emirati women
Zahra Habib Al Darwish, Thoraya Al Awadhi and Naema Abdelrahman Al Mansoori Image Credit: Supplied
Zahra Habib Al Darwish

Zahra Habib Al Darwish

Founder and CEO of Boxoutuae and Sit.Play.Jump

In her illustrious career, Engineer Zahra Al Darwish has successfully navigated diverse industries such as banking, airlines, facility management, and insurance. She has assumed various roles, including those of an entrepreneur, quality and services specialist, speaker and novelist.

Each role holds a unique significance in shaping her personality, she believes. Beyond her professional endeavors, Zahra is also a wife and a mother of four. ‘People ask me how I don these different hats so effortlessly. The answer is that I just adjust my ‘hat’ according to the demands of different occasions and locations,’ she says.

One of Zahra’s most vivid childhood memories revolves around the time she got lost near the beach close to her home. A compassionate police officer found her and, to console her, carried her to a nearby grocery store where he bought her candy. The person at the supermarket recognised her and they both escorted her back home. It was then that Zahra realised the entire colony had been searching for her since her disappearance.

‘I realised how fortunate I was to be surrounded by kind individuals who genuinely cared for one another. Back then, the entire colony felt like a single family.’ says Zahra.

One of her biggest inspirations is her father Habib whose unwavering perseverance and cheerful nature are qualities Zahra tries to emulate. ‘He never lets anyone close to him feel depressed or hopeless, and never fails to come home with a gift, no matter how small, and a note saying, ‘I saw this and I thought you would love it’,’ says Zahra, who believes the more you give the more you get.

When it comes to strong, powerful women, her mother Rabab is her true role model. ‘She always encourages me to take care of my family and myself; she has the ability to make me calm and happy.’

Graduating with merit from Wolverhampton University in UK with an MBA in leadership strategy, Zahra joined the corporate sector and worked in it for over a decade and half before initiating Sit.Jump.Play, in 2016, a venture aimed at infusing cultural events with a modern twist. Through these gatherings, she actively supports altruistic programs such as Union Day events at the special needs center and back-to-school initiatives for orphans, among others.

In 2018, Zahra ventured into e-commerce with the establishment of Boxoutuae and Findgigs.

Her dream of becoming an author materialised in 2020 with the release of her book, Messages to my Daughter. This collection of mini stories recounts situations involving her eldest daughter, offering valuable advice to new mothers on navigating their relationships with their daughters. Zahra has included a diary at the end for mothers to record memories and instances that may aid in resolving differences. ‘The book also provides insights for fathers into the intricacies of the mother-daughter bond,’ she says.

Another literary venture was the novel Frozen Tears which went on to win at the Arabic Writing Competition of the Aqder Program.

Remember, your dreams are not mere fantasies; they are blueprints for a better tomorrow. Nurture them, fuel them with determination, and work tirelessly to turn them into reality

- Zahra Habib Al Darwish

Being an Emirati, Zahra is extremely proud of the visionary leaders for putting the country in the forefront of success. ‘They are always in front of us, directing and guiding us on what to do and accomplish in life. They say, ‘you are our pride’, which implies that you are accountable for all you say and do. Stating that we are Emirati means we are the best everywhere we go, which leaves us overwhelmed yet empowered.’

As a mother, Zahra is keen on passing this feeling of Emirati empowerment to her children. She inculcated a love for space and rockets into her son Mohammed by setting up a telescope on their roof, which in turn inspired him to build his own model rocket. ‘He was featured on Fujairah TV and now dreams of joining the army and serving his country as a pilot,’ beams Zahra with pride. Her eldest daughter Hessa, who inspired her first book, is now planning to write her own book after witnessing her mother’s success. Her third daughter Fatima was runner up for a UAE ski team, while her youngest daughter Hoor is an art enthusiast who frequently participates in art shows.

Zahra believes that the youth of the country are the architects of the future, the driving force of change, and the heartbeat of progress. ‘Remember, your dreams are not mere fantasies; they are blueprints for a better tomorrow. Nurture them, fuel them with determination, and work tirelessly to turn them into reality,’ is her advice to them.

A member of Emirates Volunteers, Zahra is grateful to her husband Abdulla Al Rahma for his support. ‘He encourages me to follow my dreams and takes extra care of the kids when I am busy with work and other projects,’ says the emirati, who was named Top Diplomat in the UAE Delegation to Turkey, and has garnered many awards including the Gulf Achievers Award, Female Founders Award and Global Women Leadership award.

Zahra believes the youth of the country are the architects of the future, and the heartbeat of progress. ‘Remember, your dreams are not mere fantasies; they are blueprints for a better tomorrow’

Thoraya Al Awadhi

Thoraya Al Awadhi

Entrepreneur and social worker

Thoraya Al Awadhi’s biggest inspiration is her father Abdullah Haji Kamber Al Awadhi, who was an affluent businessman in Dubai. In the early 1960s, he built a charity wing in the Maktoum hospital, one of the first hospitals in Dubai.

After her marriage, Thoraya went to the US with her husband who was pursuing his PhD there. She also did her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Southern California. One of her fondest memories from back then is when she entered the Miss International competition in her university. ‘I was a bit reluctant as my English was not up to mark, but my friends encouraged me to join and represent the UAE. To my surprise, I ended up clinching the title! It proved to me that anyone can achieve a lot with a little encouragement.’

Returning to Dubai after a 10-year stint in US, Thoraya decided not to pursue a career because she did not want to leave her children in the care of nannies or maids. ‘I felt they were my first priority at the time, but I knew that once they were on their own feet, I would do something that fulfilled my ambitions. I have always believed in the maxim that age is just a number and your drive to excel is what keeps you going.’

Inspired by her father, Thuraya supports charity organizations aimed for the people of determination such as Al-Noor School and Rashid School for Determinations. She arranges events for them and invites prominent businessmen to support them as well.

On the home front, her five daughters and two sons have been honed by their mother to emulate Emirati values like respect, kindness and tolerance towards all people and cultures. All her daughters are highly educated from top universities across the globe, and like their mom, they also pursued careers after their children were grown up.

‘There is no point in giving lectures to children and forcing them to do things,’ says Thuraya. ‘If you want them to have a good upbringing, I believe you should be there for them and show them how to live a good life.’

In 2007, she began her entrepreneurial journey after her children were grown up and well settled. Being a late bloomer in the field, she recognized the untapped opportunities for many talented women such as herself and dedicated herself to supporting them in realizing their business goals. Apart from her solid business acumen, she has an unparalleled network in her professional and personal life. Her profound understanding of the UAE and other Middle Eastern cultures has allowed numerous companies to foster invaluable and lasting relationships in the region over the past decade. ‘My special gift is of helping people and bringing out the best in them,’ she says with a tinge of pride and humility.

‘There is no point in giving lectures to children and forcing them to do things. If you want them to have a good upbringing, I believe you should be there for them and show them how to live a good life.

- Thoraya Al Awadhi

Today, the Thoraya Al Awadhi Group of Companies has become a popular platform for startups and new companies in the region who are seeking to establish their presence in local and regional markets. ‘Our main clientele consists of women entrepreneurs and companies whose products are tailored for women.’

Thoraya is the founder of a clutch of companies specializing in varied areas like exhibitions and conferences, health care, fashion, interior design, public relations, real estate investment and more.

From her experience, she encourages older women whose kids have grown up to turn their passion into a business. ‘I know a lot of women who are good at cooking or designing to start a small food service or to design abayas or accessories. In my exhibition, I ensure that there are a lot of such home grown enterprises along with big exhibitors so that they can network well and boost their business. It’s gratifying when they come to me after a few years and say they have opened their own shop.’

In 2013, Thoraya became the first Emirati businesswoman to organize the largest exhibition in the World Trade Center, in which more than 100 exhibitors from different countries of the world participated.

She is also a founder member of the Emirates Business Women Council.

Thuraya attributes her success to the visionary leaders of UAE who have given ample opportunities for their citizens to thrive. ‘We are a society who hold our roots very deeply. Yet we are progressive in our thoughts to embrace new ideas and implement them. Our leaders believe that women are half of the society, and the other half are raised by women. I am blessed to be born in this country which fosters gender equality, safety and allows people from all over the world to grow and thrive.’

Naema Abdelrahman Al Mansoori

Naema Abdelrahman Al Mansoori

Director of Blind Care Management at Zayed Higher Organisation for People of Determination

For the last 31 years, Naema Al Mansoori has been widely recognised by society as the ‘Mother of the Blind,’ a title she proudly embraces.

Even in her childhood, she exhibited a deep passion for humanitarian and volunteer work. As a primary school student, she assumed the leadership role in Girl Guides, motivating her team to extend support to students, particularly those with special needs. ‘I am proud of the title (Mother of the Blind) as working with sincerity and dedication for visually impaired is the reason for my success, and the source of all goodness in my life,’ says this Emirati.

It was while she was in her second year at UAE University in 1992 that she first engaged in teaching at blind care centers. She took personal initiatives and conducted negotiations with the Ministry of Education, with the objective of fostering the integration of the visually challenged into mainstream schools.

Upon graduating, Naema achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first Emirati to be fluent in Braille and subsequently became a teacher at a school catering to children with physical disabilities. Her commitment expanded as she took on the role of a class teacher for physically disabled students, and played a crucial role in facilitating the enrollment of visually challenged students in rehabilitation centers in Abu Dhabi, arranging specialized Braille training courses in Bahrain with the assistance of the Emirates Association. In Sharjah, she collaborated with international experts to enhance the education of visually impaired children and others with determination.

Her prime source of inspiration in life are her young students who are visually challenged. ‘[From them] I learn the strength of will, persistence, and determination to overcome difficulties and strive to achieve goals. I love them and like to call them people of vision, because with their insight, they were able to achieve what sighted people cannot,’ says the mother who supports events and activities that contribute to the integration of people of determination, the elderly, and Emirati women, such as supervising the Al Ghadeer Project to support Emirati women and the Preservation of Grace Project, affiliated with the Emirates Red Crescent Authority.

I am proud of the title (Mother of the Blind) as working with sincerity and dedication for visually impaired is the reason for my success, and the source of all goodness in my life

- Naema Abdelrahman Al Mansoori

Apart from integrating the visually challenged into various educational levels, she takes keen interest to find out the details of preparing the educational infrastructure for them, the appropriate components for their education, and the provision of devices and assistive technology.

Naema has five children and three grandchildren. She has instilled a deep love for the country and the positive values of charitable work and volunteering in each of them. Her grandkids accompany her to many of her volunteering events.

‘It is my duty as a mother and a citizen to cultivate positive values of belonging to the homeland which can be given back through social work. Whatever work I do will remain with them and they will pay it forward in the future,’ she says.

Naema has worked at the Zayed Higher Organisation where she established the country’s first Braille printing press.

Amongst all her humanitarian efforts and volunteering stints, the closest to her heart are those that ensure people with disabilities have all they need – from effective signboards to ramps and other measures for greater accessibility.

‘I would like to strengthen their role in different sectors, starting with providing suitable environments to their education and employment areas. The UAE has made many of these services available but we should continue to seek to improve and add to them,’ she says.

‘My goals and plans for the future are in accordance with the vision of the wise leadership. My (special needs) students are always with me in volunteer work, and I make sure to encourage them to work for raising the status of the country, according to their special abilities,’ she says.