Women of Excellence

Maha Abouelenein, Entrepreneur
'Women are empowered now more than ever'

Interview with Maha Abouelenein, MENA Entrepreneur & GTF Board Member
From Google to MENA Entrepreneur or Forging Ahead as Though the Glass Ceiling Doesn't Exist

What are you up to these days?

I have recently resigned as the Head of Communications for Google in MENA. I have become, once again, an entrepreneur! Before joining Google I had my own business - a PR consulting firm in Cairo. I have since expanded my operations with an office in Dubai and I am thrilled to be entrenched in the community again, working with several industries and businesses and doing strategic communications work! Drawing from my experience at Google, we are engaging in online communications - social media and content strategy – as well.

What have you learned from your career with a global giant such as Google?

I learned so much being a Googler and it was a fascinating experience. At Google they teach you a lot about taking risks and learning from failure. They teach you that you don't need to wear a suit to be serious and that innovation can come from anywhere. The best part about Google is the culture. It's an open environment and allows you to be empowered to make change happen. Most of all, I think the fact that despite being a global multinational, Google operates as a startup at heart, which allows you to focus on doing what matters most: putting the needs of your users above all else.

What are the global trends in Communications?

I think there are three main global trends that have changed the industry and will continue to shape the future. The first being social - the whole dimension of users influencing brands and constant connectivity is a real game changer for the industry. How companies and governments alike communicate will have to adapt to the new reality. The number of platforms, channels and distribution choices for information has exploded and this poses real challenges for communicators to get their message out - control the narrative or shape reputation.  The second global trend in communications is how the news industry operates in the age of the Internet and digital communications. Due to the rise of citizen journalists and how people want to receive their news - the news industry has to change how they deliver news to users.  Video plays a key role in storytelling. News can come from anywhere, not necessarily a news organization - who we trust as influencers to deliver the news has also changed and will continue to change. The third global trend has to do with mobiles and applications. It's an app world, and we just live in it. More and more transactions, e-commerce, sales, information sharing and government services take place through applications. The trend is here to stay and only going to increase. For communicators that means learning how to deliver messages to app users. 

Women & glass ceilings- how do we overcome them?

Women have so many more opportunities than ever before to excel and succeed, especially in the Middle East. We overcome glass ceilings by not seeing them and by forging ahead as if they weren't there. I don't like the comparison or the distinction, talent is not gender specific. If you have passion, ambition and drive you can do anything you want. Women are empowered now more than ever - just last week I saw the UAE's first female fighter pilot involved in recent action against ISIS. It was really inspiring and for me that has shattered the glass ceiling!

What have been your personal and professional challenges on your way to building such a successful career?

Being an entrepreneur has its challenges - building a business from ground zero is hard work. Getting the right balance on when to invest and when to hire - finding the right talent, listening to the market and jumping on opportunities at the right time. When you're an entrepreneur the journey never ends. You are constantly learning. You're learning from the market, your colleagues, your employees and yourself. Personally, it was always a challenge to prove to myself I could do this - and succeed. That I wasn't looking at myself as a female entrepreneur but rather just as an entrepreneur. I am always pushing myself to do more and to grow, and learning is an everyday part of my life. Never stop learning or growing – it's how we evolve and add value to ourselves and others.

What is the strongest point of Arab women?

The strongest point of Arab women is how conscientious they are. The Arab woman strikes me as being poised, deliberate and with an inner sense of purpose. I think this is highly related to the culture, the religion and emphasis on righteousness.

What is next for Maha Abouelenein?

Well, I guess we will all find out! I am passionate about my work in communications - I am really excited about building my business in Dubai and the opportunities that exist here. I am also passionate about helping out other young entrepreneurs on their journey - I am interested in doing lots of mentoring and training. I learn so much from working with fellow entrepreneurs and we face common challenges so it's great to learn from one another.

Maha Abouelenein is the former Head of Communications for Google in MENA. She recently returned to her roots as an entrepreneur, however, leaving Google and expanding her own PR consulting firm from its original office in Cairo to an additional one in Dubai.