having the opportunity to showcase the diversity in talent from the region is a driving force,” says Maliha. “Our strong sense of identity as a gallery, our appreciation for the fine art quality that unites our artists and our genuine enthusiasm for what we do has helped us to overcome the twists and turns that the world has faced over the last two decades.” And with multiple exhibitions and showings coming up in Dubai, London, Lyon and further afield just from now until the end of the year, Maliha shows no signs of slowing down her mission to show the best of MENA art to the masses.
Global executive chef of Fi’Lia
Ever since she was a young girl growing up in Jordan, Sara Aqel dreamed of becoming a top chef. Holding degrees from Les Roches, one of the world’s leading hospitality schools, as well as the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts in Jordan, the Palestinian chef went on to work for a number of renowned establishments in the Middle East, including for the Michelin- star crowned Chef Massimo Bottura, where her passion for Italian cooking was fully ignited. When Fi’Lia, the first fully female-led Italian Mediterranean restaurant in the UAE, opened its doors at the SLS Dubai Hotel & Residences in summer 2021, its owners were certain there was only one woman for the job, enlisting 25-year-old Sara as chef de cuisine. Now global executive chef — which also puts her in charge of the kitchens in Miami, the Bahamas and Paris — she is setting an incredible example for many young and aspiring chefs in the region.
Running global kitchens is no easy feat, yet Sara leads with both passion and experience, evoking the love of food she discovered throughout her childhood into her current vision for Fi’Lia. Here she instils an ethos of ‘being at home’ with hearty Italian-Mediterranean dishes, great company and stylish interiors that have turned the restaurant into the hotspot that it is today. And if that wasn’t enough, Sara is currently diving headfirst into the plans for new restaurant locations which will be opening in the region soon, so be sure to watch this space.
If there is one Saudi woman who is on top of the world — both literally and figuratively — it’s Raha Moharrak. Graphic designer by trade, adventurer at heart, to say she is a trailblazer for Middle Eastern women would most certainly be an understatement. Basing herself between Jeddah and Dubai, Raha is perhaps best known as the first Saudi woman, and youngest ever Arab woman, to climb Mount Everest, which she did on May 18, 2013. Her life had changed dramatically two years prior when, in 2011, Raha summited Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro, challenging not only herself, but her culture and societal expectations all at the same time. It was this pivotal moment in which she realised her life goal was to conquer ever more challenging peaks, and by 2017 Raha had gone on to scale the all the Seven Summits — the highest mountains on each of the seven continents of the Earth, including Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Mount Vinson and Carstensz Pyramid.
An inspiration for thrill-seekers all over the world, Raha’s mountaineering prowess has also caught the eye of some of the world’s biggest luxury brands over the years, and to this day she has counted herself an ambassador for the likes of Burberry, Adidas and Tag Heuer, even becoming the first Arab female to represent the Swiss watch manufacturer. As such she is determined to continue to challenge the narrative of what being a Middle Eastern woman means today, while staying true to herself. “My biggest life highlight so far is my ability to be authentic and unique, living the life I have always dreamed of living,” she says.
Founder and creative director of Nada Debs
Levantine designer Nada Debs lives and works between Dubai and Beirut. Having recently set up a second base in the UAE, she strives to remain connected to people and culture, infusing emotion and thought into everything she creates. “My work focuses on human stories,” she says. “Craft is a feeling that goes beyond geography, language, and culture.” An architect, designer and craft custodian, Nada’s work spans scale and discipline, working with craft communities, and designers to produce one-off commissions. “Amongst the highlights of my career are the collections which I’ve created to support women,” says Nada. “These include the Transcendence Spiritual Carpet in collaboration with FMBI to support Afghan carpet weavers and girls under 15, as well as the Pebble Chairs in collaboration with 81 Designs to support Palestinian refugee women.” Growing up in Japan and studying in the United States, Nada spends time finding connections between cultures to create collections, accessories and furniture that resonate with human emotions. “I call this approach handmade and heartmade, because objects have soul when crafted with passion,” she says. Some of her notable projects include the renovation of the Arab League Headquarters and UAE’s Mission to the UN in the USA, both of which she was invited to design. “Geometry and pattern are central to my designs. It is a way of connecting us to our past and our history, our religion and our culture, our present and our future,” she says. To mark the 20th anniversary of the brand, Nada is currently working on two new collections to be unveiled and presented at Dubai Design Week in November.
Cherine Magrabi Tayeb
Founder of non-profit House of Today, chief marketing officer of Magrabi and founder of 13BC
When finding the style in business — and, indeed, the business of style — entrepreneur and businesswoman Cherine Magrabi Tayeb is a natural. A Saudi native who has studied, lived and worked between Switzerland, London and Beirut, she’s currently based in Europe with her roots firmly in the Middle East. She’s played a key role in the continuing success of her family’s leading optical retail chain Magrabi, as well as founding a successful non-profit and her own fashion company 13BC, creating enamelled minaudières. A big player on the international art and design scene, Cherine is part of the Wallpaper Judges Panel, the council of the Serpentine Gallery in London and also holds a chair on the Honorary Advisor Committee for Contemporary Muslim Fashions at the San Francisco Contemporary Museum. “One of the greatest achievements of my career is founding House of Today in 2012,” says Cherine. “It’s a non-profit organisation committed to cultivating a sustainable design ecosystem in Lebanon. It has provided aspiring Lebanese talent with a platform for growth, a sense of community, mentoring and educational opportunities, and an international gateway to showcase their work. The learnings from this role have impacted my corporate career at Magrabi, where we have grown a family business into a global leader in eyewear, and a pioneer of social advocacy.
“My personal mission is to support our pledge for gender equality in the company by 2025. Challenging perceptions is vital, particularly when it comes to preconceived notions about Middle Eastern women. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest levels of female tertiary education, on a global scale. It’s time to set the record straight. Women have always been driving Magrabi to success, and long may it continue.”
Entrepreneur and founder of Goshá Flowers and Goshá Buro
“Creativity without limitation, and connection with nature’s gifts,” says Natalia Shustova, when asked what she finds most fulfilling in life — and the ‘without limitation’ part is very easy to believe. A woman with a truly wide-ranging work life, Natalia has somehow parlayed an international career as a lawyer into becoming one of the Middle East’s most sought-after digital personalities, on sheer zeal, determination and little more. Creating her Shoestova persona as an outlet for her passion and expertise in fashion, and latterly founding floral artistry brand Goshá, Natalia has established herself as one of Dubai’s foremost aesthetes. After 16 rollercoaster years of living and working in Dubai, Natalia has now moved well away from her lawyerly roots, and is firmly planted in the business of creating art from nature. Her Goshá studio in Al Quoz is where the magic happens, with candles, vases and ceramics also adding to the beauty.
And now Natalia’s expanding her vision even further with creative and events agency Goshá Buro, her newest and most demanding baby. With her creative vision and styling nous already in high demand from international brands and boutique fashion houses, it’s a natural evolution into using her skills in a structured, managed way. “Building my team of creatives and expanding my brand into international markets has been tough,” says Natalia. “But we have so many outstanding projects lined up. We are growing!” As a regional tastemaker of such established pedigree, we are confident that, for Natalia, the only way is a very stylish and fragrant up.
Co-founder of The Third Line
When it comes to art and galleries in the UAE, the first name is The Third Line — and Sunny Rahbar has been there since day one. The Iranian-American has lived in Dubai for the last 43 years, and is one of the region’s best-known art professionals. A graduate of the Parsons School of Design and former employee of the Guggenheim Museum in New York and Sotheby’s in London, she helped to open eyestorm.com’s New York gallery space before heading back to the UAE in 2001.After two years of working independently with young and emerging artists, in 2003 Sunny took up the position of resident curator at Five Green, the UAE’s first ever creative art space, and curated several exhibitions before teaming up with her two business partners to take her dream of a platform to promote the next generation of artists closer to reality. Contemporary gallery The Third Line was born.
“I’m very proud that The Third Line has been able to continue to shine a light on the practices of so many incredible artists from the MENA region,” says Sunny. “When we opened the gallery in 2005 there was not that much knowledge of contemporary art practices from our region, and to see how far these artists have come today and to see them on the international stage is the most gratifying feeling. Working closely with the artists, this is the part of what I do that I enjoy and learn from the most.” Going beyond the classic perception of art, The Third Line also acts as a platform for publishing and other artistic programmes, with the 2018 launch of The Library, the gallery’s in-house shop, another outlet for local and regional artists to showcase their diverse wares — and Sunny’s crystal-clear vision continues to keep the spotlight on Middle Eastern art.
Founder and managing director of CoinMENA
Bringing the excitement to finance, Dina Sam’an has a passion for crypto assets and digital finance — and she wants to share it. “Crypto has the potential to revolutionize the world of finance and democratize access to premium financial services,” says Dina. “When I started in crypto, there were no regulations, no licenses, the market didn’t understand it, and investors wanted no part in it. Now we have crypto regulatory frameworks being rolled out and a whole new industry is forming in real time! This fulfils my lifelong goal to make a change to the legacy financial system.” Launching CoinMENA, a digital assets exchange, during a global pandemic was no mean feat. But Dina got the job done, securing regulatory approvals and going to market in November 2020. “Just over a year after CoinMENA was launched, we became the fastest growing digital assets exchange in the region, reaching over 600 thousand total signups and over 200 thousand active users,” says Dina. “Despite the global market downturn in Q2 and Q3 of 2022, our monthly trading volume has continued to grow month over month as we expand into new markets. I’m especially proud that, due to our prudent growth tactics, we are well capitalized to handle the market volatility, and are continuing to grow despite challenging market conditions.”
Are you excited yet? Dina’s enthusiasm is nothing if not contagious. So what should we expect to see from the future of crypto? “I truly believe that cryptocurrency is a disruptive technology on par with the internet and electricity,” says Dina. “It will completely change the way finance and money work. The crypto market is still in its infancy, both globally and regionally. We plan to continue expanding our services to new markets, rolling out superior financial services built on crypto rails.”
Secretary General of the WBAF Global Women Leaders Committee and author
We have all heard of angel investors, but business expert Lucy Chow is something of a financial fairy godmother to entrepreneurs and innovators trying to get their ideas off the ground. With her reputation as someone who helped build the UAE’s entrepreneurial ecosystem from the ground up, she doesn’t simply advise from the sidelines — she’s out there investing too. “I spend a lot of time now stating how important it is that we have a ‘sponsor’ within a company,” says Lucy. “A friend defined this as ‘someone who will speak your name in a room full of opportunities’. I was not savvy enough to cultivate a sponsor, or even a mentor, when I reflect on my time working within corporations. Hence, navigating large organisations was a challenge. If I had cultivated key advocates, it would have been a smoother journey.”
But now Lucy’s mission is to be an advocate for anyone worth taking a shot on. “I have been so fortunate to have built a network as diverse as the individuals that call the UAE home,” says Lucy. “I have a motto: ‘share everything you know’. For me this can be everything from the startup ecosystem to advocating for gender parity in all sectors of society.” She has numerous and varied roles within organisations such as the World Business Investment Forum, the G20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion, the Global Women Leaders Committee and the #2022 Female Angels project. She’s also proud to be a Board Trustee at The American School of Dubai, as well as her role with the UNHCR. But the really exciting news is the upcoming release of her new book, Changing The Game: Discover How Esports and Gaming are Redefining Business, Careers, Education, and the Future. We can’t wait to get stuck in.
Founder of SEVA Experience, SEVA Table and SEVA Stories
Long before wellness and mindfulness became trendy buzzwords, Eda Gungor was living their reality in her everyday life and trying to find the way to bring these concepts to the mainstream. “Speaking about the importance of wellbeing and the value of conscious eating was a challenge in the early days,” says Eda. That was in 2014, when Eda arrived in the UAE with the intention of launching her SEVA group of businesses, and SEVA Experience, a multifaceted, holistic wellness space, was at their core. With yoga and meditation classes, workshops and group circles, and private treatments and sessions in all manner of east-meets-west disciplines, SEVA Experience is a place for reflection and life enrichment. Eda is certified in Reiki, Theta Healing, Kundalini Yoga, Chinese Energy Medicine, Pilates and Barre, to name just a few of her areas of expertise.
Also open since 2014, SEVA Table was the Middle East’s first wholly plant-based, gluten free, cane sugar free café, the perfect complement to SEVA Experience, encouraging the consideration of organic, vegan eating as part of the individual’s mindfulness and wellness journey. And if we are eating and thinking mindfully and ethically, then surely our shopping should be the same? Enter SEVA Stories, a conscious retail destination to complete the holistic picture. It may have taken a while for the public at large to get to grips with the concepts that Eda has lived so authentically for so many years. But in the post-Covid world, business could not be better. “Currently I’m focusing on optimising our team, as our businesses grew exponentially just after the pandemic,” says Eda. “We are also scaling into new areas, assessing the concept of training and retreats with a new eye, at new standards and offering different experiences.” We feel better already.
Fatma Al Otaiba
Founder and creative director of Odeem
Upon founding and launching luxury leather accessories brand Odeem in January 2020, Fatma AlOtaiba fulfilled her dream of designing and creating the ultimate in luxe handbags. “Odeem has taken me on a journey,” says Fatma. “I learned, grew and met some amazing and creative people who are now part of the essence of what Odeem is. I feel truly blessed by what Odeem has brought to my life.” After years searching for the perfect handbag, Fatma took matters into her own hands by developing her own. Now her highly sought-after arm candy, painstakingly handcrafted in South Africa, is a design triumph, and Fatma is clearly very happy with how things are going.
“I’ve been able to interact with some industry leaders and other brand owners, as well as the teams I work with and my customers, which to me is such a privilege,” she says. “The parts that fulfil me most are designing and developing new pieces for my collections, from the styles, leathers and colours to the shapes. “Every step from designing to production brings me immense joy, especially seeing my sketches and ideas turn into beautiful, timeless pieces.” But keeping on top of Odeem’s online presence is one of the most difficult parts of Fatma’s work: “Using social media and digital marketing has been challenging. They are important tools, yet demanding and ever- changing. Being able to follow up with every update is quite tough at times.” But with the rough comes the smooth — and there’s almost nothing as smooth as Fatma’s ultra-high-quality leather. So what more can we expect from Odeem? Fatima spills that there’s a new fragrance in the works, as well as expansion into women’s footwear. We can’t wait to be suited and booted in Fatma’s creations.
Founder of L’Afshar
We have all, at one point or another, flirted with the idea of minimalist design — be it through our homes or our wardrobes. But what about a minimalist life? For one designer, the idea of everyday simplicity has led to big things. A firm believer that a lady never needs to carry more than just a few essential items, Lilian Afshar conceptualised her accessories brand L’Afshar’s signature box clutch and has never looked back. Originally having her sights set on designing ready-to-wear, Lilian’s progression to the accessories field was a happy accident. She came up with her small-yet- perfectly-formed box clutch design just as she was graduating from renowned French fashion school Esmod in 2013, and her less-is-more approach has resulted in truly exciting designs. Debuting at Paris Fashion week in 2015 — and expanding her brand to include furniture and objets d’art in 2020 — Lilian’s miniature works of fashionable art have become cult favourites. Proving that good things really do come in small packages, Lilian’s sleek, sharp and shiny clutches come in leather and, her favourite medium, sculpted acrylic. And she’s part of the process from the beginning to the very end: “Seeing the moment when my ideas turn into prototypes is the most fulfilling part,” she says. Lilian’s global lifestyle inspires her designs, and with a fun homeware and bag pop-up set to hit Dubai sometime soon, we can’t wait to get a look at Lilian’s clean, chic world — just drop the excess baggage first.
Founder and CEO of The Benton Group
“My greatest fulfillment professionally is doing what I love,” says Australian-born Donna Benton. “Every new beginning bears a certain magic and creating a product and seeing it grow by people buying and wearing it is very special.” In 2001 Donna founded popular social ticket book The Entertainer, providing buy-one-get-one-free offers to the best cafés, eateries, nightspots and attractions in Dubai. Two decades later, the immensely successful coupon book was launched digitally in the form of The Entertainer App, and Donna made the transition from a print publication to a data-driven technology contributing US$1.3 billion to the economy. Her experience in connecting with people and creating value for money has made her an example of female empowerment, constantly challenging misconceptions and defying stereotypes. “Challenges are all around; the question is how you deal with them,” says Donna. “You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, you need to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.” In 2020, Donna exited The Entertainer and established The Benton Group, an international holding company that consolidates several businesses. It was time for her to pursue a lifelong dream by launching luxury swimwear brand Caha Capo. “While I love to inspire others by showing them what they are capable of doing, I draw my own inspiration from serving customers in one of our shops,” she says. Among many other thrilling projects, Donna is working on a new line of activewear in Dawson Sports and a few exciting openings within Sunset Hospitality.
Business owner, designer and TV Personality
We can talk about having a passion for fashion until the cows come home, but to see the true definition of style as a lifestyle, you have to knock at Alanoud Badr’s door. The Saudi- Lebanese beauty does it all — designing, styling, influencing and more, she and her more than a million followers are never happier than when Alanoud’s once again showing off a perfectly polished look. And we can’t get enough. But she’s not just a pretty face or a clever clotheshorse, Alanoud’s fashion business is booming with her Lady Fozaza label steadily expanding, including a recent jewellery collaboration with Miss L’ by L’Azurde. Infused with her own signature style — versatile blazers and a touch of rock ‘n’ roll — Alanoud launched Lady Fozaza in 2011 and the brand has become an in-the-know style staple. Throughout her career 20-year Dubai resident Alanoud has collaborated with brands including Gap, Swarovski and Michael Kors, and has received numerous fashion accolades, both for her business nous and her personal style. So what other spheres would this force for fashion like to conquer? “Let’s just say you might be seeing me in a cinema near you soon,” she says with a twinkle in her eye, leaving us intrigued. If her previous achievements are anything to go by, we can only assume that Lady Fozaza herself will smash it — after all, if her styling is good enough for Kim Kardashian, Evan Rachel Wood, Nancy Ajram and Lady Gaga, surely she can turn her talents to other fields too. We can’t wait to find out.
Maha M Malluh
Between the run-down poorer quarters of Riyadh and the city’s glittering, glossy, gold- flecked VIP high life, Maha M Malluh keeps her finger on the pulse of Saudi Arabia’s evolution and brings it to the world through her art. One of the country’s foremost contemporary artists, her work sits in some of the greatest international collections and she’s been consistently showing and touring since the late 1970s. “I’ve been blessed with many career highlights, but the most significant one would be the acquisition of my work by international institutions of repute, such as Tate Modern, Guggenheim, Centre Georges Pompidou and Louvre Abu Dhabi, among others,” says Maha. “It was an honour and a privilege to be the first Saudi artist to be acquired by Tate Modern. It catapulted my career, and there has been no looking back.” Born in Jeddah and raised in Riyadh, Maha has spent most of her life in the Saudi capital, using it as her base to build her career. Managing to avoid the formulaic trap that artists with such long careers often fall into, Maha’s work has become increasingly experimental as the years have gone by. “I am currently finishing up my dream artist project in Riyadh, which is an integrated art quarter in the city,” enthuses Maha. “It is in line with the vision 2030, and I feel lucky to be a part of this great transformation. I want to continue to create meaningful work that speaks to people, without the distractions of fame.” For an artist that’s as renowned as Maha, that may be a challenge. But, moving anonymously through the Riyadh streets that have so inspired her throughout her career, she’ll surely find the way.
Founder and attorney-at-law
In recent years, and in light of reforms that have drastically transformed the Kingdom, Saudi Arabian women have been pushing boundaries as they take advantage of the greater opportunities available to them. As the first female lawyer in the country to obtain a licence to practice law in 2013, Sofana Dahlan is at the forefront of these inspirational women leading the charge. “I was never one for accepting failure,” she tells MOJEH. “I never stopped seeking my right to be recognised as a lawyer in Saudi.” Sofana has been championing creative talent in the Kingdom since 2010, when she set up her socially-conscious creative consultancy Tashkeil, initiating projects that focus on the development of industries that create a positive impact and aid social change. Since then, she and her team have worked with hundreds of creatives and designers in the country, connecting them with more than 50 companies in 12 sectors. Kayanspace, a creative co-workshop for a growing community of entrepreneurs, followed in 2011, before five years later Sofana developed the Saudi National Creative Initiative (SNCI) — a collaborative creative knowledge exchange platform designed to serve as an implementation tool to transform Saudi Arabia from an oil-based economy into a knowledge-based economy by helping people nurture, develop and exercise their potential. 2016 was also the year she became the first female senior economy policymaker in Saudi after being appointed as vice governor of Monshaat in 2016 — a seriously impressive feat.
“Due to the conservative and cultural society that embedded Saudi Arabia back in the early 2000s, creativity as a profession was something that was looked down upon, and the term ‘creative industries’ was an unknown anomaly,” she explains. “In the past decade or so, I have set about overcoming many of these challenges, social and cultural barriers and personal hurdles to empower Saudi women by providing them with skill- based capacity-building opportunities and enabling Saudi youth to have the freedom of expression that they lacked.”
Founder of Vivel Patisserie
Don’t be fooled by her diminutive stature —Shahnaz Bagherzadeh is a giant of the UAE’s pastry scene. A true pioneer of women in the Emirati workplace, this hard-working Iranian pâtissière was once busy pushing boundaries by building a following for the baked goods that flew out of her own kitchen, before finally opening her dream patisserie in 1992. “I started with about 20 home-made recipes learned from my grandmother, and later from other famous women in Iran and the region who were hand-crafting these sweets,” Shahnaz told MOJEH earlier this year. “I brought these recipes to Dubai and fine-tuned them with more refined ingredients. Those sweets are still some of our best-selling products today. As for the rest of the sweets, confectionary, chocolates and tea, we work with artisan producers based in Iran, Turkey, France, Italy and Switzerland. They are the best in their fields and use only the highest quality ingredients.” She makes it sound easy — but battling for a place in a male-dominated market while raising a family was a huge challenge that Shahnaz overcame bravely. Her success has continued throughout the decades, earning Vivel Patisserie a reputation to rival the top French bakers, culminating with the recent opening of an international branch of Vivel in Tokyo. But Shahnaz is clear about what’s made her such a Dubai institution — and it all begins at home. “Relationships and trust are the most important,” she says. “I love my products and all my customers, and this love has translated to trust and successful relationships over the years. You can never be afraid of challenges. Never give up and believe in yourself.” And if all else fails, there are few problems that can’t be solved with a taste of grandmother’s homemade delicacies — after all, it’s certainly worked for Shahnaz.
Maha Abdul Rasheed
Founder of Bambah
When Maha Abdul Rasheed set up Bambah Boutique in Dubai 12 years ago, vintage fashion was very much alien to the region. A marketer by profession — she holds a degree in Business Administration, Marketing and Management from the American University of Sharjah — Maha always had a high entrepreneurial spirit, which she was keen to combine with her love of vintage ruffles, bows and polka dots à la Souad Hosny and Jean Patchett. So that’s exactly what she did. Bambah was quick to grab the attention of Dubai’s most stylish patrons, winning numerous awards whilst bringing timeless, elegant, vintage accessories to the women of the Middle East. Not one to rest on her laurels, Maha soon announced the launch of her very own fashion line, Bambah RTW, throwing it back to 1950s fashion and the rise of the elegant woman with bold shapes, luxurious fabrics and unapologetically ladylike silhouettes. Maha now counts the likes of Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, Amal Clooney, Sofia Vergara and Priyanka Chopra among her loyal client base, with her designs stocked at Farfetch, The Outnet, Ounass and Harvey Nichols, to name a few.
On asking Maha, who hails from Egypt, her most memorable highlights, it is clear there are too many to count. What else would you expect from a woman who, aside from the above, has also: launched a moveable boutique on wheels which travels the city throughout the summer; released a Bambah cookbook that inspired the community by providing them with heart-warming recipes of food and beverages throughout the Holy Month; presented a resort collection on the stunning shore of the north coast of Egypt; and opened her first international flagship in Zamalek, Cairo? “Every day I walk into my studio and look at my team and think ‘wow, we did this’,” she tells MOJEH. An incredible achievement indeed.
Author, journalist and human rights activist
Accomplished, intelligent and with a cracking sense of humour, Joumana Haddad just might be who we want to be when we grow up. Describing herself as “a big-mouthed Arab woman who pushes the envelope and breaks social norms, culturally and politically, while raising two amazing sons,” wouldn’t you want her as your firecracker bestie? Add in her serious and important work in the fields of literature, journalism and human rights, and Joumana is the girl crush we all need. “Every single career achievement, however small, is a highlight for me because it led me to where I am today,” says Beirut born and based Joumana of her varied CV.
Clocking up 20 years on Lebanon’s An Nahar newspaper — more than 12 of those as the paper’s cultural editor — and launching her own Arabic-language magazine Jasad in 2009, she’s been a mainstay of Arab journalism for half of her lifetime. Her ongoing TV show on Al Hurra Channel, her 2022 relaunch of Jasad in web format, as well as her freelance contributions to globally- renowned international media keep her writing in the public eye. But it’s her work on her youth-centred NGO, the Freedoms Center, which really makes her proud. Founded in 2019, it raises awareness among Lebanese youth about the value of human rights and democracy — “giving voice to the voiceless,” as she puts it. Speaking seven languages — she taught creative writing and Italian language at the American University in Beirut — and with 16 books and counting to her name — her latest novel, Victim Number 232, is about the Beirut port explosion — what’s next for this cultural powerhouse? “Finishing my newest novel, visiting more new countries, living life in all its glory,” she says. Glorious indeed!
Model and co-founder of OSAY The Label
After being discovered by Elite Model World at the age of 15, catapulting her directly to the runways of Paris, Milan, London and New York — as well as the campaigns of Chanel, YSL, Benetton and L’Oreal — it wouldn’t have been a surprise if the industry chewed up and spat out a young Kenza Fourati. She shot to even greater fame in 2011 as the first Arab and first Muslim model to appear in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, giving her household recognition in her native Tunisia and around the world. But showing she’s made of sterner stuff, Kenza came through her modelling career not just unscathed, but campaigning. “The most challenging part of my career was understanding the dysfunction and abuse of certain aspects of the industry,” says Kenza. “I’m glad people are more comfortable denouncing abuses. There are still lots of labour and human rights issues that need to be addressed in the fashion industry, but the shift is slowly happening.” And Kenza’s own luxury brand OSAY The Label is leading the change. Ethical, artisan- based and sustainable, OSAY produces luxe slip-on loafers with ethically upcycled leathers in Tunisia, preserving the traditional skills of the craftsmen and women who lovingly make them. “I love collaborating, exchanging ideas and perspectives,” says Kenza. “I am very lucky to have a co-founder on OSAY, Simone. It’s also nice to have the perspective of the client on a photoshoot set!” A committed advocate for women’s rights and equitable protection and treatment of models in the fashion industry, throughout her career Kenza has supported non-profit NGOs such as Model Alliance and Model Mafia, as well as lending a hand to Human Rights Watch in Tunisia. We’d certainly like to have this woman of dogged determination fighting our corner.
Her Excellency Khawla AlSerkal
Director General of Sharjah Ladies Club
Her Excellency, Khawla AlSerkal is clear about what it takes to be a successful leader, a quality she’s shown since joining Sharjah Ladies Club in 2005: “It’s vital to maintain passion and enthusiasm for what you do, sharing it with others to inspire and bring out their best.” And she should know. A 2002 graduate of the American University of Sharjah, she joined Dubai Municipality’s institutional marketing department before taking up a new post at Sharjah Ladies club as the organisation’s assistant marketing manager. “The major highlight of my career was when Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi placed her trust in me and appointed me as a Director in 2011 and Director General in 2015,” reminisces HE AlSerkal. “Then there’s my involvement in projects that have developed as successful organisations, in addition to my appointment as a board member in various fields from community to sports to charity.”
Her roles in the Sharjah Sports Family Awards, Friends of Cancer Patients, Sharjah Children Centres and the 2010 Child Safety Campaign have allowed her to combine business know-how with her passion for family life. As a dedicated mother to three daughters and wife to His Excellency Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of Dubai Cares, HE AlSerkal is as busy at home as at work. “I like to invest in my self-motivation, helping my family members and employees see that when we focus on results, the journey becomes easier,” shares HE AlSerkal. “I also believe in continuous self- development in knowledge, culture and experiences. Our services at Sharjah Ladies Club are by women for women, and vary between health and wellness, beauty and learning new skills as well as educational programmes covering 360 degrees of women’s needs.” And with a new branch, double the size of the current one, set to open in Sharjah’s Al Falah area, HE AlSerkal’s enthusiasm is sure to take the institution to new heights.
Lynn Barghout Jafar
Founder and managing mum at High Hopes Paediatric Therapy Centre
During her successful marketing career, Lynn Barghout Jafar worked on many advertising campaigns. But after Alia, the eldest of her four children, was born with CDKL5 Deficiency Disorder, Lynn realised that life had other — very important — plans for her. “The honor of my life has been to establish a leading not-for-profit paediatric therapy center here in Dubai that can deliver much-needed services and support for families seeking care to enable their children to live fuller lives,” says Lynn. “Seeing the smile on the face of a child of determination who has crossed a milestone or seen improvement and the positive impact on their family is perhaps the most gratifying feeling a person can have.” When Lynn realised just how needed appropriate care was for children like hers — and the difficulty she had in accessing it — she took matters into her own hands, creating High Hopes Pediatric Therapy Center, which has now been operating out of Jumeirah and serving children with moderate to severe special needs for more than five years. “We serve more than 200 kids a week to live fuller, healthier lives and have built a community that welcomes them and their families,” says Lynn, who also co-founded Loulou Foundation, a private UK-based non- profit dedicated to advancing research into CDKL5 Deficiency Disorder. “I am proud to help families feel welcome and supported, and I feel most fulfilled when they realise that they are not alone. “Establishing a new medical institution and gaining community trust while maintaining international levels of treatment and care, particularly during the COVID pandemic, has been a tremendous challenge, and today we are proud that High Hopes is recognised as one of the leading centres of its kind in the UAE and the wider region,” she adds.
Founder and CEO of TishTash Communications
From starting out at her dining table 10 years ago to winning the Best PR Agency in the Middle East in 2021, Natasha Hatherall has come a long way, running on her own steam and big, big dreams. “I moved to the UAE 12 years ago and after two years working for a government-owned media company in marketing, I took the leap and went ‘freelance’ with plans to continue doing what I love, but with the goal of having a little more life balance,” she says. But Natasha now works six or seven days a week, often sacrificing holidays and sometimes a salary too. “Being self-funded has been very challenging,” she confesses. “We have had no outside investment or cash injection as many agencies of similar size have done. TishTash has been grown through my savings and by constantly re- investing the money we make back into the business.” Putting her team first and building a legacy that she can leave behind, Natasha works with love and passion striving to create and innovate, developing new concepts. Natasha saw the business grow during the pandemic and is now expanding the agency in the GCC, having just opened an office in the UK, while the Dubai office will soon launch TishTash Studios, offering photography, videography, podcast and TV studios. “I love what I do, I live and breathe it,” she says. “Providing livelihoods, careers and a positive environment for my team is very important to me and this is at the heart of all I do.”
Motivational speaker, model and content creator
Life can change in a split second, a fact that London-born and Cairo-raised Rania Hammad knows only too well. She was involved in a train accident in 2018, while pregnant with her son, and suffered a life- changing injury — the loss of her left leg. But you can’t hold this self-proclaimed ‘partially bionic, mostly human’ woman down for long, and soon enough Rania was using her story for good. “I was invited to give a motivational talk at the World Youth Forum conference which took place in Sharm El Sheikh, and I was honoured by the first Lady Intisar Al Sisi who was present during the event,” says Rania. “I love inspiring people, helping people to love themselves, and normalizing how people perceive those with disabilities in order to break the stigma so many experience. I also want to empower women to excel and succeed no matter the circumstances. Fashion is part of what I do too. I’ve loved styling since I was young, and I even like to bedazzle my prosthetic leg!” Rania’s presence on Instagram is a constant source of body positivity and good old-fashioned style inspo for many of her followers, numbering more than 52,000 — proving that differently-abled women can be fashion icons in their own right too.
“The lack of awareness has been quite a challenge,” says Rania. “It takes a lot of effort to change people’s mindset and thinking towards people of determination. I’m currently working to grow in the media in order to spread my message, focussing on modelling to highlight the need for more visibility of different body types and shapes.” With Rania’s exceptional grit and determination, her dream of seeing all types of bodies on the catwalk and in the press is sure to come true — bedazzled leg and all.
CEO and co-founder of MindTales
If there’s anyone who can understand the pressures of the corporate world on mental health, it’s Viktorija Aksionova. Working in the high-flying sphere of finance, she began her career in London before moving to the UAE and working on one of the largest sovereign funds in the world. Keen to create her own impact, after a few years in the region Viktorija saw an opportunity to create a startup, and ran with it. “The highlight of my career has been starting and developing MindTales, a regional corporate mental health platform,” she says. “We help employers to understand, and support their employees. Mental health services are not one size fits all: we provide tailored, personalized activities, including wellness games, meditation, self-guided courses and, for those who want more support, they can talk to wellness experts.” Taking advantage of the UAE’s plan to move away from oil and into a knowledge- based economy within the next 50 years, MindTales has received support from the Hub17 initiative, accessing key industry experts, advisors and stakeholders.
“The MindTales wellness journey uses AI to tailor activities to individual needs; we suggest employees’ daily plans and helpful strategies based on their goals, emotional states, and feedback,” says Viktorija. “Our company mission is to create healthier, happier and more productive workplaces. It is fulfilling knowing that your product brings a positive impact to society. We aim to make mental health more inclusive and accessible and contribute to fighting the stigma surrounding mental health in the region. Our near-term goal is to expand our offering throughout the MENA region.” The UAE — and, indeed, the whole region — will certainly benefit from the type of access and understanding Viktorija is dedicated to bringing to the mainstream.
Partner at PRCO Group and founder of TOH Public Relations
A perfect example of sustainable growth in entrepreneurship, Sophie Toh’s eponymous lifestyle PR agency has seen continuous, organic success — and doesn’t show any signs of stopping. “We have won some incredible new clients that are taking us to Saudi, including the Shangri-La Jeddah, Ferrari KSA and Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic and I’m looking forward to the opportunities and the trips that they bring,” says the British-born communications professional, based in Dubai since 2009. “We are also welcoming our international colleagues to Dubai in mid-October for a two-day PRCO Group party, for a long- overdue celebration of our achievements.” And that list is long — representing household names such as Ferrari Middle East, Monte-Carlo SBM, Patek Philippe and Peninsula Hotels, Sophie merged TOH Public Relations with PRCO Group in 2019 and hasn’t looked back. “I’ve been lucky to have many incredible experiences over the years,” says Sophie. “They include working on the Royal Inauguration of Saudi giga-project Diriyah Gate, the first time King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his son, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud had appeared in public together. The campaign became an award-winning case study and also proved to be the foundation for lasting friendships.
“Earlier this year, I attended Milan Fashion week and supported the first show from Diesel’s new creative director Glenn Martens. And recently it’s been amazing to see a number of old clients, who had to pause their contracts during Covid, return to our luxury lifestyle portfolio. I’m also so grateful to represent Patek Philippe in the GCC and will be visiting Geneva to see the team this autumn, a trip that I’m really looking forward to.” A trip to the Holy Grail of watchmaking? We might be green with envy, but it’s all in a day’s work for one of Dubai’s top PR pros.
Hind Al Mulla
Founder and creative director of Home Bakery
“You face so many challenges when opening a home-grown business, I had to overcome so much and work so hard until I built Home Bakery from the ground up,” says Emirati businesswoman Hind Al Mulla. Nowadays, Home Bakery is a Dubai institution, its mind-boggling variety of cakes, cookies, sweets and drinks a constant temptation, with baked treats using local as well as international flavours and recipes providing something for every sweet tooth. But starting up was no simple task, with Hind initially struggling to secure mall space due to her being viewed, as she puts it, as “incompetent” due to her Emirati heritage. But thankfully a few of her high-profile fans stepped in to lend a hand — His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, along with several of his sons, were early regulars when the business was just beginning, and helped Hind to secure her chic Galleria Mall location in 2011. “As a woman in a male-driven industry, I was self taught,” says Hind. “It was hard to prove myself to the male chefs who have had culinary education, and to build my name. But when HH Sheikh Mohammed came to visit and said he was proud of what we had created, it was all worthwhile.” And Hind has had the last laugh, as her culinary skill and business sense have taken Home Bakery from strength to strength. And even as her business extends into other locations — “I’m working on opening a new branch in Abu Dhabi and opening soon in Riyadh,” she says — she’s still crystal clear about what drives her passion. “It’s the love of feeding people,” smiles Hind. “And watching people enjoy the things that I create.”
Life educational coach, owner and managing director of Journey Through Change
Are you looking for a flicker of hope in your life? You might just find it through life coach and all-round ray of sunshine Hala Kazim. With her project Journey Through Change, Hala is on a mission to change lives, and she could change yours too. “I run retreats for women which include workshops, hiking, meditation and other activities,” says Hala. “I love seeing the women transform and help themselves to have a successful, happy life. The Journey Through Change programme was specially designed to put us on the path of change we have always strived to be on and one of the ways to achieve this is by long-distance walking trips around the world combined with training, workshops and lectures. “I have learned that the best coaching and consultation sessions are those that are given on long hiking trips, where each individual is free to go deep, really exploring and discovering the challenges they face in their lives.” UAE national Hala was born and raised in Dubai, and has lived and worked in the emirate almost all her life. Now a proud wife, mother and grandmother, Hala holds corporate, motivational and self- help workshops throughout the UAE and across the wider GCC. With international qualifications in counselling, coaching, hypnotherapy and neuro-linguistic programming, Hala is also a published author and the recipient of prestigious awards including the 2013 Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Award for Best Business Woman of the Year. But she still cites Journey Through Change as her proudest achievement. “I try to make people understand how important it is for women to work on themselves to improve the quality of their lives,” says Hala. “I believe that Journey Through Change has allowed participants to improve both their families’ lives as well as their own.”
Founder and CEO of Z7 Communications
The language of luxury is unique to each and every one of us — but for Zeina El Dana, with her 20 years of experience in PR for the Middle East’s top super-luxe clients, it’s a way of life. “I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the world’s best brands throughout my career, which has exposed me to so many amazing experiences, from travelling to countless Fashion Weeks and brand events to hosting some of the most exciting events in the region,” says Zeina. “There are just too many highlights to mention!” And this year marks a special moment for Zeina: it’s 15 years since she founded her own luxury PR, brand communications, digital and events agency, and naturally she’s ready to party. “I’m looking forward to celebrating the anniversary of Z7 Communications this month, which is my proudest career milestone to date,” she says. “I lead a team of fantastic young and talented individuals at Z7 Communications and offer them a platform to learn, grow and evolve in their careers. Seeing the team grow and exceed their personal goals gives me the greatest satisfaction.” And Zeina doesn’t take her leadership role lightly, constantly striving to better herself as a businesswoman and mentor to her team. A recent graduate of Harvard Business School’s executive education programme, Zeina is also a member of the YPO UAE Chapter, where she can call on the expertise of like-minded entrepreneurs and leaders. But when it comes to luxury, Zeina knows what’s what: “Last month we travelled to Milan and Paris for Fashion Weeks and we have lots of new projects in the pipeline. I’m excited to announce more soon!” Watch this space.
Melika Hossein Yazdjerdi
Co-founder and chief strategist of Ashfields Consultancies and Perpétuel Gallery
What makes Melika Hossein Yazdjerdi tick? As one of the foremost women on the watchmaking scene, her passion lies in all things horological. She joined Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons in 2009 with 10 years of brand management, advertising, marketing and PR experience already under her belt. She set about revolutionising the company’s branding, culminating in the 2015 launch of her genius brainchild Dubai Watch Week. As director of this event — and later the international Horology Forum — Melika put the UAE on the horological map. “It was a first in the global watch industry and went on to become the most important horology event in the world, overtaking events that have been in existence for over a century,” says Melika. “In 2018, the first international chapter of the Horology Forum was held in London, making Seddiqi the first UAE-based business to host an international horology event.” Melika has since moved on from Seddiqi, but hasn’t changed her pioneering ways. Together with her business partner Hamdan Al Hudaidi she’s been busy launching two organisations set to change the watchmaking landscape in the Middle East once more. “Ashfields Consultancies was established to provide luxury and horology consultancy to clients, brands and businesses globally,” says Melika. “Perpétuel Gallery is a unique destination for collectors that is set to become the most important concept in the Middle East and potentially in the world. “In less than a year we secured the most important independent watch brands in the world. One of our greatest achievements is the profile of the global collectors who have been visiting the UAE during the past six months due to the portfolio of brands and vintage timepieces that we represent. I am extremely proud to be part of a journey that is set to change the global perspective on collecting.”
Founder of Great Lengths Middle East
One of the secrets to a booming business is foresight — the ability to spot an emerging trend, and the confidence to stick with it. Entrepreneur Julie Powell’s vision for the future of hair extensions in the Middle East was big, and over her more than 30 years living in Dubai, she’s done everything she can to make it reality. “My company just celebrated 25 years in business, which was a huge milestone,” Julie told MOJEH earlier this year. “I’m particularly proud and grateful that many of my original team are still with me. I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home or my office in Jumeirah and in recent years I diversified into investments, so as the European markets open I start taking and making calls and working online from around midday.” With ethical sourcing of the very highest quality in human remy — that’s completely untreated — hair from India, Julie’s business was built on a strong set of ethics and the desire to bring top hair extension experiences to the mainstream. But did it come at a cost? “Raising four children while establishing my brand was a challenge,” said Julie. “But it worked out well and they are independent, confident people with a great work ethic.” No doubt who they inherited that from — this year sees even further expansion for Great Lengths, and Julie is brimming over with ideas, as always. “We are about to launch a budget range of tape in and weft hair extensions, still great quality at a great price, and we will be launching our first branded salon in Saudi Arabia in 2023,” she said. “I’m very excited for that.”
Creative director and co-founder of Mrs. Keepa
Middle Eastern style is a global force to be reckoned with, and a local brand keeping the pedal to the fashion metal is Mrs. Keepa, creation of French-Egyptian designer and entrepreneur Mariam Yeya. “The launch of Mrs. Keepa in 2016 was a real highlight,” says Mariam. “But to be invited, five years down the line in 2021, by La Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode to showcase our SS22 collection on the official Paris Fashion Week calendar was a dream come true.” Mariam has called Dubai home since 2006, and continues to write her fashion story in the emirate. “The development of each and every new collection is my favourite part of the process,” smiles Mariam. “The creative part is what I live for. It’s like giving birth to a new baby every six months!” But while many think that the world of fashion is all glitz and glam, for Mariam that couldn’t be further from the truth. “Funnily enough, the social part and attending events is challenging for me,” she confides. “Aside from being a working mother with an overwhelming schedule, I’m a bit of an introvert which makes any commitment outside of work and family a liability that can sometimes turns into anxiety.” But that doesn’t stop Mariam from forging ahead with her business — in fact, perhaps because she focuses on keeping her nose to the grindstone, her brand is growing more prolifically than ever.
Founder of FRAME Publicity
Have you heard the fashion news? If so then it’s probably thanks to Rani Ilmi, founder of luxury public relations firm FRAME Publicity and all-around veteran fashion and communications expert. The Dubai native relocated to New York City in 2004, kick- starting her PR career by working for Chanel, Versace, Jimmy Choo and Tiffany & Co., before bringing her communications knowledge back to the Middle East in 2011 with the regional launch of Net-A-Porter. She also lent her PR prowess to brands such as Ferragamo, Victoria Beckham, Bottega Veneta and Tod’s, before letting her entrepreneurial side shine with the launch of her own firm. “As an entrepreneur no two days are the same, and the demands of the industry, particularly through the pandemic, have transformed how luxury fashion communicates,” says Rani. “The shift to create unique, never-before-seen brand experiences and the mechanics of relationships with the worship of influencers have been challenging, but I enjoy this industry pushing me to learn new skills daily.” Rani has had many exciting career moments, but when it comes to her proudest, it all goes right back to her New York beginnings. “It was incredible to come full circle with Chanel – first working in-house with the brand in NY, then their first e-commerce foray with Net-A-Porter in the Middle East,” says Rani. “It was exciting to be part of fashion history.” So what keeps Rani at the coalface of communications? It’s all about making a difference. “The sheer volume of what you can achieve is exciting and so dynamic in PR — and also giving international brands a regional spotlight and commercial success in a market that feels foreign is rewarding,” says Rani. “I adore my team and running a business ethically, with respect for each team member, allows me to feel very fulfilled. We really are incredible together!”
Group editor-in-chief of OLN TV, entrepreneur, owner and founder of The Flower Society
It was her memories of pink peony and rose petal-filled childhood summers in Russia that sparked Zoya Sakr’s idea for The Flower Society — a business that melds floristry with art, creating grandiose, living sculptures. Collaborating with Cartier on displays for their Dubai Expo 2020 Women’s Pavilion, at just one year old Zoya’s business may be young but it’s already got plenty of clout. “It’s been a great success since the beginning and I’m very proud of what I have achieved,” says half Lebanese, half Russian Zoya. “We have grown to a team of 20 people now!” The Flower Society isn’t Zoya’s only achievement: she started out as a model and represented Lebanon internationally. Then, after moving to Dubai in 2006, she launched the first regional website tailored to Arabic- speaking women in 2009 for Zahrat Al Khaleej, before opening up her business and founding a further two women’s websites. And she’s had success on the home front too — in fact, her family is her biggest inspiration. “What fulfils me is being a mom of three kids, being around them and being a good example,” says Zoya. “My son looks up to his dad and mom, seeing each of us as an entrepreneur in our own right. My my father and my mom were an inspiration in my life and I work every day to be up to their standards. I want to do the same for my kids. It’s challenging to balance. But success and overcoming challenges is so rewarding.”
TV Celebrity and entrepreneur
Middle Eastern influencers have a lot to thank pioneering TV personality and beauty entrepreneur Joelle Mardinian for. Her passion and foresight paved the way for the regional beauty industry, as well as demonstrating how far new TV concepts can go. Her journey began with the opening of her first Maison de Joelle beauty salon in 2008, paving the way for 14 more branches throughout the MENA region, from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to Tunisia and Kurdistan. Clinica Joelle followed in 2013, expanding into six countries, and in the same year she launched skin and haircare company Joelle Paris – with 2020 seeing the unveiling of contact lens brand Eyecandy Joelle. “I’ve worked so hard to make any idea, whether it’s my brand or my reality show, become a reality and succeed,” says Joelle, a global citizen with her mix of Armenian, Italian, Lebanese and Syrian origins. “Creating my brands, and the success of my TV shows, has made me so proud.”
Her eponymous makeover show Joelle made her a household name thanks to its impressive 14-year run, while subsequent series Beauty Match and Joelle Bala Filter, the Middle East’s first reality show, cemented her place as TV mainstay. Add her almost 27-million strong legion of followers on social media and you’re looking at a very important regional voice. Joelle was selected as one of Forbes’ 500 most influential Arabs and has received numerous accolades for her business prowess and TV and social media success. So what’s next for this beauty and media powerhouse? “I am working on a project that I haven’t mentioned, at all, to absolutely anyone,” Joelle teases. “It has a connection to my son Nathan, it will be the biggest brand for me so far and it will be the one that I am most attached to.”
Founder of Tania’s Teahouse and Serene-Tea by Tania’s Teahouse
After being diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disorder, US-born and Toronto-educated Tania Lodi pursued a course in mindfulness and explored the benefits of tea, which led to her opening Tania’s Teahouse five yers ago at the age of just 23. “Being able to create a customer experience that resonates with others and being able to harness my autoimmune disease in a way that helps others facing similar health issues is what fulfils me most,” says Tania. Through her business, which features a mix of healthy teas served in an aesthetically pleasing ambience, Tania focuses on female empowerment and self-care. “Opening my second branch Serene-Tea and the awards and accolades both branches have received – including being named the seventh most Instagrammable cafe in the world – is the highlight of my career,” she says. Currently working on growing her brand internationally, Tania is relentless in advocating for self-care based on the notion of cafe culture as an escape from one’s daily grind. Learning that many people were also dealing with similar health problems alongside personal and social issues had a huge impact on Tania, who puts people at the centre of every experience she creates. Custom-blending and hand-picking every tea through a private supplier that ethically sources from around the world, Tania ensures that everything served has multiple health benefits, ultimately working to reduce symptoms of pain and stress.
Writer, editor and author of A Hundred Other Girls
In a world of vanilla characters, Iman Hariri-Kia decided to be the change she’d like to see. Her debut novel A Hundred Other Girls was published in July 2021 and has drawn acclaim for its diverse cast, placing a flawed and deeply human Middle Eastern woman in the spotlight. “I love getting to pen the kinds of characters I wish I’d have had access to in my youth, giving back to a community that’s given so much to me,” says Iman. “A Hundred Other Girls was named Barnes & Noble’s Fiction Pick, as well as being book of the month for both Apple Books and Instagram Shop. But getting into the hands of readers has been the most rewarding experiencing of my life!” A New Yorker born and bred, Iman is still based in the Big Apple, her hometown inspiring much of her writing. Her work as a journalist covering sex, identity, relationships and adolescence has seen her byline appear in publications including Vogue, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Nylon and she achieved the Annabelle Bonner Medal in 2017 for her short fiction writing. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Iman, and navigating the media landscape as a Middle Eastern American woman can be as difficult in truth as in fiction. “Confronting identity exploitation in the workplace and learning when to draw professional boundaries has been challenging,” admits Iman. “That, and putting my mental and physical health first.” But that hasn’t stopped her from continuing her prolific work, which includes a coming-of-age newsletter called Cherry Picked as well as a secretive new literary project she has hidden up her sleeve. “I can’t say too much about it, but I’m excited to tell the world about it!” she confides. We’ll be glued to her Instagram, TikTok and Goodreads until she’s ready to reveal more.
Founder of Geap Farms and co-founder of The Bureau
Some people are born problem solvers – their world is a puzzle to be deciphered, making it a better place for all of us in their stead. And, lucky for us, the talented Nikita Patel is one of them. “I am always looking for the next problem to solve through creative and impactful business solutions,” says Wharton School graduate Nikita. “I truly believe in the power of social enterprise to create long-lasting and positive impact.” And as the brain behind Geap Farms, Nikita made strides towards solving one of Dubai’s eternal troubles. “In 2019 I founded one of the UAE’s first hydroponics vertical farms with the purpose of strengthening food security and reducing the country’s food mileage and environmental footprint, promoting greater transparency and sustainability in our food systems,” says Nikita. “We supply many popular restaurants and cafes in Dubai under the brand Oasis Greens, which is proudly UAE-based, pesticide-free and locally grown.” So simple, yet so effective. And with the 2014 launch of her Integrate Center for young adults with cognitive disabilities, Nikita made a great impact by providing life skills development and vocational training. “During Covid, unfortunately, we had to close down the Center which is utterly heartbreaking,” shares Nikita. “There is still so much need for services for young adults, above the age of 18, with special and additional needs.” But as she strives forward alongside her sister to open the UAE’s first female-focused coworking space, The Bureau, this November, her quest to solve life’s problems to the benefit of others continues. “The goal is to build a community to support women, both personally and professionally,” says Nikita. Something tells us that she’ll be supporting them for a long time to come.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy isn’t afraid to start difficult conversations that hold up a mirror to society. By doing so, the Pakistani-Canadian film director has pushed thousands of people to address important world issues and created lasting change through her hard-hitting documentaries, which cover everything from refugees and war to tragic honour killings. “I am so proud to be able to amplify the voices of the men and women across the world who are creating change in their communities, whether it is in health, education or climate change, or creating a better tomorrow for the next generation,”she tells MOJEH. “Being able to shine a light on their work is what fulfils me the most.”
The only female director to have been awarded two Academy Awards by the age of 37, Shemeen has made over two dozen multi award-winning films in over 16 countries since starting out in 2001, including Student Athlete, Song of Lahore and Saving Face. Well-educated.- she holds a Bachelor’s degree from Smith college, two master’s from Stanford University and an honorary degree in Fine arts, also from Smith College – Time Magazine included her in their annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2012, which was also the same year that the Pakistani Government awarded her with the highest civil honour, Hilal-i-Imtiaz.
As Sharmeen’s fame grew, so did her international recognition. Among many other awards, in 2017 the International Center for Journalists bestowed on her the Knight International Journalism Award for her work that led to the legislative change to the honour killings law in Pakistan. This was all thanks to her harrowing documentary, A Girl In The River, and her career highlight to date. Most recently, Sharmeen has directed episodes of Ms. Marvel, which were released on Disney+ in 2022. “It was truly special being a part of the filmmaking team that brought the first brown Muslim superhero Kamala Khan to life,” she says. “So much of my own life and experiences have been mirrored, and this is a special project for me.”
Owner and lead designer at Kamelia Landscape Design
If you’ve ever strolled Al Barari’s serene, award-winning gardens, then you’ve passed through one of Kamelia Zaal’s living, breathing works of art. A graduate of the Inchbald School of Design in London, her passion for sustainable landscapes has been a hallmark of her career. “I’ve spent years trying to re-educate everyone to understand that a sustainable garden doesn’t have to be a desert!” laughs Kamelia. “I continue to push sustainable landscape practices where I can, and encourage indigenous planting throughout the UAE and Middle East. Indigenous gardens can still be green and beautiful.”
And the experts have agreed with her vision, worldwide. In 2015 Kamelia won the Royal Chelsea Flower Show Silver-Gilt Medal for her garden The Beauty of Islam, followed by another Silver-Gilt Medal in 2016 at the Gardening World Cup in Japan. Kamelia was also featured on the front cover of the UK’s Garden Design Journal in recognition of her work on Al Barari – an ongoing project of which she is rightly proud. “I’m excited to still be working on Al Barari, as we expand,” says Kamelia. “We are also working on some villa projects in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as well as a rather special project in Abu Dhabi that we can’t discuss…”. So what is it about landscapes that speak so deeply to Kamelia’s soul? “I love the design process as a whole, but when you see your clients actually enjoying your work and physically in their gardens, that’s one of the most rewarding aspects,” says Kamelia. “Also knowing that, hopefully, some of the trees and plants I have planted throughout my career may last for generations or more. I hope that what I do is having a positive impact for the health of our planet.”
Athlete, co-founder and CEO of Emirates Skating Club
Looking back at the life and career of 27-year-old Zahra Lari, the Emirati figure skating champion has racked up a huge number of firsts. Born and raised in Abu Dhabi, not only was she the first Emirati figure skater to compete in the sport, but she was also the first to compete internationally wearing the hijab. A defining moment for the industry, this led to a change to the ISU rules that allow women to compete while wearing the hijab without getting any deductions, paving the way for regional female competitors for years to come. Next, she became the first Middle Eastern women to land a triple jump, before raising the UAE flag at the Winter Olympic qualifications in Germany and at the Winter Universiade Games in Russia – once again, the first Emirati woman to do so. “It’s an honour to be able to raise the UAE flag all over the world and show people that Emirati women are strong and unstoppable,” she tells MOJEH.
Overcoming an impressive number of barriers during her time on the ice, today Zahra is the president of the figure skating committee at the UAE Winter Sports Federation, having opened the first official figure skating club in the UAE, Emirates Skating Club. And as if she didn’t already have enough to do, she’s also currently in the process of creating her first book, Not Yet: The Story of an Unlikely Skater with Hadley Davis, screenwriter of the movie Ice Princess, which is set for 2024. Add it to your reading list now.
Read Next: Editor’s Letter: The 100th Issue
- Words by Naomi Chadderton, Rachel Silvestri and Odelia Mathews