Áhlam Bolooki: An Avid Reader and A Successful Implementer

Ahlam Bolooki

Literature has been enhancing our lives since dawn of time, and so has reading culture. With a view to promoting the culture of reading and the richness of stories in all their forms, the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature was launched in 2009 with 65 authors. It has grown continually, and in 2020 it hosted 205 authors from countries around the world to entertain and educate tens of thousands of visitors. The artistic vision and its development are taken care by its Director, Ahlam Bolooki. With her love for books, Ahlam has taken this festival to the next level.  

In an interview with CIO Look, Ahlam shares a glimpse of her journey and how this festival is captivating its visitors from different corners of the world.  

Below are the highlights of the interview:  

Kindly take us through your journey.  

Before joining the Festival, I spent many years working with Dubai Tourism, most recently as Head of Regional Campaigns. There is a lot of synergy between the two roles, and I learned a lot that I bring with me to this role.  

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a role model. A mentor is even better. Everybody needs someone to learn from no matter how high up the ladder we reach. 

Look around you and see if there is anyone who is demonstrating the values you want to stay true to. If you don’t have someone in your organisation, then look further afield. Read books by successful women. Watch TED talks, listen to podcasts and continue feeding your mind.  

How do you diversify your organization’s offerings to entice the target audience?  

We know our audience, but to make sure we are on the right track, we ask for their opinion on a continuous basis. As a Foundation, we balance the desires of the audience with the needs of our community, which is how we have arrived where we are today: with the biggest literature Festival in the Middle East, a plethora of competitions, a wide-ranging Education Programme, celebration of and professional development for librarians, and courses, talks, and special initiatives that all build the foundations for a reading society.  

For the Festival specifically, we have a theme every year, so we always look at how an author and their works fit with our theme. But we are also an organisation full of readers, so we have our own personal wish lists as well as those our community sends us.  

Every year we aim to have the perfect combination of well-known and new, best-selling and niche, across non-fiction, fiction, adults and children’s books in both Arabic and English.  

How do you strategize your game plans to tackle the competition in the market?  

We are the biggest and best loved celebration of the written and spoken word in the Middle East. While we don’t rest on our laurels, we do see our biggest challenge as pulling in those who don’t see themselves as readers. Those are the people we need to convert, so in a sense we are competing with cinemas, restaurants, and every other activity available at that time.  

To address this, we use creative and often surprising programming and marketing, which has worked well in the past.  

What, according to you, are the vital traits that every businesswoman should possess?  

Our CEO and founder, Isobel Abuhoul OBE, is someone I look up to in business. She leads by example, treating each member of staff and the community with the same level of respect regardless of gender, age, or nationality.  

Thirteen years ago, she saw a gap in the market and set out to create the festival to fill it. She could see the tremendous impact reading for pleasure has on individuals, and on society as a whole. She knew that if she could bring to Dubai a celebration of literature that was fun and would engage a wider section of the community than the regular readers, it would take hold and have a real and lasting impact.  

She then did what any entrepreneur does: put in a lot of incredibly hard work. There are no shortcuts. Success takes grit and determination.  

What roadblocks or challenges were faced by you in a corporate business? And how did you overcome them?  

I think in our role, pleasing so many different audiences in Dubai’s remarkably diverse community is always a challenge, but one that I enjoy very much. Always keeping on top of the local and global conversation when it comes to trends, behaviours, interests, politics, businesses, popular genres etc. becomes necessary.  

Work life balance has always been a challenge for me, but the more I immersed myself in jobs which give me purpose and become a lifestyle, the more balanced my life has been feeling.  

Have you in any ways contributed towards the cause of women empowerment?  

Championing gender equality is a core value at Emirates Literature Foundation. This is apparent in our team culture, as well as our Festival Programme. Each year, we welcome some of the most powerful female voices from around the world.  

Within our organization, we offer flexibility to all our employees because we know this allows us access to a wider candidate pool of talented, experienced people, including working mothers. We believe in the importance of healthy family life and appreciate the vital roles of women within their families. We see worklife balance as a necessity for a hopeful future for our society. In our experience, this flexibility and work-life balance allows women to contribute more effectively and wholeheartedly to their roles. 

How do you cope up with capricious technological trends to boost your personal growth?  

My favorite tools for personal growth are books, audiobooks, and podcasts. The most important technological trends are talked and written about, and the publishing process has the quality control and review process in place to ensure that the information you receive is verified.  

What are your future endeavors/objectives and where do you see yourself in the near future?  

My objective and ambition are always to connect as many people as possible with books and authors. We know reading creates empathy, and that is what we need most of all in the world today. Empathy and empathetic action towards others, towards our planet and to ourselves.

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