Laila Rihawi ’02
Laila Rihawi currently lives in Abu Dhabi, where she works as Content Lead on the Abu Dhabi Digital Authority’s TAMM project, a first-of-its-kind initiative digitizing and integrating the UAE capital’s government services into one portal for citizens, residents, and investors.
Laila started attending Awty in 1994, along with her brother Sammy and graduated in 2002. Laila has used her love for words as well as her bilingual skills to navigate through a career in various marketing, public relations, digital, and communications roles in multiple sectors and industries, including advertising, shipping, oil & gas, education, hospitality, travel & tourism and most recently, government.
We are so proud to feature him in this month’s Alumni Spotlight!
1. When did you join Awty? How did you hear about the school? When did you graduate from Awty?
I started attending Awty in 1994 when I entered the 5th grade. My parents heard about the school and they were attracted by how diverse Awty truly was as well as the IB program, so they enrolled both me and my brother, Sammy. I graduated in the class of 2002.
2. What person, course, or experience most influenced you while at Awty? How?
I wasn’t always the strongest in math and science, but through IB Physics with Mr. Robert Sload, I learned to persevere, to challenge myself, and if I just set aside my nerves, I could overcome obstacles. I’ll never forget the ‘happy dance’ we would do as a class whenever we were solving for missing variables in a physics equation. Funny enough, I found myself dancing in my seat two decades later when I learned how particular revenues were calculated while working in e-commerce for the hospitality industry.
3. Share your favorite memory of Awty:
There are honestly too many.
4. How did your education and experience at Awty prepare you for what you did in college and/or are doing today?
My education at Awty set the foundation on which I would end up building my career. My English, History, and Theater classes at Awty played a huge role in shaping my love for storytelling. Through a well-written story, fact or fiction, you can influence even the most discerning of mindsets. Through a well-delivered address, whether given to one colleague or a room of 500 people, you connect on an emotional level with others and inspire them somehow.
In the last nearly two decades since graduating from Awty, I have used my love for words to navigate through a career in various marketing, public relations, digital, and communications roles in multiple sectors and industries, including advertising, shipping, oil & gas, education, hospitality, travel & tourism and most recently, government.
5. What college did you attend and what did you study?
In 2006, I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin (Hook ‘em!).
6. Describe your current job and the path you took to get there. What do you love about your job?
Currently, I am a Content Lead on the Abu Dhabi Digital Authority’s TAMM project, a first-of-its-kind initiative digitizing and integrating the UAE capital’s government services into one portal for citizens, residents, and investors. What do I love about this job? Everything I’ve learned over the years, I am able to apply daily; from relationship-building, capitalizing on my bilingual skills, devising digital and online strategies, creating customer-centric content, and, most importantly, leading people with integrity and compassion.
The path I took to make it here was definitely not linear, but honestly, the journey has been priceless. In retrospect, I really began to realize my passion for storytelling when I was a Communications Specialist at the American Bureau of Shipping and I used to interview senior engineers about their personal aspirations and their families, then share their stories in the internal monthly magazine. After that post, I taught non-native English speakers the art of verbal and written communications while I was working with Language Direct. When I moved to the UAE in 2012, it was the hospitality industry that took me under its wing and taught me about branding, marketing, and how storytelling weaves into the mix to establish emotional connections with guests. I started at a public relations consultancy where I had hospitality and tourism clients and then I joined the opening team of The St. Regis Abu Dhabi as the hotel’s PR Manager.
It was an amazing opportunity, and the hotel itself as a product was absolutely breathtaking, so promoting it was easy. But after nearly three years, I wanted to redefine my already enhanced skills by exploring other related roles within hospitality, so I shifted to the Digital Field Marketing team at the then-Starwood's Middle East regional office in Dubai, where I was also appointed the Arabic-language lead for the company’s Europe, Africa & Middle East division. Additionally, I took on the role as the region's social media champion, where I gave workshops and trainings on content creation and social media best practices. Finally, post-merge with Marriott International (yes, there was a global merger happening in the background!) I was assigned to focus on a portfolio of hotels in Saudi Arabia & Bahrain, where I had the unique opportunity to travel into the kingdoms to drive their digital marketing and e-commerce efforts.
It was after these achievements that I decided to return to storytelling through the role of Public Relations Manager at Yas Island Abu Dhabi, one of the world's fastest growing leisure and entertainment destinations, where I told stories to inspire local and global visitors to create their own narratives. The rest is history.
7. What advice would you give current Awty students interested in pursuing a career in your field?
I would give a few pieces of advice:
Think outside of the box: Don’t limit yourself to a job or a role because it’s practical or logical. Appreciate all the things that make you unique and make it all work for your advantage. When I wasn’t able to find a job as a journalist, I looked for opportunities where I could still capitalize on my love for writing. Role after subsequent role, you will never stop learning and you will continuously evolve.
Be persistent: My first job was as an account assistant at an ad agency. Granted it was a glorified office manager role, I still made sure to build solid relationships with the account managers and designers in between setting up the boardroom for the CFO’s meetings and brewing coffee. I was determined to show that I was more than just a bubbly fresh grad. That persistence eventually led to me actually working with the campaign content being created by the Accounts and Creative teams. I had to start somewhere!
Create a portfolio: Whether it’s just a filing folder with random pages torn from journals and clips of published pieces, a blog where you upload everything and link out to work you've written, or just use an online folder on iCloud or Google drive - consolidate everything you’ve worked on into one place. One day someone will ask you for samples of your work.
8. What is something people may not know about you?
I love to knit! Granted, I’ve only learned a few stitches and patterns, but knitting is a great way to practice mindfulness, get creative, and just relax.
9. Anything else you would like to share?
I hope to return and complete my teaching certificate one day so I can make a move to the education sector. Whether through teaching or counseling, I’d like to use the role of an educator as a platform to share my professional and personal experiences and learnings with students and hopefully inspire them to embrace their own potential to grow.