Dutch-Moroccan Businesswoman / Ahlam Gharbaoui An Arab Woman with Inspiring Global Steps and Achievements
An Interview by/ Mohamed Shams Al-Din
With her remarkable composure evident to all who encounter her, she confidently pursues her objectives, adorned with a radiant smile. Fully cognizant of her substantial responsibilities, which encompass managing vast international investments and numerous companies, she embodies the image of a high-class Arab society lady. Despite being born in the Netherlands, her commitment to the traditions instilled by her parents in her native Morocco since childhood is palpable.
Through a series of accomplished tasks in her early life, she evolved into a bridge harmonizing the cultures of the East and West. Esteemed as a reliable figure by sovereign institutions in both developed European countries and the United Arab Emirates, she has collaborated with kings and heads of state, serving as an interpreter and senior coordinator in diplomatic, juridical, business and media sectors.
The featured guest in Estesmarat Magazine is an Arab businesswoman who stands as an honorable role model for women, shaped by international experiences. Commencing her journey as an Arabic language teacher in an immigrant school in the Netherlands at the age of 16, she swiftly progressed to consultancy in a multinational human resources leader at 17. Her interest in trade and entrepreneurship blossomed, leading to a role within the Dutch Ministry of Justice, making her the youngest officer to interrogate high-ranking Arab officials seeking asylum.
In addition to obtaining a diploma in corporate insurance, she worked as an insurance consultant at Rabobank.
Driven by this experience, she pursued a career as a sworn legal interpreter in both Arabic and Dutch, earning recognition in media, criminal investigations, and diplomatic delegations. Accompanying ministers and royal families, she translated the renowned Dutch film “Dunia and Daisy” and speeches in the book “Imams in the Text and Context.”
At the age of 24, Ms. Ahlam set up her first company, Averto Tolken—an employment and consulting agency with a network of 800 interpreters & translators, engaging them in projects for media, governmental institutions, healthcare organizations, and ministries in Europe and North Africa. Ambitious as she is, she combines this with working as a TV interviewer & program maker for Dutch political current affairs shows.
Eventually entering the diplomatic field as a commercial and cultural advisor to the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the UAE. Fascinated by the safe and developed Arab country, she settled in Abu Dhabi, Where she initiated business ventures and investments, building a commercial and cultural bridge between the UAE and the Netherlands.
Notably, she assumed the role of CEO and Partner in the UAE for the Dutch company “Skilledin BV Oil Education.” This venture established the world’s first and largest educational process plant for higher education, utilizing water instead of oil for simulation practices. The project, benefiting the government of Abu Dhabi, incurred an estimated cost of AED 100 million.
This distinguished figure, despite her extensive experiences in business, investment, and diplomatic relations, remains devoted to her painting hobby and has mastered four languages. Her creativity and remarkable personality extend to new realms beyond her primary fields of expertise.
Now, let’s delve into the life of the Arab-Dutch businesswoman, Ahlam Al-Gharbaoui, who frequently shuttles between the Netherlands, Morocco and Abu Dhabi, dedicating only a few months, or even days, to resume her work, demonstrating above all her profound affection for her second home, the UAE.
The interview went as follows:
We see your capabilities and great experience in vital institutions in various countries of the world. Also, your print and investments are clearly visible in the UAE as well as the Netherlands, and you are a businesswoman who enjoys the characteristics of a global investor. Have you been planning from the beginning of your life for all this?
Since my early years, I’ve been drawn to the business world and international enterprises. Despite being born in the Netherlands, my parents ensured regular visits to my homeland, Morocco, instilling in me the values, traditions, and culture of the Arab world. This dual exposure to Western and Arab cultures allowed me to build a bridge at both commercial and cultural levels, laying the foundation for numerous successes in my career.
Embarking on my professional journey in the world’s largest global recruitment agency, I mastered the principles of business and negotiation with international companies. Joining the Dutch Ministry of Justice at the age of 19, I became its youngest government employee of Arab origin, proving myself among colleagues two decades my senior. Proficiency in languages like Dutch, Arabic, French, and English enabled me to communicate directly with refugees, eliminating the need for interpreters.
A stint as a corporate insurance consultant with the Dutch bank “Rabobank,” following my insurance diploma, provided extensive experience in insurance contracts, terms, and banking systems. Obtaining a diploma in judicial interpretation in 2002 certified me as a sworn legal interpreter for various sovereign authorities in the Netherlands. I served as an interpreter for dignitaries such as kings, heads of state, ministers, ambassadors, and official delegations visiting the Netherlands. My linguistic skills extended to dubbing Dutch films, including the renowned “Dunia and Daisy,” and translating religious texts featured in the book “Imams in Text and Context.”
At the age of 24, drawing on my diverse experiences, I founded my first company, “Averto,” a global interpreting and translating agency with around 800 translators and interpreters covering all languages and dialects. Averto also specialized in ethno-marketing, offering cultural communication consultations for government institutions and international organizations. Simultaneously, I engaged in program writing and television interviews in Arabic for Dutch political affairs programs.
As a media consultant for a Dutch broadcaster, I orchestrated media campaigns and conferences for a European radio station in Morocco and the Middle East, launching the Arabic-language radio station “Here’s Amsterdam.”
Additionally, my company facilitated research and communication channels with North African governments for the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs. Also I mediated an MOU between the Dutch and Moroccan governments on a challenging healthcare insurance portfolio, successfully achieving a temporary solution with the Moroccan Minister of Social Affairs and Employment in a personal meeting.
Tell us about your life in the UAE, what is the secret behindyour attachment to the UAE?
In 2004, I had the honor of visiting the UAE and experiencing the tranquility, order, and development of Abu Dhabi during a one-day visit. Impressed by the hospitable inhabitants and a sense of peace, I aspired to work in the Dutch diplomatic corps. This dream became a reality, “thanks to God Almighty,” as I was appointed as a commercial and cultural advisor at the Dutch Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
In this role, I spearheaded the promotion of Dutch trade with the UAE, strengthened Emirati-Dutch trade channels, and managed media and diplomatic relations. Representing the Dutch Ambassador in cultural affairs, I organized a significant conference on corporate social responsibility in Abu Dhabi, collaborating with various government agencies, international oil companies, the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce, and Dutch, Norwegian, and Emirati institutions.
As the Commercial and Cultural Advisor of the Embassy of the Netherlands, I forged essential relationships, nominated promising individuals for training programs in the Netherlands that will help them in future leadership roles, and witnessed their ascent. My diplomatic tenure in Abu Dhabi also saw the establishment of robust connections with distinguished personalities, including the honorable sheikhs of Abu Dhabi, and memorable experiences such as attending Ramadan lectures and dinner majlis at the palace of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, “may God protect him.” which were truly enriching and deeply appreciated.
After concluding my journey in the diplomatic field, I resumed business activities, taking on the role of General Manager in GCC at the American multinational company, Farouk Systems. During my tenure, I successfully brokered significant deals, including a contract with the Qatari AbuIssa Holding. I was tasked with establishing a distribution company in the Gulf countries, investing one million US dollars to launch it during BeautyWorld Middle East in Dubai. Subsequently, I was appointed CEO and Partner in the UAE for the Dutch international company Skilledin BV, which established the world’s largest higher educational center for the oil industry.
In the past, when you assumed the position of Chairman and Partner of the Dutch company Skilledin BV you contributed to the establishment of a global oil education project, for the benefit of the Abu Dhabi government, so talking here about the impact of that project on the process of oil education in the UAE, which in turn is one of the largest influential and oil-producing countries in the world, has deep implications and effects that urge us to ask you about the feasibility and tracks of that project, which represents a bright imprint in your practical life.
The objective behind establishing this project, to the benefit of the Abu Dhabi government, was to facilitate the transfer of knowledge from Western countries to the Middle East, emphasizing the localization of top international technologies. Our primary focus was on students of petroleum engineering faculties and technicians within the UAE’s oil sector, extending to the broader GCC countries. Leveraging the Netherlands’ status as a leader renowned for global expertise in various aspects of the oil industry, including education, training, maintenance, and production, was paramount to our mission.
Creating a secure environment for students, ensuring realistic conditions for applied field education, ranked high among our priorities. It’s noteworthy that the pioneering project by the Dutch company (Skilledin BV), introducing the world’s first educational model for an oilfield utilizing water instead of oil, represents an innovative and safe educational approach. This groundbreaking initiative, financed by the government of Abu Dhabi at an approximate cost of AED 100 million, now stands as a testament to our shared commitment. This achievement holds great significance, considering Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s esteemed positions on the global stage.
Is there anything you would like to say to the UAE leadership and government for their support and attraction of foreign investments?
The global stage has witnessed the UAE’s leadership and government, “may God protect it,” implementing robust development methodologies and strategies. This commitment is evident in the creation of a conducive environment for foreign investors, accompanied by robust guarantees for investment entities. Acknowledged by international economic and development institutions, the UAE stands proudly at the forefront globally. It has evolved into a beacon for best business practices in the Middle East, boasting advanced infrastructure and compelling incentives for investors, including the liberty to establish and fully own companies. The UAE has become the coveted destination for investors worldwide, a place where I, as a Dutch national of Moroccan origin, feel a profound sense of belonging.
I consider myself fortunate to have played a role in building a bridge of trade exchange between the Netherlands and the UAE. Simultaneously, I appreciate the depth of the brotherly relationship between Morocco and the UAE. The UAE is a nation where I genuinely feel at home, surrounded by what feels like family and best friends.
The UAE is a nation that instills pride in all who reside and belong to it. This pride is attributed to the visionary tolerant leadership that has enabled the UAE to align with the aspirations of its people, achieving leading indicators in global competitiveness. Notably, the UAE’s harmonious coexistence of over 200 nationalities reflects a rare combination of harmony, safety, and happiness, seldom found elsewhere in the world.
What have you learned after years of work in the investmentsectors, has that added much to you?
Yes, I’ve gained valuable insights, starting with my unwavering belief in the significance of kindness as an unwavering guiding principle in our lives. Additionally, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of giving back to those in our community. On the business front, immersing myself in practical life, particularly in business and investments, has taught me resilience, endurance, and the necessity of adaptability when facing challenges. Each step requires thoughtful and strategic planning. In essence, the title ‘businesswoman’ isn’t bestowed without a journey marked by both setbacks and triumphs. It’s crucial to learn from failures, shaping our future decisions and ensuring ongoing success.
What are your hobbies and what are the values that have been instilled in you and you would like to pass on to your children?
I am deeply passionate about writing, a realm where I find solace and express my observations and emotions about the world around me. Writing has been my cherished hobby since childhood, and I also explore poetry and visual art. Recently, I presented my book ‘Senses in Arabia’ in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, featuring poetry in English, short stories, and paintings created by me. I also craft poetry in Dutch, French, and Arabic.
The book has resonated significantly in the Netherlands, exploring themes of women’s empowerment, diversity, love, and the intricate dance between cultures, especially the role of women in male-dominated spaces. The success continued with the second book presentation in Casablanca, Morocco, a few days ago, receiving love and praise from both the media and the public. This exposure has opened new horizons, garnering attention from Dutch and Arabic media, along with various institutions that now invite me as a speaker to local and international forums, events, workshops, and conferences. Furthermore, my book is set to be featured in the UAE during the Abu Dhabi Book Fair in May 2024.
Will you tell us about your future plans, I mean in terms of business and investments, will these next steps see you establish new investments in the UAE?? Do you intend to enter into partnerships?? And which sectors do you plan to invest in???
I possess an extensive global network of relationships and offer strategic advisory services and training to numerous executives, companies and investors. I, along with my partners, own several companies, including some in the IT sector. I’m always open to forging new partnerships where I can contribute my added value. Continual growth and the introduction of new ventures, such as my book and artwork, are areas I actively pursue. My frequent travels involve speaking at conferences and conducting workshops.
I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to share my expertise in the UAE, organizing conferences and exploring fresh possibilities to either stay close to or establish a presence in a country I genuinely miss whenever I’m away. In 2022, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence of the United Arab Emirates, honored me by nominating me for the Golden Visa. This recognition highlights my success in global commercial development, proficiency in public diplomacy, and the successful completion of significant projects for the UAE.
On the 6th of March, I will have the honor of receiving your award in Dubai, and I am genuinely excited about this recognition.