Creativity fuels big ideas. It’s a differentiator in business. From education and healthcare to business conglomerates and government organizations, communities in the Middle East are facing critical challenges that require creative ideas and solutions. And some extraordinary people are helping us find our way to a more healthy and just future, shaping our society, economy, and culture.
The spirit of creativity in every field – from technology and art to energy and retail – is what Fast Company Middle East celebrates. In our inaugural Most Creative People in Business list for 2022, we honored 36 individuals who are entrepreneurs, sustainability champions, space explorers, designers, and filmmakers from the Middle East. They have one thing in common: Their unique contributions to addressing challenges have led to meaningful change within their sectors and beyond. They give us a glimpse of the future and make us hopeful. We hope you’re as inspired by knowing about them as we were in selecting and honoring them.
Also, Read Fast Company celebrates the spirit of creativity and innovation in the Middle East here.
Here’s the diverse list of honorees recognized for their creative zeal by Fast Company Middle East.
FOR REWRITING THE RULES
Issam Kazim, CEO, Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM)
Emerging from the shadows of COVID-19, Dubai welcomed more than 7 million tourists in 2021. Behind the city’s rise as a global tourism hub was Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) CEO Issam Kazim’s vision and his ability to negotiate collaborations seamlessly. With his team at the DTCM, Kazim built Dubai’s image as a destination from scratch. He took the brand “Dubai” beyond shopping festivals and desert safaris. He has leveraged influencer marketing and celebrity endorsements and has now made Dubai an essential part of bucket lists for global travelers. Under his leadership, the DTCM turned Dubai Expo 2020 into a global event that attracted more than 17 million visitors.
Patrick Chalhoub, Group President, Chalhoub Group
Crafting fine luxury products requires an eye for art, which Patrick Chalhoub’s leadership has brought to the Chalhoub group. The company has brought some of the biggest fashion brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and Louboutin, to the Middle East. As the group’s president, Chalhoub’s mastery of the market doesn’t stop at understanding what the consumer wants. He has excelled in the art of making Middle Eastern consumers desire luxury as a status symbol to make the most of their purchasing power. In the spirit of embracing innovation, Chalhoub has ushered the group into the future by launching NFTs in collaboration with luxury brand Christofle.
Huda and Mona Kattan, co-founders of Huda Beauty
Huda and Mona Kattan, the two sisters, are the powerhouses behind the billion-dollar Huda Beauty, one of the fastest-growing beauty brands in the Middle East. Huda Beauty has grown from a blog to a beauty brand and now offers over 200 products. Its sub-brand Kayali is a fragrance line developed by Mona. In 2013, the sisters started selling false eyelashes at the cosmetics store Sephora. There’s been no looking back since. Huda prioritizes purpose over profits and leads the sustainable brand successfully while being an advocate for self-love.
Muna Al Gurg, vice-chairperson, director – Retail, Easa Saleh Al Gurg
Being the director of a successful retail business and supporting talent generation initiatives simultaneously requires prompt decision-making and a long-term approach. But Muna Easa Al Gurg has effortlessly juggled her role as the Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group director and a philanthropist. Besides overseeing marketing and communications for a conglomerate with 27 firms, Muna Al Gurg has founded non-profits such as Hub Dubai, fostering social and economic development and an entrepreneurship movement called Endeavour UAE. With an eye for young talent, she was a judge on a business reality show, The Entrepreneur. She also works with the UN to support refugees across the Middle East and provides scholarships for budding female entrepreneurs at the London Business School. In addition, she champions causes such as breast cancer awareness and the well-being of Palestinian children.
Logina Salah, skin-positivity influencer
Many influencers use the phrase, “be comfortable in your own skin,” but social media star Logina Salah epitomized that idea by defying her skin condition to redefine beauty. Trained as a professional makeup artist from New York, the Egyptian influencer and blogger was good at disguising her vitiligo until she embraced it on social media. The bold step turned her into an inspiration for followers, who said that Logina’s posts changed their perspective on life. She now uses social media to inspire skin positivity and helped create a secure space for people with skin conditions by challenging beauty standards. Salah also aspires to own her line of makeup and become a beauty educator.
Manal Rostom, marathoner and mountaineer
Stereotypes around what women wear define them across the globe, and it has also shaped the perceptions about the Middle East. But marathoner and mountaineer Manal Rostom broke the glass ceiling and became the first Egyptian woman to reach Mount Everest’s summit in 2022. She was the first Egyptian woman to run the Great Wall of China. She has climbed seven high-altitude mountains, including Kilimanjaro and Elbrus, and has run 13 marathons, including NYC and the London Marathon. She’s also a Nike Running Ambassador and the founder of a social media collective of 800,000 women called Surviving Hijab, empowering women who want to pursue their dreams wearing hijab. She is the first woman to model for Nike in a hijab.
Raha Moharrak, Pioneering Moutaineer
Climbing the world’s highest mountain, Raha Moharrak stepped into the history books by becoming 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. Moharrak, who climbed nine of the world’s most famous summits, is an inspiration for young women across the Middle East. She is also the first Arab woman to represent Tag Heuer alongside football legend Christiano Ronaldo and Palestinian-American model Bella Hadid.
Amna Al Qubaisi, F3 Racer
She raced to the record books, literally. Amna Al Qubaisi became the first Arab woman to compete in Formula 4. The daughter of prominent Emirati race car driver Khaled Al Qubaisi, her passion for the sport started at 14. In 2018, Amna became the first Middle Eastern woman to participate in a motorsport test program for Formula E — the world’s top electric car racing series. She drove for the Envision Racing team in Riyadh. What’s more, she is also the first Arab female winner in the single-seater category at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Setting her sights on Formula 1, Al Qubaisi will take on the Formula 3 season this year.
Amna Al Haddad, Sports Pioneer
The weight of depression can be crippling, but UAE-based Amna Al Haddad healed her mental health woes by taking up weightlifting and emerged victorious. As a woman in a society that still lacks mental health awareness, Al Haddad broke multiple glass ceilings to reach out and bag six gold and three silver medals at international weightlifting events. Refusing being burdened by labels such as a “hijabi-athlete,” she turned it into an identity to break stereotypes around Muslim women. Formerly a journalist, while battling depression, she took control of her physical and mental health, and her workouts led to worldwide fame as a weightlifter. She now uses her reach to raise awareness about mental health and inspire those struggling with conditions like hers.
FOR CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO
H.H Sheikha Mozah bint Marwan Al Maktoum, Royal Pilot
Sheikha Mozah bint Marwan Al Maktoum is a passionate aviator who has set an important milestone for women pilots in civil aviation. Last year, she became the first woman to pilot the AW609 tiltrotor during a visit to the headquarters of Leonardo, the global aircraft manufacturer, in Philadelphia, US. The granddaughter of the Ruler of Dubai, who has set several records in aviation, was the youngest student enrolled at Oxford Aviation Academy in England at 17. She was appointed a first officer with Emirates in 2015 and was the first lieutenant pilot in the Dubai Police Air Wing in 2019.
H.E Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy, and Remote Work Application
Integrating AI, autonomous mobility, and touch-free services into the public infrastructure have powered the evolution of the UAE as a smart ecosystem. As the Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy, and Remote Work Application, Omar Sultan Al Olama oversees the country’s surge towards a connected future. The visionary has prepared the UAE centennial strategy for 2071 and the country’s fourth industrial revolution roadmap. Al Olama took office during the pandemic, and his tenure has seen the swift rise of a remote working ecosystem in the UAE. As the leader tasked with implementing an AI strategy, he is at the forefront of innovation in every walk of life for the UAE.
H.E Khalfan Belhoul, CEO, Dubai Future Foundation
H.E. Under Khalfan Belhoul’s leadership, Dubai Future Foundation (DFF) has created world-class innovation platforms for ideas to take shape and established strategic partnerships to encourage and recognize creative minds from around the globe. In 2019, under his leadership, DFF launched the regulation lab to become a global innovation incubator and a testing ground for future technologies and work closely with regulators, the private sector, and innovators to co-create legislation. The Museum of the Future, which serves as a laboratory and a space to develop the latest technologies in big data analytics and Artificial Intelligence, is another feather in DFF’s cap, further cementing Dubai as a hub for innovation.
Alain Bejjani, CEO, Majid Al Futtaim
Steering a firm that operates diverse properties from malls to cinemas across the Middle East towards growth while innovating consistently requires creative thinking. But Majid Al Futtaim Group’s CEO Alain Bejjani makes it look effortless as he introduces innovative tech – robots, touch-free shopping, and interactive cinemas to the region. He did his part during the pandemic too. To ensure social distancing, he navigated the pandemic with touch-free grocery stores in the UAE and drive-through deliveries at malls in Egypt. He oversaw the integration of Enova’s indoor air quality monitoring tech at Majid Al Futtaim malls in Oman. The project also highlights Bejjani’s commitment to sustainability, for which the firm will reduce its water and carbon footprint by 37% this year. Having spent nine years in senior positions at the Majid Al Futtaim group before taking over as CEO in 2015, Bejjani knows the importance of collaboration for growth. With eyes on the future and a focus on staying in tune with the present times, Bejjani aims to create a positive impact on society.
Ammar Malik, managing director, Dubai Internet City and Dubai Outsource City
Ammar Al Malik has been instrumental in shaping TECOM Group’s Dubai Internet City and Dubai Outsource City, the MENA region’s largest and first tech-focused ecosystem. His efforts have contributed to global players establishing their operations in Dubai, including Visa and META in 2022, and creating a thriving community of Fortune 500 companies, innovative entrepreneurs, and startups. Today, Dubai Internet City is home to more than ten innovation centers, bolstering the city’s position as a regional center for technology. He is also behind the success of in5, the platform for startups and entrepreneurs driving creative solutions in fintech, agri-tech, food tech, and more.
Joseph Bradley, CEO, NEOM Tech and Digital Company
A futurist, Joseph Bradley is responsible for leading the vision and delivery of the technology and digital ecosystem for Saudi Arabia’s futuristic $500 billion giga-project NEOM, building the foundation to create the world’s first cognitive city. Working with leading international technology partners, he is leading in establishing full-scale tech and digital infrastructure at NEOM. He has a passion for disruptive technologies and the role people play in the future of technology.
FOR BRINGING GOOD THINGS TO OTHER PEOPLE
H.H. Sheikha Latifa Bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairperson of Dubai Culture & Arts Authority and member of the Dubai Council
Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has been actively engaged in culture and the arts within the UAE since the inception of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority in 2008. She has been instrumental in the inception of numerous key initiatives that have cemented Dubai’s position as the authoritative voice of art and culture. She aims to invigorate the city’s creative economy and foster an environment of cultural production and innovation as an intrinsic part of everyday life. As the Vice-Chairman of the Emirates Literature Foundation, she advocates the advancement of literature and the culture of reading. She launched several initiatives to renovate and modernize Dubai’s Public Libraries, aiming to transform them into havens of lifelong learning, collaboration, and creativity.
Mina Al-Oraibi, editor-in-chief, The National
The editor-in-chief at The National, the British-Iraqi journalist Mina Al-Oraibi is a political analyst focused on the Middle East. She has kept an eye on the UN’s response to the Syrian conflict, the American Middle East policy, and the region’s refugee crisis, including covering the Geneva talks on Syria and Iraqi refugees. She has interviewed key international figures, including former US President Barack Obama, former US Secretary of state John Kerry, and ex-Iraqi PM Nuri Al-Maliki. She had begun her foray into the Middle East’s geopolitics with her dissertation on the 1958 coup that overthrew the Hashemite monarchy in her homeland Iraq. She is a member of the International Media Council and was named by the World Economic Forum a Young Global Leader.
Mudassir Sheikha, CEO, Careem
Having entered the startup ecosystem early in 2000 as a founding member of mobile testing firm DeviceAnywhere, Mudassir Sheikha turned Careem into the Middle East’s first unicorn. His vision to simplify life led to the creation of the ride-hailing app, which has now become an integrated platform that allows users to order food and groceries and make seamless digital payments. Sheikha’s zeal for expansion has taken the super app to 100 cities across 14 countries, from Pakistan to North Africa. With the introduction of cleaning and PCR testing to Careem’s services, he has demonstrated how services of different apps can be consolidated into super apps so that users and businesses can make the most of connected ecosystems.
Luisa Javier and Sandra Medina, co-founders of Wayakit
Luisa Javier and Sandra Medina are co-founders of Wayakit, a biotechnology startup incubated by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Avid travelers, they have created a product that can keep clothes clean without a wash, removing stains and odor after being sprayed twice. Medina first came to KAUST as a student from Colombia, while Javier came from Mexico. Their biotechnology-based formula that excluded the usage of oxidizers and focused on more organic compounds found tech support and funding from KAUST.
Hosam Arab and Daniil Barkalov, co-founders of Tabby
There are entrepreneurs in a crowd of startup founders, and then there are creative minds that leave a legacy of successful ventures with their innovation; Tabby’s co-founder Hosam Arab is the latter. Together with Daniil Barkalov, Hosam launched the successful buy now, pay later solution Tabby, which is the most known in the region today. The aim to address the over-dependence on cash as a payment method and transform behavior through creative strategies and partnerships with big names such as Visa and the Majid Al Futtaim Group turned out to be a big success, as merchants and customers began to shift online significantly.
Nadine Mezher, co-founder and CMO, Sarwa
Keeping track of investments for maximum returns in a fast-paced life is too much of a hassle for young professionals, and Nadine Mezher read the pulse of this restless generation. The Lebanese entrepreneur created Sarwa, which automates investment insights to ensure young people can make money beyond their monthly paychecks. Through Sarwa, she provides a robo-advisor for investors on the move to create diversified portfolios and track the markets, making people’s money work for them. One creative idea to introduce convenience and simplify investment enabled Mezher to create a product that speaks to an entire generation. To keep up with the trends that appeal to young investors, Sarwa also introduced its crypto portfolios last year.
Mariam Dabboussi, product marketing manager, Google
Transcending language barriers allows technology to reach people beyond cultural, geographical, and even economic boundaries. Mariam Dabboussi unlocked this door for Google in the Middle East and North Africa as its youngest team member in the region by launching Google Assistant for Arabic speakers. As the manager for YouTube and social marketing in the Arab world, the 25-year-old organized the longest live stream of an iftar during Ramadan to raise funds for refugees. Dabboussi, who led a team that tackled the challenges of creating a Google Assistant that could understand different dialects in 18 Arab nations, is driven by the belief that technology acts as a bridge that provides a voice to the most marginalized in a connected world.
FOR DELIGHTING US
Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, Founder, Alserkal Avenue
Creating a creative economy is instrumental to securing recognition and incentives for artists, which Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal has achieved with the first arts and culture precinct in the UAE. The visionary entrepreneur turned abandoned warehouses in Al Quoz, an industrial area, into an ecosystem of inspiring galleries and trendy cafes in the city. A decade after Abdelmomen Alserkal founded it, Alserkal Avenue has become home to a concrete area allocated for performing arts. His efforts have been recognized by UAE’s President Sheikh Mohammed with the Patron of the Arts award twice.
Elie Khouri, chairman, Omnicom Media Group (MENA)
Business in the Middle East has gone digital, and marketing practices have adapted accordingly, which is why innovative minds such as Omnicom Media CEO Elie Khouri stand out. Overseeing operations in MENA since 2006, Khouri has also developed subsidiaries such as OMD that integrate social media and mobile and TV advertising to create digital campaigns. He has also created an agency that helps clients strategize better by delivering real-time insights. Khouri, who enjoys visiting art galleries and embraces creativity in every walk of life, represents the future of business and society in the Middle East.
AboFlah, YouTuber and High-Level UNHCR Supporter
Combining humor with his gaming skills, AboFlah regularly trends on social media across the GCC as one of the region’s top content creators. The Kuwaiti YouTuber has 18 million subscribers. He collaborated with UNHCR on a campaign to raise funds for more than 100,000 refugees, resulting in a 268-hour live stream that broke multiple records. Apart from being the longest stream ever, it also attracted 698,000 viewers, the highest for a charity donation live broadcast on YouTube. The young influencer demonstrated the immense power of the community to support a cause and how social media outreach can work wonders for the region.
Aseel Omran, actress, singer and high-level UNHCR supporter
Saudi actress and singer Aseel Omran has lent her voice to several UNHCR campaigns since 2019, including the winter and the monsoon appeal for Rohingya Refugees. She has collaborated with the UN agency on many other occasions, such as taking part in a field visit to the Zaatari camp in Jordan. Rising to fame following her participation in reality TV shows – Gulf Stars and Hiya Wa Huwa — Omran is known for her YouTube content, music covers, and collaborations, which rack up millions of views. She was recently named the first Middle East ambassador for the French luxury label Dior. The 32-year-old celebrity has partnered with other international brands such as L’Oreal Paris and Italian luxury fashion house Bvlgari.
Hend Sabry, actress and producer
Renowned Tunisian actress Hend Sabry, who began her career at 14, wears many hats. She is a lawyer, UN Ambassador for the World Food Programme, and executive producer of Netflix’s Arabic-language original Finding Ola. Topping Netflix’s charts as the most-watched in Egypt and appearing in the top 10 lists, Finding Ola sees Sabry reprise her role as Ola Abdel-Sabour, a character that first appeared in the 2010 comedy series Ayza Atgawez. Despite bringing back an old, familiar character, the series tackles deeply rooted societal and cultural issues. Sabry was named Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government and, in 2019, became the first Arab woman to serve as a jury member at the Venice Film Festival.
Nayla Al Khaja, filmmaker
Touted to be the first female film director/producer in the United Arab Emirates, Nayla Al Khaja brings experience and cultural knowledge to national and international projects. Her knowledge of Gulf dialects and five international languages gives her a unique advantage when facilitating regional and global complex and sensitive projects. CEO of Nayla Al Khaja Films, Nayla founded 2007 The Scene Club, Dubai’s first film club and has also written and directed several films, all presented and awarded in international film festivals. She is committed to telling authentic stories and developing the UAE’s film industry that will positively impact Arab cinema.
Tima Shomali, actress and producer, director, Netflix MENA
The Arab world is going through a cultural renaissance, and women in the region are expressing their stories through songs, art, and cinema. Tima Shomali, known for her boldness and ability to approach societal issues in a new light, is among the leaders of this movement, chronicling the experiences and views of contemporary Arab women on screen. She is the actress, writer, and showrunner of the acclaimed Netflix miniseries AlRawabi School for Girls. From the perspective of teenage girls, she showed the changing face of the region, along with social limitations that still need to be addressed through an engaging high-school drama. A producer, director, writer, and actress, Shomali is also the founder of the Jordan-based Filmizion Productions.
FOR KEEPING US HEALTHY
Dr Safa Azaat Al Mustafa, acting CEO, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City
Front line hero Dr Safa Azaat Al Mustafa is 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. But it was only during the years of COVID-19 that the crucial role of her field of work – nursing – shone to the fore. As a pioneer in a business and Emirati society, she has led by example by training, guiding, and coaching hundreds of nurses at her hospital in Abu Dhabi. Her vision is to see many more nationals take on roles in nursing, hoping that the pandemic inspired many Emirati men — as they remain a minority — to take on the torch for bringing good health and inspiring lives.
Dr Reem Osman, CEO, Saudi German Hospital
Integrating solutions such as cloud storage and data analytics into healthcare, Saudi German Hospitals under CEO Dr Reem Osman’s leadership reflects the innovation that allowed the Middle East to brace for the pandemic. With more than two decades of experience, she has overseen the healthcare firm’s expansion across Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Prioritizing constant learning in personal and professional life, Dr. Osman considers innovation essential to her leadership.
Zanubia Shams, co-chairperson, Zulekha Healthcare
The prevalence of breast cancer in the Middle East indicates that awareness of the condition is crucial for women’s health in the region. Zanubia Shams, the co-chair of the Zulekha Healthcare Group, recognized this and launched the Pink it Now campaign to provide free breast cancer consultations for women in the UAE. Under her leadership, Zulekha Hospitals became the first in the UAE to achieve LEED Platinum certification for sustainability. Shams has also collaborated with the World Bank to support an initiative called She Works to increase the participation of women in the workforce.
FOR EXPLORING SPACE AND SCIENCE
Hazza Al Mansouri, astronaut
The Hope Probe’s entry into the Martian orbit established the UAE as a serious contender in the global space race. But before that, the country’s first astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri led the way when he spearheaded the UAE’s first scientific mission to the International Space Station in 2019. Along with his colleague Sultan Al Neyadi, Mansouri has also trained at NASA after his return and will soon be returning to the ISS. He was featured among the world’s 100 most influential people in space exploration and inspired another pair of astronauts picked from the UAE.
Abdullah Al Hammadi, astronaut
Abdalla Al Hammadi is the primary analog astronaut for the UAE Analog Mission#1. It is part of the Scientific International Research In Unique Terrestrial Station (SIRIUS) 20/21, an analog mission conducted at the NEK ground-based analog facility in Moscow. After spending 17 years in the UAE Armed Forces, Al Hammadi’s participation in the SIRIUS mission will play a key role in the nation’s hope for future space explorations, especially in the Mars 2117 Programme to measure the psychological and physiological impact on humans living in extreme environments.
FINDING A BETTER WAY
Asrar Damdam, founder of Uvera
While efforts are being made to use tech in agriculture to achieve food security for the Middle East, scientist and entrepreneur Asrar Damdam recognized how preventing food waste is equally important. After pursuing her PhD at KAUST, she founded the clean-tech startup Uvera, which uses UV rays to keep food fresh for longer. Damdam did all this before turning 30 and represents young women entrepreneurs from the Middle East on a global stage. The Saudi entrepreneur has also been honored with the L’oreal- UNESCO Women in Science Award.
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Majid Al Futtaim Group CEO Alain Bejjani on harnessing innovation in business | TRAILER