Seizing the initiative
“I didn’t wait for anyone to pave the road for me,” says filmmaker Nayla Al Khaja, “It was my hard work that got me where I am.”
There was a time when such a forthright statement from a woman living in the UAE would have been considered remarkable, but such inspirational views are becoming increasingly commonplace as the Middle East evolves. Nayla has been breaking new ground in the world of film – both as the first female film director and producer in the UAE and as the first Emirati to have a project accepted into the Cannes Film Festival. And it is pioneering women like Nayla that have, in turn, proved the inspiration behind #Drive Defines Her.
This important new Porsche initiative seeks to leverage the company’s global reach and influence to both support and shine a spotlight on a highly visible and influential group of women across the Gulf states – from Saudi Arabia to the UAE to Kuwait. These women are seizing the opportunity to not only achieve success in roles traditionally dominated by men, but to provide proud examples to the young women of the region of what they can achieve. Women who are – figuratively and literally – driving change.
The power within
Like Nayla, Hend Almatrouk has excelled in the creative sphere. An award-winning Kuwaiti architect who is a partner in her own urban architecture agency, Hend recognises that there are challenges for competing on the same terms as men. But for her, this should no longer hold any fear for the women of this new Middle East. Where does her power come from? Like so many of the women that #Drive Defines Her is throwing its spotlight on, that power comes from the inside. “Nothing can stop a woman from setting her own goals and pursuing them,” she enthuses.
In the case of Saudi Arabia’s Adwa Al Dakheel, those goals are both business and personal, whether it’s learning how to fly, playing the guitar – she keeps an instrument in her office, for when the creative urge takes her – or teaching herself the fundamentals of currency trading. “Staying in our comfort zones limits our potential,” says Adwa. “Female empowerment begins from within. You have a gift and that is the chance to invest in yourself, day after day, to be the best person you can be.”
Staying in our comfort zones limits our potential. Female empowerment begins from within
More than anything, she sees herself as an adventurer, someone exploring previously uncharted territories for the generation before. That includes travelling to Bangladesh in 2017 to act as a mentor for the UN.
Sharing the knowledge
For Porsche Middle East and Africa (MEA), the #Drive Defines Her campaign is more than just paying lip service – there are uplifting stories to be found within the organisation itself. Here, as across the Middle East, glass ceilings are being smashed. As legal and compliance director, Shurooq Zainal is the first female Emirati to join the director team at Porsche MEA, based in Dubai. A mentor for young people for UAE Ministry of Youth Affairs’ Youth Hub, for her, success comes from a quest for continual self-improvement, particularly on those skills she finds most difficult to conquer.
“I love to learn new things and be good at it,” says Shurooq. “Knowing that my story could empower or motivate other women to overcome challenges in life? This is what inspires me every day.”
Her Porsche colleague, German-born Aileen Fahr, has swapped a career in the emergency unit of a hospital for one in a senior position in the fast-paced, high-pressure world of Porsche’s regional sales team. “The key to empowerment is to see the value in myself,” she reflects. “It’s a gift that as women we should not hold onto – but pass on freely.”
Confident. And unstoppable
Importantly, while the women that Porsche is focusing on with #Drive Defines Her are united in their aim to improve opportunities for women across the Middle East, the benefits are being felt by all of society. As a force, it feels unstoppable.
“A powerful woman to me is someone who embraces her fragility, and her strength,” says Nayla Al Khaja. “When you know what you want, you are comfortable with yourself and you're at peace. Then, confidence just becomes a beautiful fabric that you can wear every day.”