From scientists to CEOs, artists to activists, and more, the Most Creative People in Business 2023 honored those making significant contributions to our world.
The winners were announced at a glamorous gala dinner and awards ceremony held at the Armani Hotel on May 17, bringing together the industry’s best in a dazzling affair.
Setting the tone for the evening was a soulful performance by Nour Helou, a rising star in the Middle Eastern music scene, who left the audience mesmerized, belting out Arabic and English hits.
This year’s Most Creative People in Business honorees were then revealed – representing the diversity of creatives – individuals who are driving innovation and creativity in their respective fields, and making a meaningful impact.
In his welcome address, Ravi Raman, Publisher of Fast Company Middle East, said, “We came to this region a year back with a promise to tell inspiring stories from the region and take them to the world, we came here with a promise of impacting society, the culture and the business landscape of the region. Twelve months, 9,000 stories later, I can modestly say, we made a difference. Why are we so passionate about this list, why is it so special? We feel at Fast Company that every human achievement has its roots in creativity, all of you in the room have used creativity not just to shape your industries but to inspire millions.”
The evening brought together the pioneers of today – from sustainability champions, filmmakers, artists, philanthropists, and government leaders who are pushing the boundaries of the possible – honored within categories ranging from Advancing Technology and Innovation, Rewriting the Rules, Challenging Status Quo, Delighting Us, and Bringing Good Things to More People.
The acceptance speeches, ranging from tear-jerking to deeply inspirational, created some indelible moments. The honorees used their time on stage to make salient points about a range of social issues — support of survivors, innovation and creativity, changing stereotypical narratives about the region — and created moments of levity, too. Ahead, a collection of some of the quotes of the night.
A leading public figure in the Middle East promoting and supporting youth education and employment, female entrepreneurship, and expanding funding for the cultural industries, H.E. Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, President of the American University of Sharjah and Chairperson of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority and Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center, honored for Bringing Good Things To More People, started her speech thanking other awardees for being inspirational.
“I look around here today, and all of you inspire me, and I want to share a quote by Steve Jobs who said: ‘Those who think they can change the world, those who think they’re crazy enough to change the world, actually do.’ When I see the names and the categories here, I think we have much in common: passion, dedication, hard work, and a sprinkle of craziness. So best of luck to all of you,” she said.
A philanthropist and mental health activist, and founder of the Intisar Foundation that provides psychological support to Arab women traumatized by war and violence, H.H. Sheikha Intisar AlSabah, honored under Challenging the Status Quo, said: “Creativity has no bounds, and because of creativity we are all able to make a big difference drop by drop in this amazing world. We use drama therapy to support Arab women affected by war and violence. Drama therapy is an unknown psychological support, not only in the Arab world but the world as a whole. And every time I see the change in the women, I see the peace, peace they get and how they change themselves, their families, their societies, and hopefully their countries. I know that the Arab world will have peace because it’s through women that change can come. So this is all to the great women who are bringing peace to this world.”
An honoree in the Rewriting The Rules category, Maya Ghazal, Syrian pilot and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, who has dedicated her life to advocating for refugees and promoting their welfare, said: “We have a future, we have hopes, and we deserve a second chance. I decided to study aviation engineering because I was told I couldn’t do it because I’m a woman, and I was like, I will prove you wrong too. My message today is to be kind; your smallest act of kindness can change someone’s life. As a UNHCR ambassador, I urge you to explore what’s there in the world, and you’ll be amazed at the potential people have.”
Warming the audience, comedian Hamad Al Amari, an honoree under Delighting Us category, took a moment to jokingly call out those who can’t pronounce his name. “Thank you very much. It’s Hamad Al Amari. For those who can’t pronounce it in Arabic, it’s like calamari without the C.”
Al Amari added that he feels overwhelmed “because I’m in a room with many people who have inspired change. I’m just a dude who tells jokes. From a very nomadic upbringing with a very conservative family, asking questions was very wrong. And now, as a father and someone who’s just met people through conversations, I never shy from asking a question, and it pays to listen a lot more, especially in this ever-changing world. So, look around the room. There are great people here. Everyone has a great story, so listen to them and share them if you can.”
In an inspiring tribute, artist and philanthropist Sacha Jafri, honored under Rewriting the Rules, talked about how Nelson Mandela influenced him. “I will never forget his words, which I’d like to share with you. He said, ‘if we can remember how small we are, we can embrace humility and become truly great.’ That inspired my journey as an artist. It’s about borrowing a moment from the universe and giving it back with grace and gratitude. So, thank you for giving me more inspiration.”
Another honoree in the category, CEO of Fiker Institute, Dubai Abulhoul, said, “Thank you for this great honor. For far too long, the global narrative for the region has been told for us, and not by us, and I have seen the impact that has had on the false depictions of the Middle East on the global stage. We’re on a mission to change this. I look forward to seeing our work at the institute put the Middle East on a different footing in the years to come.”
Honored within this category was also Elie Habib, Co-Founder & CTO, Anghami. In a touching tribute to the creative community of music listeners, he said, “There are amazing ladies in the room tonight, and the common theme is the deep obsession with achieving something because someone else told her that she couldn’t. My story is not as brilliant as many stories I’ve heard. It was a story of someone who wanted to break things apart and understand how I could make them again, and I failed 50% of the time. Ten years ago, we decided there must be a way to listen to music in the Middle East without piracy. So we started building it from scratch. Today, we have hundreds of millions of users on the platform. We have 75 million songs.
When I look at the people in this room, I’m inspired because they tell many stories. I’m happy to be part of a life lived with learning. I’m thankful to all that supported me along this journey.”
An overarching theme raised by many of the influential honorees was how they envisage building a better future. It emphasized the belief that as long as there is an abundance of human creativity, no challenge is insurmountable.
Nelly Attar, entrepreneur and athlete, honored under Rewriting Rules category, and known for launching Saudi Arabia’s first dance studio, said: “I was able to make history for Arab women in the mountaineering scene because of creativity. Thank you, Fast Company Middle East, for celebrating innovation and creativity.”
Another pioneering honoree reaffirming the importance of human creativity and its relevance in technology was Dr. Ray O. Johnson, CEO of Technology Innovation Institute. He said, “Thanks to Fast Company Middle East for this award; it’s meaningful to me as it’s a reflection of the kind of work being done by the Technology Innovation Institute and ASPIRE. We’re so proud to be part of this.”
This year, in line with the Year of Sustainability and UAE, hosting COP28, the list honored climate champions in the category Saving the Planet. Receiving an honor under this category, prominent climate champion and COP27 President Youth Envoy, Omnia El Omrani said, “Thank you for the honor. I look back at my early obsession with the environment before sustainability was spoken about at the level it is today. I am lucky that my country has given me the opportunity to change the perspective of how young people are seen and heard and integrated, and centered. I’m thankful for this recognition”.
The impressive list of winners was a testament to the talent and drive that exists in the Middle East and beyond.
The night closed with Helou returning to perform Just the Way You Are, befitting the grandeur of the occasion.