Founding Head of Corporate Affairs, Brand Protection & Social Impact, MBC
Founder & Host of the Online Talk Show, Milestone
Senior Consultant, UN Women
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a proud mother of two boys. I am an Egyptian by origin, but I consider myself a global citizen. It gives me pride and great joy looking back on the work that I’ve done in the region and the world when it comes to the humanitarian field and sustainability.
Advocating for youth empowerment is on of my passions. Being a voice for women’s development and leadership is also one of my lifelong vocations. I’m also a true believer of humanising brands—brands with purpose.
I’ve been lucky enough to join different sectors. I have 20 years of experience in sustainable development, humanitarian communication, and brand protection. I also have experience working with the United Nations for supporting women, working with small NGOs in Egypt, and U.N. High Commissioner for refugees where I worked on refugee protection and asylum seekers. From there, I joined the PR Agency world where I worked with Weber Shandwick and companies in the private sector who needed a little bit of guidance when it came to their public affairs and communication with purpose.
I worked with Nescafe, Proctor and Gamble, Majid Al Futtaim, Coke Cola, Sony, and many more. I had the honour of joining the Dubai Government Community Development Authority, where I worked alongside brilliant Emiratis, both young and seniors who are very compassionate and yet are very serious and knowledgeable.
From there, I went into academia, which is where I found my passion for being with students. I discovered my passion for mentorship, for talent development, youth empowerment and development. Being with the youth of today really brings out the best in me. They inspire me so much. I feel like it's a never-ending cycle of learning. The exchange between us is contagious. It's almost magical. Working with the youth is a crossover between youth development and advocating for the private sector's and brand's role in sustainable development and particularly developing their communities. Creating jobs, empowering women, giving women a voice and a platform to be financially independent, to lead their own lives, to create their own futures and to have a say in what is going on in the world.
When did you consider yourself a success?
Success for me means changing people’s lives, inspiring someone to make a change in their life. Clicking with someone and giving them that Aha! moment. I consider myself a success every time I communicate with another human being, regardless of age, gender, background and culture.
When I connect with someone on a soul and heart level—on an inspirational level—and I inspire someone to take on their path and really find their purpose, find and pursue their whys, start taking action, start taking hold of their future and bettering their situation, this is when I consider myself a success: when I actually help someone make a change and inspire someone to take on that change for a better future.What are you passionate about?
I’m most passionate about really helping people achieve their dreams. Be it women, youth, children having access to school and quality education, brands willing to humanise their business and align their business goals with a purpose and impact on humanity. I work a lot with NGOs, board of directors for non-profit organisations, and among other private sector leaders and high net worth individual people and philanthropists. I do a lot of pro bono work. I pride myself in rubbing shoulders and working side by side with these amazing inspirational leaders that never tire of making a difference. I’m passionate about creating a better place for the youth, and for my sons.
What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
Travel the world: experience different cultures and different backgrounds. I travelled, but I didn't travel enough. I was in a hurry. When I was in high school, I was in a hurry to graduate and get to university. When I was in university, I was in a hurry to volunteer, do part-time work and gain the experience I needed to get the job that I wanted. When I graduated, I was in a hurry to pursue my Master's. I went to London University of Westminster and finished my Master's in International Relations and Political Theory. After that, I was in a hurry to get the job of my dreams. I joined the United Nations literally three weeks after I finished university.
I was constantly running, constantly in a hurry. I was scared to lose that right on the train. Throughout that journey (which I am grateful for) I forgot to travel. I have a passion for travelling and experiencing different cultures, different cuisines and meeting different people. Sitting with them, talking about different ideologies, exchanging different beliefs, debating different issues, learning from each other and inspiring one another. I forgot to do that because I was in a hurry. If you're listening to me, then stop, take a break, travel, learn, take a moment to breathe and then come back. The choices you feel are important, but they can wait.
What is your advice to the next generation of female leaders?
My advice is, know your value. Never ever compromise on your worth. The problem with women globally, not just in the region but the world, is that we compromise—we tend to doubt ourselves, which often leaves us compromising on our worth. We do not negotiate our salaries, we don’t negotiate our packages, and we don’t ask for more. We settle for what they give us. We don’t go for what we think we deserve.
To all those about to embark on your professional journey, know your value, and never ever compromise on your worth. If they don’t offer you a seat on the decision-making table, then bring a chair. If they don’t ask for your opinion, make sure you give it anyway. Work hard and develop yourself. Don’t be afraid to be human. Don’t be afraid to be a woman in a man’s world. Right now, we need to create our own future. We should complement each other and not take away from each other. Embrace your femininity but never compromise on your worth.
What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs to invest their time in?
They should focus on how to make a difference in bettering the world. They should research more on the Sustainable Development Goals and find a way to align themselves with these humanitarian objectives for them to make an impact the world that they thrive in and for the communities they profit from. This is the only way they’ll be respected and gain customer loyalty and thrive in a business environment. It’s not just about profit. It’s about profit, planet and people. If you invest in your people and invest in our planet, the profit will come.
What suggestions do you have in practising and refining your pitch?
We really need to know our purpose and our whys very well. We need to understand our brand and be very passionate about it. If we have an elevator pitch and we don’t understand our brand and purpose, what kind of impact we’re bringing to this world and to customers, we will lose the investor. If the investor feels we don’t understand the brand and the product, we will lose the opportunity. Focus on the purpose and the product.
Tell us about a time you had to deal with failure and how you overcame it.
It was when I got married and moved with my husband to Paris. At the time, I had a great position at the United Nations. I had just started being on the international roster, and things were looking great.
When I met my husband, I decided to give that all up and move to Paris, where he was located. When I got there, it was a difficult first two years. I couldn't find a job and looked everywhere. I was crushed. I felt like a failure. Even a volunteering job wouldn't take me in. I'm a very active person, and I had nothing to do. I decided to learn French. I made a few friends and life was a little bit more bearable. However, I still felt like a failure, but I didn't give in. I tried to put myself back together every day.
To come out of the difficult situation, which was affecting my marriage, I decided to move elsewhere. I came to Dubai and found a job here. My husband followed after he found a job here. Fifteen years later, here we are. We needed to find a place where we both could co-exist, and Paris was not one of them.
If we're sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great 12 months it's been for you, what did we achieve together?
I would be celebrating my company. We would be celebrating the launching of my social enterprise and focusing more on humanising brands, working with companies who are looking to humanise their product, looking to dig deep into their business with purpose and to align their business goals with their sustainable development goals of 2030. My expertise is to connect the dots between brands, NPO and the media. It’s an important milestone as I’m going from being part of a big network and conglomerate to helping many others launch their social enterprise and mentoring youth and leaders on how to partner. That is a win-win.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
Move forward. Look at the past and learn from our mistakes but move forward and keep going. Don't look right or left, just look ahead. In my life, I've met many people who have helped me, but in any journey, there will be people who will put you down. Those people are going through their own issues. Perhaps they want to achieve what you have, but don't have the power to get to that level. I wish these people well. I pray for their internal peace. I don't hold any grudges. What I try to do is keep my eye on the prize.
Name 2 books you recommend and why
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and Empowering Women by Louise L. Hay.
What podcasts do you listen to inspire or learn from?
This is Netflix and TEDx.
Who inspires you with awe, and why?
My mother is my true inspiration with all the awe in the world. My mother had two strokes. The first one left her with brain damage, and she was unaware of anything for a few months. It also made her entire left side paralysed, but my mother is a warrior. She inspired me all my life. She was a single mother of three wonderful children. She worked harder than anyone I know to raise, educate and give us a life that was blessed, happy and motivating. She worked 48 hours in 24 hours to provide a good life for us. Was she always there—no—but she was always there. The time she did spend with me was quality time.
She loved life. She did Zumba classes at the age of 82 till the day she had the stroke. Although now she's broken, she's still full of life. She's still dancing with one hand, one arm, one leg. She smiles, laughs, and she makes jokes. Now, her brain is functioning normally. She's still so inspirational, the way she picked up herself. She was a divorcee in the 60s, which was very taboo in Egypt. She then started a business to support her family. That was unheard of at the time. That was a difficult career shift. She was a TV presenter and rowing and swimming champion for Egypt. She had to give all that up because it didn't pay the bills, so she started with real estate. For me, she is my warrior. My mother was an entrepreneur in the 70s when things that we have today didn't exist. She did it all by herself with dignity on one shoulder and resilience and grit on the other with love for her children in her heart.
How do you look after your mental health?
I look after it by exercising and watching sitcoms I really like. I do pilates three times a week and walk every single day. This is how I get the stress out and look after my mental health. This time to myself is precious. I need it to continue taking care of everything around me. I like to end my day with sitcoms. I love Friends. I’ve been watching it since 1994 and will never stop. I also like Modern Family and other sitcoms. I like to laugh. I don’t like to watch movies or shows that would bring me sadness or would scare me. Something else I do is to be surrounded by friends. The lockdown was very hard on me because I needed people around me. I also use the app Headspace, which helps with my anxiety.
What’s that one quote you live by?
“Fear does not prevent death. It prevents life.” - Naguib Mahfouz
Follow Mariam Farag on LinkedIn