Local talent thrives in Dubai

Government nurtures with development coin

There is little argument that Dubai has established itself as city of dreams for expats from around the world.

The total population of the U.A.E. is an estimated 4.1 million people, with the expat population believed to account for as much as 80% of the total.

While these foreigners, who hail from the Indian subcontinent, across the Arab world and Europe, and increasingly the U.S., have all contributed in their own way to the breathtaking rise of Dubai, the role that native Emiratis themselves are playing should not be underestimated. A new generation of ambitious U.A.E. locals is breaking new ground in taking ownership of the dramatic reforms at home and driving forward its progress.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the media industry.

Talented execs such as Najla Al-Awadhi, Abdullatif Al-Sayegh, Mona Al-Marri and Mohammed Saeed Harib are shattering outdated stereotypes for Emirati execs.

Al-Awadhi, for example, juggles the duties of general manager at English-language satcaster Dubai One, vice president of governmental net Dubai Media Inc. and membership of the U.A.E. parliament.

Al-Sayegh is the CEO of the multimedia Arab Media Group (AMG), which boasts eight radio stations and three daily newspapers. AMG has just come off the back of the successful launch of MTV Arabia, its first foray into broadcasting, while 2008 will see the launch of its second satcaster, Nickelodeon Arabia. A strategic partnership with Viacom will likely see the announcement of further broadcasting collaborations.

Al-Marri, who along with husband Mohammed Al-Gergawi (CEO of Dubai Holding and one of Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed’s most trusted advisers) makes up one half of Dubai’s most prominent power couple, and balances her role as chairpersonat the Dubai Media Services Group, which includes the Dubai Press Club and PR org Jiwin, with her work as VP of the Dubai Ladies Club. Harib is the brains behind the U.A.E.’s first-ever animated skein “Freej,” which airs on Dubai TV and has been a smash ever since its 2006 bow.

“We are very opportunity-driven people,” Al-Sayegh says. “We are fighters, we love challenges, and we are young. ”

Many of these infectiously energetic mavens were handpicked by Sheik Mohammed through his young business leaders plan. Harib received a startup loan from the Sheik Mohammed Foundation for Young Business Leaders.

All relish the challenge of shaping their destinies and that of their country.

“The development of the local talent has proved to be one of the most exciting tasks I committed to,” Al-Marri says. “I strongly believe that the U.A.E. nationals are the best to communicate these successes out of their in-depth understanding of various elements related to this development on cultural, social and economic levels.”

“Sheik Mohammed is aware that investing in building people lies at the foundation of progress,” Al-Awadhi says. “The success we’ve seen of building infrastructure in Dubai has to move equally with the opportunity to build human capabilities through education.”

These tyro execs are already having positive effects: Both Al-Awadhi and Al-Marri are training a host of aspiring femme Emirati execs.

Harib has managed to win over the skeptics who doubted whether auds would embrace local animation and has pushed forward the boundaries of what can be discussed on a family show. A”Freej” episode that tackled religious extremism prompted an outcry from some conservative voices before senior figures in the government congratulated Harib for his efforts.

Harib is now prepping plans to launch a multimillion-dollar theme park based on the “Freej” characters and has launched a successful merchandising line tied to the toon.

Harib is set to go international in 2008 and will be producing an English-language version of the show. “We’re hoping to set up a full-fledged animation studio here by 2009,” Harib says. “Sheik Mohammed’s kids love the show. He built a house of ‘Freej’ for his daughter. I know because I gave them the designs.”

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