Located in the heart of the nerve center of the city is the iconic Burj Khalifa, a symbol of innovation and creativity, it was the fitting location for Fast Company Middle East’s inaugural Most Creative People in Business event. Hosted on June 23, 2022, the black-tie event brought together leaders from tech, finance, fashion, and culture to celebrate ingenuity and excellence.
Opening the night was the award-winning opera singer and UNWFP advocate Zeina Barhoum starting with some Arabic and English songs alongside pianist Cuban talent Marcos Madrigal. The view of Zeina in a baby blue gown belting out songs and the placement of the grand piano right in front of the stage amidst a hue of stage smoke seemed almost supplanted out of a dream.
The stage was then set to award the night’s achievers. Each one had moved their industry forward with creativity and not rankings or status; the list was under wraps until they were revealed by the host Sally Mousa.
“Tonight we celebrate excellence, we celebrate creativity, and above all, we celebrate amazing achievements. For over 13 years, Fast Company has recognized leaders shaping our world, and it’s our honor and privilege to bring Fast Company and the Most Creative People in the Business list to the Middle East – the new home of innovation,” said Ravi Raman, publisher, Fast Company Middle East.
The list that was months in the making attempted what many others had failed to portray – true inclusion in every part. The editorial team was set with the task at the start of December last year; the results were an eclectic mix of achievers.
REWRITING THE RULES
The night began with awarding Fast Company Most Creative People in Business in the Rewriting the Rules category to achievers who had stretched beyond their comfort zones, taken risks, and tried new ideas to bring new levels of transformation.
The first honoree was Amna Al Qubaisi, who is an accomplished F3 racer who said, “This achievement as an Emarati woman has meant a lot to me. Not just for my country, but Arab women in general.”
This was followed by skin positivity influencer Logina Salah who has defied her skin condition to redefine beauty. In a compelling speech, she said, “Challenges made me who I am today.” She said she embraced her vitiligo and did not let anything undermine her confidence.
Another honoree was sports pioneer and mental health advocate Amna Al Haddad. Her life’s journey started from a place of pain, not power. “Don’t be afraid and take action,” she said, empowering the audience.
In the sporting sector, the event had Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to climb the summit of Mount Everest in 2013. She was also the youngest Saudi to reach the top of the world and was part of the first Arab team to do the climb.
“Every single person has an Everest to climb, so I urge you all to find that mountain, find that passion and take one step at a time,” said Moharrak, while accepting the award.
The next honoree Manal Rostom broke the glass ceiling and became the first Egyptian woman to reach Mount Everest’s summit in 2022. She asked why a hijab is seen as the epitome of oppression. Wearing a hijab is “not a sign of oppression. Go touch the sky,” she said.
For his transformative role in leading the region’s largest luxury retail house, Patrick Chalhoub, group president, Chalhoub Group, honored for rewriting the rules in business, said he joined the family business 42 years ago, and since then, his role has been to “develop and transform, remain relevant at every step, and always inspire and delight customers.”
A visionary behind the city’s rise as a global tourism hub, Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, was also another honoree. With his team at the DCTCM, Kazim built from scratch Dubai’s celebrated image as a destination.
Muna Al Gurg of the Easa Saleh Al Gurg group, who could not be there on the night, was also honored as part of the category for her role in supporting the philanthropic sector while leading the region’s multidivisional conglomerate with 27 companies.
CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO
The next category recognized problem-solvers and innovative and agile leaders who sought change and broke barriers.
The first honoree in this category, Joseph Bradley, CEO of NEOM Tech and Digital, was recognized for leading the vision and delivery of the technology and digital ecosystem for Saudi Arabia’s futuristic $500 billion giga-project NEOM, which is building the foundation to create the world’s first cognitive city.
“Diversity is much more than having different people in the room. What you have shown the world is that it’s about inclusion. It is the ability to drive the full participation of those individuals to ultimately create value,” Bradley said.
The next honoree Ammar Al Malik, managing director, Dubai Internet City, and Dubai Outsource City, was instrumental in shaping the MENA region’s largest and first tech-focused ecosystem.
Al-Malik shared a Japanese haiku proverb about an ambitious snail’s feat of Mt. Fuji, adding, “The reason why I share this Japanese quote is that I cannot compete with the people that came before me. Thank you for considering me for this”.
The next honoree created world-class innovation platforms for ideas to take shape and established strategic partnerships to encourage and recognize creative minds from around the globe, H.E. Khalfan Belhoul. CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation, Belhoul, gave a shout-out to the women achievers that had been honored before him and his team at DFF. In his speech, he said, “Collaboration and unity are a must for us to succeed. The future will have many challenges, but our next challenge is defined by how well we unite.”
Among honorees who couldn’t be there in person but sent messages of thanks was beauty entrepreneur Huda Kattan, who described how she related to the award “for challenging status quo,” describing herself as “a rebel.”
“There are a lot of things within the beauty industry that we still need to challenge and bring to light,” she said.
Another honoree was the visionary leader behind retailer Majid Al Futtaim, Alain Bejjani, who is working to make the enterprise #NetPositive by increasing energy efficiency while also harnessing Web3 technologies to future-proof the business. A representative from MAF collected Bejjani’s award on his behalf.
The floor was then open to award-winning comedian Mina Liccione who left the audience in stitches with her humorous take on Arab stereotypes with real-life examples of her lived experiences as a migrant.
FOR DELIGHTING US
The evening then proceeded with the next category, For Delighting Us, raising a toast to profound champions of creativity and inventive artists enriching the world.
First up in the category was Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, founder of Alserkal Avenue. The entrepreneur turned abandoned warehouses in Al Quoz, an industrial area, into an ecosystem of inspiring galleries and trendy cafes in the city and has played a revolutionary role in transforming the cultural and art sector of the region. Attending on his behalf was his brother Abdulla Alserkal, who said, “The team and family of Alserkal are dedicated to creativity and success.” Recalling the days when the venue of the event at Burj Khalifa was a humble military camp, he reminisced, saying, “Look at where we are today.”
The next honoree Hassan Suleiman, also known as AboFlah, YouTuber and High-Level UNHCR Supporter, was the youngest awardee of the night. In a humbling speech, he said, “Always trust what God has planned for you. Always do what you love because only when you are doing what you love will your creativity flourish. You will involuntarily be successful when you do what you love.”
Other honorees that could not join were Elie Khouri, Chairman, Omnicom Media Group, and Arab actresses Aseel Omran and Hend Sabry.
In her vote of thanks, Omran, who is also a High-Level UNHCR Supporter, said, “I’m honored to be receiving this award tonight. I want to thank the UNHCR for all the great work they’re doing on and off the field.”
KEEPING US HEALTHY
The next category looked at individuals that have made remarkable efforts in devising bold, innovative, and transformative ideas to improve our physical and mental well-being.
Three pioneering women who made it to the list and have all stepped up to the challenge of COVID-19 were Dr. Safa Azaat Al Mustafa, acting CEO of Sheikh Khalifa Medical City; Dr. Reem Osman, regional CEO of Saudi German Hospital; Zanubia Shams, co-chairperson, Zulekha Hospitals.
Most well known as the first Emirati to be assigned as the Chief Nursing and Allied Health Officer at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, Dr. Al Mustafa spoke about the exceptional two years for the medical sector of the UAE and how creativity enabled the country to stave off effects of COVID-19.
In another humbling reminder, Dr. Osman said, “Creativity completely rewrote the medical field that is so used to following the book.”
BRINGING GOOD THINGS TO MORE PEOPLE
The next category was dedicated to people applying new ideas to improve and support the growth of positive social innovation.
First up were two biotechnologists, Luisa Javier and Sandra Medina, co-founders of Wayakit, a biotechnology startup incubated by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).
“It was 12 years ago that I came from Mexico to Saudi Arabia to the first mixed-gender university in the kingdom. I would never have envisioned all the opportunities that this land would offer to me. I would never have envisioned standing here today with my business partner Sandra at the Most Creative People in Business, but here I am. As doctors, we are bringing creativity to products we are using in our day-to-day business,” Javier said.
Following her was a defining voice in the media industry, Editor-in-Chief of The National, Mina Al-Oraibi. Accepting the award, she said, “I want to say thank you for recognizing excellence in journalism, partly because we’re trying to tackle infotainment, we’re competing for your attention when you’re on your phones or keeping busy with other matters, but we try to take our journalism very seriously.”
“This week, five years ago, the Al Noori mosque was destroyed by ISIS, and it is yet to rise up again. So keep the people of Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East in your mind. How lucky are we to be here in the UAE, where we can find opportunity and success and a home for many of us who are here! To the creativity of the UAE that allows us to dream and the land of opportunity,” she added.
Following her was Nadine Mezher, CMO and co-founder of Sarwa, a robo-advisory for investors on the move to create diversified portfolios and track the markets, making people’s money work for them.
“I want to thank the leadership of the country that is so supportive of innovation and entrepreneurship,” she said while thanking her team in a touching tribute.
The next honoree was Her Highness Sheikha Latifa Bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairperson of Dubai Culture & Arts Authority and Member of the Dubai Council, recognized for being actively engaged in the culture and arts within the UAE since the inception of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority in 2008.
Her Highness sent a special message to the audience (pictured below).