Najla Al-Awadhi might just be the future of media in Dubai.
Born and bred in the United Arab Emirates, Al-Awadhi has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the U.A.E. TV industry tree. Only 30 years old, Al-Awadhi has just been appointed Vice-President of Dubai Media Inc. following a successful stint as the general manager of Dubai One, DMI’s popular English-language satcaster, and is the brightest example of Dubai’s increasing presence as the Middle East’s media hub.
Al-Awadhi has helped solidify Dubai One’s position as a bridge between East and West by inking first-look deals with Disney and Warner Bros. The resultant deals, which will see megahit “Desperate Housewives” preem exclusively on the channel and a sked that includes “The Sopranos” and “CSI,” have impressed her bosses.
“She’s accumulated the know-how and expertise to deal directly with the guys at Disney,” says DMI exec Ali Jaber. “She brings a unique combination of local tastes with an international personality. We have high hopes for her. She’s going to go a long way.”
In fact, Al-Awadhi is confident that Western-oriented channels such as Dubai One can bring East and West closer together.
“Our viewers are very sophisticated and will only settle for the best,” she says. “We are providing both our Arab and expat viewers with the best. We hope our channel is a breeze of fresh entertainment from across the ocean.”
Al-Awadhi represents the global cultural perspective that has become a key part of Dubai’s appeal to the West and beyond. Though a native Emirati, she graduated from the U. of New Hampshire with a degree in history. Her first choice of career as a lawyer for women’s rights soon got waylaid by the realization she had a better chance to improve the lot of women in the region if she got involved in the media.
A spell as a TV journo in Dubai was followed by her recruitment by the top brass at DMI to oversee the 2004 re-launch of the network’s four new channels, particularly Dubai One. The rest, as they say, is history.
“If I wanted to contribute to developing women’s rights, then I really had to change the perceptions about women that exist in our society,” says Al-Awadhi. “The dynamics of the workplace have changed in the Middle East with the majority of Arab women having access to education, which has empowered them and made them conscious of their abilities. We still have a long way to go, though, to increase the percentage of women in decisionmaker roles.”
Long term, Al-Awadhi’s interests may lie beyond the TV biz. As a member of the Young Arab Leaders nongovernmental organization, Al-Awadhi is increasingly branching out to pursue her interests in education and social welfare, even attending September’s Clinton Global Initiative in New York.
Her dedication to improving women’s rights in the region, as well as a self-avowed commitment to education resources, has led some to assume a future in politics awaits. Al-Awadhi laughs off any suggestion she’s interested in running for office anytime soon but retains a keen sense of the bigger picture.
“It’s a duty and an honor for any conscientious human being to have a vision to build their country and sow the seeds of progress,” she says.