HH Sheikha Latifa Bint Mohammed Al Maktoum: Dubai Culture Wants Creative Entrepreneurs To Go Global
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The Vice Chairman of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) is many things- some of which you might not expect. Those of you who already follow H.H. Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on Twitter and Instagram see her post a mixture of culture, lifestyle, tech, and a satisfying dose of entrepreneurship. Her interest in science is also apparent through her digital sharing, and so is her sense of humor. (Not to mention a cool factor- she’s a follower of Neil deGrasse Tyson.)
On social media you’ll also get a pretty accurate idea of her personality: approachable and accessible, practical and passionate. Passionate how? Well, the best way I can explain this is that when you meet Sheikha Latifa you’ll get the sense that she is a private person whose vibrancy shows mostly when she is discussing her work and the many reasons why she believes wholeheartedly in that work. I can say that’s when she really comes alive- her smiles are bigger, her gaze is more intense, and she’s much more emotive, especially when describing Dubai Culture’s long-term aims and the potential boons it will afford Middle East creatives.
Sheikha Latifa’s digital presence is actually how I become aware of her endeavors; in her professional capacity as Vice Chairman, she is driving a new initiative to not only shed light on MENA’s creative entrepreneurs but also to help them build up the business side of things. All of these factors combined were what prompted me to request an interview.
As you’ll soon see, the information she shares is pretty valuable- especially for the creative entrepreneurs who are often marginalized by both the business community and the business media. Makers and craftspeople, industrial, jewelry and fashion designers, singers, songwriters and musicians, painters and playwrights, you all need to sit up and pay attention: Dubai Culture’s Creatopia.ae is now live and it’s worth the visit.
“Creatopia is the first of its kind government-empowered virtual community for creatives in every field. Anyone who has a creative talent can sign up and set up a profile- from visual artists, writers, curators, innovators, all the way to collectors and even organizations, whether in the creative industries or otherwise. We have some categories already, but these will expand as the need arises. We envisioned Creatopia to provide something for everyone in the community, cultural industry and [the] business world in general,” explains Sheikha Latifa. She is emphatic that entrepreneurs, often the earliest adopters of any innovative tech movement, should be the early adopters of Creatopia.ae too.
“Creatopia is a constant work in progress; it is now still at its growth stage and I want people to know there’s a lot more coming. Our plan is to have it grow to its full potential by 2020, but its benefits will be felt as early as 2017,” adding that there are a number of verticals planned such as masterclasses and even an e-commerce element. Currently, the bulk of Creatopians are UAE-based, but “we hope that the percentage of people joining from the GCC, the region and the world will grow,” as the site is meant for a global community membership to enhance enterprise potential for all parties involved.
Why was Creatopia even conceptualized? “To provide creatives with a platform to showcase their work, grow their talents, engage with like-minded people, and hopefully get recruited through the portal by different organizations who need creative services.” The business development aspect of the portal is extremely attractive: there will be a type of tenders section, called Opportunities, where projects, creative jobs, and soliciting can be shared, a learning tool section, a discussion board to facilitate collaborations and recommendations, and an e-pay segment is also in the works.
“It’s all about increasing the ease of doing business for the cultural industries. What we’re seeking to do is even bring together corporates and creatives- I think corporates do want to invest in the sector but they don’t know where and how, and they don’t know what the creatives need. We’ll provide them guidance in that way.” Under the vision of Sheikha Latifa’s father, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Emirate has become not only an art and culture hub, it’s arguably become the place for entrepreneurs in MENA.
With both of these complementary identities in mind, Creatopia will help to bridge the two communities, and eventually, lead to stronger economic prospects for the creative sectors. “One of our main drivers is part of the Dubai Strategic Plan 2021, announced by my father His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, is establishing Dubai as a ‘city of happy, creative and empowered people.’ To this end, a thriving creative industry where creatives have the right means to operate and achieve their goals, is key. This is why we do what we do every day.”
In the interest of a diversified and sustainable economy, together with an appreciation for societal enrichment via diverse mainstream exposure to art and culture, Sheikha Latifa says that inclusiveness is at the core of Creatopia’s mandate. She feels that the dedicated virtual space will help to call attention to this sector of startups and established artisans alike through awareness and web portal power.
“It’s all about exposure and access. Once people sign up to the website and upload their work and portfolio, they will automatically have an increased viewership. This is the same whether they are signing up as an individual artist or creative or a creative company. Our ultimate goal is to make it easier for creatives to create, learn, connect, grow and make a living out of their craft by providing them with opportunities wherever they are physically, through the portal .”
Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in business management and a concentration in marketing, followed up by an EMBA at Zayed University, one would think that Sheikha Latifa (being who she is and equipped with the right education), wouldn’t have had to work her way up the corporate ladder. Frankly, I was quite surprised to hear otherwise: “You know, most people aren’t aware of the fact that when I decided to join Dubai Culture, I started at the lowest rung of the government scale and I had to work my way up.”
Here, I cannot resist the temptation and before I can stop myself, I hear my voice asking her how that went, since, she is after all, Her Highness. Laughing softly and speaking candidly, Sheikha Latifa says that “it was actually very normal because I wasn’t treated like His Highness’ daughter, which is exactly what I wanted to experience. My first day in the office, I remember I had to take on a project -which was the branding of the Authority’s first logo- and I was just sort of thrown in the deep end and I learned to swim! I think it helped me to grow a lot.”
And why, with all the doors that could have opened for her, did she choose the culture sector? “When I made the decision after graduating from Zayed University that I wanted to work, my biggest supporter was my father [H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum]. I first interned at Dubai Holding, through the different entities under Dubai Holding. Once the authority was set up in 2008, I decided to join it. I’m interested in creative entrepreneurship and how to benefit the creative community in a sustainable way, while contributing towards [building] a healthy economy.”
An economy that is healthy and friendly to entrepreneurship requires simple processes and procedures- a reduction of barriers to entry. Sheikha Latifa adds that an ongoing project at Dubai Culture is taking measures to improve the licensing aspect to make it much easier for artists, galleries and other cultural ventures to navigate legal and legislative framework thereby allowing for more cultural involvement in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
And on the subject of legal ease, for those concerned about their intellectual property rights once it’s in the public domain as part of Creatopia, Dubai Culture is working on that too. “The region itself is working on IP rights, and being on Creatopia is exposure. Whether it’s placed in a gallery or on a wall, there’s always a risk. Looking at it in a different way, if people are inspired by your work then it’s a compliment.”
Finally, touching on the subject of women in business, there are a few things that are immediately clear from Her Highness’ opinions. To begin with, Sheikha Latifa thinks that our collective mindset has a lot to do with it- by thinking of fields as male-dominated, we are feeding the beast and I can’t help but agree. The second point is that she believes in examining things with an individualistic approach as opposed to a gender-based one. The third salient point is that she doesn’t find today’s successful women all that different from GCC women of generations past.
“Historically in the GCC, women played prominent roles in society and in the business world. They were tasked with transacting business and handling trade as their husbands -pearl divers- were away for long stretches, months and months. It’s ingrained in our society; it wasn’t a revelation to us here- it has always been this way.” Briefly, she reminds me that today’s female leaders of enterprise and government in the GCC are a natural progression of earlier times, and mentions UAE Minister, H.E. Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, as a woman she found inspiring growing up.
“There have never been as many opportunities as there are now for women to take advantage of and pursue their dreams. Our leadership has worked tirelessly to provide women with the best access to education and endless opportunities to join the workforce and the business world. With all that in place, every individual has to put in the work to grab those opportunities and achieve their own success. We strongly believe in the potential women have, and we paved the way for them to believe that they have the ability and the opportunity to make a positive contribution. I hope they can believe in themselves as much as we do.”
OFF THE CLOCK: ARE YOU MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME?
It is hard to imagine a busier schedule than Sheikha Latifa’s with her dual capacities as Vice Chairman and as a member of the UAE royal family. Both the former and the latter come with diverse sets of obligations and duties. Here’s her take on how delegating can help you achieve better results, making work-life balance a reality, mastering time management, and maximizing your much-needed downtime.
JUGGLING WORK-LIFE BALANCE “It’s a learning curve, to be honest. I’m a perfectionist, so I’m curious on how to get the optimum state of productivity. I realized over the years that I had to take my downtime as seriously as I take my work. It’s absolutely possible to have a work-life balance- in fact it’s crucial. There is no general rule to establishing a work-life balance and everybody has a circadian rhythm specific to them. Each individual should learn to listen to that rhythm and work with it, instead of toiling away all day and not leaving any time to regenerate and recharge their energy.”
OWNING TIME MANAGEMENT “I believe in managing your energy and not just your time. To make sure I achieve everything on my list I reserve specific times of day for specific activities. For example, mornings for me, when you have the most energy and clarity, are reserved for creativity, problem-solving and growing ideas. Once I get that done, I turn to any pressing issues of the day or other things that need to be addressed. I always make time to think, it is important to give your mind space to wander and make necessary connections and come up with creative ideas when it’s not bogged down with the day to day issues; especially in an industry as creative as the cultural industry.”
MAKING THE MOST OF DOWNTIME “I’ve always been a workaholic, taken my work on vacations, worked a lot of weekends, taken my work home. I stopped taking my work home -you make a decision to do it- and then you are able to manage your time at the office better. I make sure that I take my weekends seriously, unless there is something urgent that needs to get done I take that time to recharge. Burnout is very common among the workforce, and I believe it should be discouraged from the workplace and a better work-life balance should be encouraged- that way you get the best out of yourself and your team. Besides, to achieve the ultimate goal of making the people of Dubai happy, you have to make sure both yourself and your teammates -the people who are actually working towards that goal- are happy first.”
WIELDING THE POWER OF DELEGATION “If you seek perfection in everything you do, you might never get there- you might eventually get there, but not as fast as you’d hope. For me, I learned to stop aiming for perfect and instead I aim for great. I trust the people I work with; I know how their minds work and I feel comfortable delegating to my team. I delegate a lot, even if it’s something I want to do on my own but I just don’t have the time for, I will delegate it off and sometimes you get much better results that way.”
THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: SHEIKHA LATIFA ON FACILITATING WOMEN'S INCLUSION ACROSS SECTORS AND INDUSTRIES
“Well done to the women at the top of the corporate ladder, and I hope they all spread the knowledge to women rising to the top in the workforce. They have the confidence, the means, and the skills, maybe sometimes all they need is guidance and words of encouragement. Everything that we’ve been doing in the UAE has always been to encourage everyone, including women, since the formation of the Emirates. Sheikh Zayed [bin Sultan Al Nahyan], God rest his soul, and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed [Al Maktoum], who worked together to build this nation, have always advocated for education for women - universities have been set up to provide free education for women.”
1. Shed light on existing women leaders of enterprise and of government “During the last decade we’ve seen more women leaders that are prominent within both the public and private sectors. I believe that having strong female role models that have already paved the way for women in business is the biggest step towards seeing more women join the business community.”
2. Encouraging discourse and mentorship “The next step should be mentorship and setting up platforms -where women entrepreneurs and women in the workforce in general- come together and share ideas and start discussions. I believe what will really strengthen women’s participation and achievement in the business world is guidance, mentoring and support from other women who have already made it to the top. Opportunities in Dubai are abundantly available to women, but this will help them recognize those opportunities and make the best use of them.”
3. Know that your ideas are valuable and commercially viable “Everyone in the business world has the power to make a positive contribution to the economy and to the country; no matter how small they think their contributions are, they all make a difference. In my line of work, I come across many young women who either work in the public or private sectors or have their own businesses and the ideas that they share with me are nothing short of impressive.”