Dr. Amina Al Rustamani, Group Chief Executive Officer of TECOM Group, a member of Dubai Holding, opposes the usual clichés that women, especially those living and working in the UAE, allegedly have to contend with each day. “I was exposed to different sectors where I used to be the only female in the room,” she says. “The challenges we often hear about, actually don’t have anything to do with the sector or the culture, but it is all about believing in yourself and putting your efforts in to really move forward. This is a piece of advice that applies to both males and females: enjoy what you do.”
Dr. Al Rustamani is proof of how important are a castiron belief in oneself and, as in her case, in one’s country and its leaders, for achieving continuous success, both personally and professionally. It was in 2001 that she joined TECOM Business Parks, a part of TECOM Group, as a project engineer, and quickly moved up the ranks, eventually taking control of this umbrella organization for many of Dubai’s free zones. In 2013, she came at the helm of the whole TECOM Group, leading its efforts to play a major role in the UAE National Agenda to achieve Vision 2021, and transform the country into an innovation-led economy. The group has spearheaded the development of 11 business communities across seven industry sectors: information technology, design, media, education, science, wholesale and manufacturing. Today, Dr. Al Rustamani is also a board member of the National Media Council, Dubai Media Incorporated, Dubai Healthcare City Authority (DHCA), Emirates Central Cooling Systems Corporation (Empower), and the Higher Dubai Smart City Initiative Committee. Furthermore, she currently serves as the President and a member of the Board of Directors of the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI), an educational institution offering the first bachelor of design degree in the region. Dr. Al Rustamani also launched Dubai Wholesale City and supported the launch of Dubai Industrial Strategy, aiming to elevate Dubai into a global platform for knowledge-based, sustainable and innovationfocused businesses.
More recently, Dr. Al Rustamani has become the force behind Dubai’s efforts to become an innovative global fashion, design and business center by being appointed as the Chairperson of the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC). In 2013, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, formed the DDFC, a member of the Dubai Creative Clusters Authority (DCCA), with a mandate to raise the profile of Dubai as a regional and global destination for design and fashion, develop local talent, and attract companies operating in the fields of design and fashion to the city. “Every project has its own challenges and, to be honest, this sector has been something completely different for me,” Dr. Al Rustamani says. “I see a lot of opportunities in it, but at the beginning there were many things in terms of regulation and support that still hadn’t been established. So, it was more about how fast we were able to tick all the boxes than about challenges and limitations. The fashion community is growing in a significant way and the interest in design, even of the wider society, is growing, so it is now the matter of keeping pace with the potential that we have here. Many things have happened in the last four years and I hope that we will continue being able to deliver. It is very exciting, and what is nice about it is that the whole fashion community is interested to be a part of this. I really appreciate that, and that is why we are successful.”
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Dr. Al Rustamani has also championed the development of Dubai Design District (d3), a purpose-built creative destination for the region’s design industry. It is at d3 that we met for the launch of the DDFC Membership, a platform to support UAE-based designers through talent development and business support initiatives. “Designers are engineered in a different way,” she says when asked how resilient local designers are when facing criticism. “They love to try something new and they are not scared of failure. Design is all about practice and you can see that in their nature and how they deal with things. They don’t shy away from taking that risk. What is important and what we would like to focus on with this membership program is the support for their different needs. Every designer has different needs, but what I see to be common for all of them is the lack of financial and business skills. We also need to connect them with the right networks. So, that will be our focus from now on. Of course, for example, some of them have the talent and you can see it, but they need to shape their knowledge and skills to take them to the next level.”
The DDFC Membership will enable designers to participate in local and international events and awards, but it will also support more established design companies in Dubai and the region by offering them access to young talents across various fields and segments of design. The reasons for Dr. Al Rustamani’s work on facilitating this cooperation are plenty- the MENA design sector is still a predominantly importoriented industry where locally produced design goods and services account for approximately 35% of the total market size, according to the MENA Design Outlook study, released by DDFC in collaboration with d3. When it comes to nurturing and supporting local talent, she again states that gender is of little importance. “I see significant interest from local female designers,” she says. “I was actually surprised because in our culture you would expect to find more male designers. We have a few very interesting success stories of male UAE nationals as jewelry designers, and so on. However, I see here that the interest of female designers is much higher than expected. In any case, I always say that gender does not matter, it is all about talent and the right support for it to develop.” “I think it is very important for women to support other women, to connect with them, share the experience and knowledge,” she adds. “That is very important. Each one of us has a different journey, but we are all very much blessed with the support women get from the government here. And, you have to earn it. It’s not that you will get it just because you are a female.”