Entrepreneurship With A Cultural Twist

By Silvia Radan
Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Close to two dozen Emirati entrepreneurs graduated from a program focused on helping them to build social enterprises. The first year of the program included lectures and seminars by experts from abroad while the second year included a private mentorship where they had the opportunity to build a business. Some of the businesses created included an Emirati cultural tour operation and an online art gallery.


Emirati Noura Al Serkal had been thinking of starting an interior designing business for a while. And so, when the opportunity came to enroll in a cultural entrepreneurship program and learn how to make money from a cultural business for the community, Noura grabbed it with both hands.

She was one of the 23 established and emerging Emirati creative professionals accepted for the Cultural Excellence Fellowship (CEF), a rather unique initiative of the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF) and the British Council in association with Mubadala.

This was two years ago. On Wednesday night, Noura and her fellow cultural entrepreneurs received their course completion diploma in a ceremony held at the majlis of Shaikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development.

“In the first year of the program, we had lectures and seminars held by experts from abroad, teaching us how to build social enterprises,” Noura told Khaleej Times. “Then, in the second year, private mentorship started, where we had to build a business, to create something positive for the community.

“I found the program very useful. When I entered it, I never did think about a business that could improve the community, so it changed my perspective. Another big plus was that I got to learn from experts, people who run festivals and cultural events abroad, and it was nice to be able to ask them questions.”

Launched in 2014, the two-year CEF sought to inspire and equip Emirati citizens with the skills and knowledge to pursue creative entrepreneurship and careers in cultural industries.

During this first-of-its-kind initiative in the UAE, the 23 participants undertook over 180 hours of training and over 150 hours of mentorship with leading experts across four countries — UAE, UK, Lebanon and Kuwait.

In the final part of the fellowship, they had to present complete business plans to a panel of judges consisting of Sir Jonathan Mills, director of Edinburgh International Culture Summit, Mohammed Abdul Latif Kanoo, ADMAF advisor, businessman and artist, and John Newbigin, chairman of Creative England.

Among the presented business plans, which had to have a positive impact on the community, were an Emirati cultural tour operator, a digital platform for contemporary Emirati identity, a playground development company and an online art gallery.

“As the first program of its kind in the UAE, we have worked closely with the British Council to ensure CEF’s success,” said Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo, founder of ADMAF. “It is inspiring to see the exciting paths these Emiratis are already venturing upon and I cannot wait to see the ways in which they will contribute to the development of the sector and of society.”

Offering structured mentorship and training over the course of two years, workshops addressed subjects such as Business Planning, Audience Development, Financial Management, Strategic Marketing, Impact Evaluation, Community Engagement and Cultural Sustainability.

“It has been an incredible journey watching the next generation of CEF Fellows grow into cultural leaders, and we are sure that we will continue to work very closely with them next year when our UK-UAE Year of Culture kicks off,” said Marc Jessel, director of British Council UAE.

A long term initiative, the second CEF program will soon open for applications.

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