A power player in the PR landscape across the MENA region, Maha Abouelenein has done it all - from steering Google in the MENA to launching Netflix. Now, ahead of the launch of her platform Digital and Savvy, she sits with MO4 Network's CEO Amy Mowafi to unveil it all.
A legendary PR queen not just in Egypt but overseas, Maha Abouelenein is not afraid to swim with the sharks - rather the opposite. The restless PR maven, who jumped the corporate ladder from Orascom, to Google, to Netflix, is the mindmaster behind some of the region's most successful tech initiatives, including the creation of the Google Media Academy, which trained more than 4,000 journalists across the MENA region.
A pioneer and a power player who paved the way for multinational companies to land in the Middle East, Abouelenein has played a major role across global startups as well, establishing Google’s communications apparatus in 18 countries across the region from ground zero, launching Netflix in the whole Middle East, and Careem in Egypt. But her impact stretched way beyond PR activities, as she steered impact-driven campaigns such as the launch of the communications department for Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, one of the world's largest education foundation to help thousands of Arab youth access STEM educational scholarships.
Her brainchild, Organizational Consultants, not only amassed international clients throughout the Middle East, including Vodafone, L’Oreal, General Mills, and the Kevin Spacey Foundation, but also served as a consultant to the First Lady of Egypt and the international Communications Advisor for the Prime Minister of Egypt himself. She was also Principal Advisor for the US Department of State’s Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, and was selected as the only internationally-based communications executive to join a six member White House Sprint Team for President Obama.
Now, as she embarks on yet another challenge, setting off to guide and shape the Middle Eastern digital world with her brand new platform Digital and Savvy, Maha Abouelenein entered the Startup Scene's Interview Hub at RiseUp to sit with MO4 Network's CEO Amy Mowafi to unveil her next big ambition.
You set up your business way before anyone talked about an ecosystem, and you’re always 5 steps ahead of the game; you jumped into Google, then Dubai, and now Digital and Savvy. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
I have built my career in communications and PR, and like everything else, the game is changing, how we communicate is changing, and digital marketing is changing communications and PR as well. So I thought to myself: I’d love to create a blog and call it Digital and Savvy, to talk more about what makes good content digital, how can you be a better storyteller, how can you work on Arabic content, or even visual stories.
But we are going to show case studies of the best people in the market; the blog is not about me, it’s about what everyone in the Middle East is doing to be digital and savvy. So we’re going to be a resource for people to se case studies of amazing campaigns, and who is doing great things in social media.
I want it to be a resource for markets around the world. I am very proud to be made in MENA; I am a product of the Middle East region; I made my career here, I built my name here, I learnt so much being here; and I think we have so many incredible stories, and I want the world to know that. So we’re going to put them together in a platform for people to see what we are talking about. Actually, it has a lot of collaborators, the best of the best of the voices. You’re going to see incredible people on the blog, from people that I have access to throughout my career.
Now there are so many entrepreneurs in the ecosystem, but it still remains to be seen if they are really going to go the distance. As someone who’s done that, do you have tips for that kind of sustained success?
I talk to my nephews a lot about this; the first thing is: you have to be a life-long learner. You have to be hungry to always learn. The internet is free, the information is available all the time; it’s boundless and endless and we have unprecedented access to information. I think if I am successful it’s because I m always trying to sharpen my saw, sharpening my skills, trying to teach myself something new, trying to add value and give something back.
The second thing is I’m not afraid to ask for help. I have a network? Use it! I really want people to learn from that. People think I do everything by myself, but I’m like: ‘No, I can’t’, I wouldn’t be able to do it without the team behind the camera and the people that help. Having help has been key to my success. I worked for Naguib [Sawiris], he helped me a lot; I worked for Netflix, they helped me a lot; I worked for Google and they helped me a lot. I rely on a lot of people.
Anytime I see you, you are doing a million different projects, and there’s this infectious energy; so the question is: How do you do it all?
First of all, I work out every morning at 5.30. I start my day by taking care of myself, and I want to make sure that I have energy for the day, and if I don’t get my workout in, I feel super cranky. It’s really important to me.
The second thing is I have managed to block time on my calendar for nothing. I know I always look super busy - and I am super busy - but I want to make sure that I block time to do nothing, and I actually do nothing. Because I think downtime is important for you in order to to have your up time, and that’s something that has really helped me do what I do. That’s why I’m a big big proponent of vacations.
To me, your one of the ultimate bossladies. What is it that makes a great a bosslady?
First of all, this is not cliché, but it’s feeling good in what you are wearing. So getting dressed and feeling confident about how you are dressed; that makes you a good bosslady. Having mentors around you, people that believe in you makes you a good boss lady a well.
This is kind of personal for me, but I also think it's abou having people supporting you to do what you do. My dad really believed in me; Naguib [Sawiris] really believed in me, and having that gave me confidence to do what I needed to do; it’s not about being a boss lady, it’s just that if I want to pursue something, putting my mind to go do it and get it done.
Video and photos by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.
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