Passionate about Creativity: Alia Al Qassimi, twofour54

photo In January 2012, Alia Al Qassimi joined twofour54 ibtikar as Head of Creative Projects & Outreach. UAE based, twofour54 is the region’s leading media and entertainment hub with a visionary team and a mission to enable the development of world class Arabic media and entertainment, by Arabs for Arabs, as well as, to position Abu Dhabi as a regional centre of excellence in content creation across all media platforms. Even its peculiar name is derived from the geographical co-ordinates of Abu Dhabi; while ‘Ibtikar’ itself means ‘innovation’ in Arabic. Naturally, the enterprise is full of dynamic individuals with the drive to make a change and the energy to match. Within a year of joining, Alia –who holds a degree in Design Management from the American University of Sharjah –successfully partnered with reputable organizations, including the Sheikha Salama Foundation initiative ‘Art for All’; Zayed University Middle East Film Festival (ZUMEFF) and the Abu Dhabi Book Fair – to name a few.

In an interview with SKETCHBOOK, Alia talks in-depth of the company’s current and future endeavours and how their initiatives are vital in shaping the career choices of young creative Arabs. Tell us a little about Alia Al Qassimi, the person. I’ve always been very passionate about creativity and design, so it’s quite amazing that my career involves supporting young Arabs in unlocking their creative potential. For me, following my interests and passions has really meant finding my dream job. I am also an avid traveller.

What is your role at twofour54 ibtikar? As Head of Creative Projects & Outreach at twofour54 ibtikar, I lead on the unique support that we offer to developing the talent needed for sustainable growth of the creative and media industries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. twofour54 ibtikar provides project development and funding support to UAE nationals and other Arabs with great ideas. Part of my role is to oversee the partnerships between external stakeholders and twofour54 ibtikar, and the creative lab. We also oversee the creation and implementation of a program for creative academic outreach, taking strategic responsibility for promoting the media and creative industries as a career amongst young Arabs. Along with that, we deliver the engaging content that goes into our academic road shows.

What has been your biggest challenge as Head of Creative Projects & Outreach? For young Emiratis, a career in media is not always an obvious choice. Showing them that media is a viable career path with exciting opportunities has been one of our biggest challenges. I am very excited that since twofour54 was established less than five years ago, we’ve seen the number of Emiratis with an interest in pursuing media and creative careers grow substantially. This is especially rewarding given that sometimes young Arabs are quite reserved about their talents. They need help in identifying their creative skills, building their confidence and in turn developing those skills. creative lab talent showcase their projects with Noura Al Kaabi CEO Media Zone Authority - Abu Dhabi and twofour54

How was twofour54 ibtikar’s creative lab initiated and how does it contribute to shaping the careers of young creatively talented Arabs? twofour54’s creative lab was born as an initiative to support the talent needed for sustainable growth of the creative and media industries in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region and identifies, nurtures and guides young Arab creatives who are looking to jumpstart their media career. Since its establishment in 2010, creative lab has worked across all media platforms, including short film, music, online apps, electronic games and (digital) publishing. In three years, creative lab has grown into a community of 5,000+ members, executing 52 independent media projects and giving 500 young Arabs, including 183 UAE nationals who are currently engaged in projects, the opportunity to take their first steps into the world of media and entertainment. Matching the skills, interests, and talent of twofour54 creative lab community members with the needs of private and public organizations in the UAE is vital. Creative lab gives talented Arabs, who are over the age of 18 and  residing in the UAE, access to production expertise, funding, mentoring, use of equipment and other practical ways to help develop the first spark of an idea into a piece of tangible output. We work with them across all media platforms, including short films, music, publishing, animation, gaming, television, Radio or digital ideas such as apps and webisodes. Community members can develop their own creative ideas into reality or work side-by-side with more experienced media professionals. We provide our creative lab talent with media opportunities and exposure in order to encourage them and allow the public to hear first-hand about their experiences and successes. Our talents have been featured on talk shows, in daily newspapers, and in top-tier trade publications, expressing their stories to stakeholders. One of the ways we keep up the momentum of finding and developing new talent is through an active academic outreach programme. We visit universities across the UAE and talk directly with professors and deans from the different colleges. Our message is now reaching students through the teachers and through lecturers and on campus student-Ambassador that we’ve selected.  I’m particularly proud of new video content we’ve created to share with students on campus. It’s humorous and engaging at the same time and shows great examples of some of the ways students can get involved in creative lab’s community.

twofour54_2 Can you name some of creative lab most successful projects? Our short films have been especially successful, receiving 20 awards and 149 international and regional film festival acceptances in total.  Yasir Al Yasiri’s short film ‘Murk Light’ and Rafed Al Harthi’s documentary ‘Feeding Five Hundred’ are recent examples of successful film festival selections. ‘Murk Light’ is a 20-minute short film, starring some of today’s leading Emirati actors. It narrates the journey of two characters, discovering dreams and friendship on their way and was nominated for the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City in the ‘Best Narrative Shorts’ category. ‘Feeding Five Hundred’ is a 20-minute documentary about the passion, determination and sacrifice of one man in Abu Dhabi, and of his struggle to feed 500 stray cats every day. It was recently nominated as the first Emirati film at UK’s prestigious Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival and is the only Arab film selected from 2,372 entries! If it qualifies in any of its categories, it will be considered for the Oscars, BAFTAs and European Film Awards.

Since your joining twofour54 a year ago, creative lab has partnered with some reputable organizations. Can you elaborate on these partnerships? We are very excited about the partnerships that we will be announcing later this year. Interest from Abu Dhabi based private and public organizations has been very encouraging. We expect to develop the partnerships we have established so far with, for example, the Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan Foundation; the Zayed University Middle East Film Festival, whose best documentary winner we support; and Comic-Con, where in 2013 we held a pitch-a-thon and awarded two young talents with funding to develop their projects- one was an animation project and the other was in publishing. In addition, we also support regional creative industries by bringing initiatives such as the Heritage and Environmental Film Festivals, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, TROPFEST Arabia and the Abu Dhabi Book Fair to the attention of our creative lab community, who are active in their support. We are also focused on leveraging the presence of the 200+ media and entertainment companies at twofour54’s campus in Abu Dhabi. They have shown a lot of interest in taking on community members for internships or freelance work.

What role does twofour54 ibtikar play in the future of the Abu Dhabi’s media and entertainment industry? twofour54 ibtikar plays a significant part in the development and diversification of the national economy by generating employment and creative content in all forms. It’s our ambition to facilitate growth in the media sector by launching major initiatives that encourage, stimulate and support content creation; with Abu Dhabi as the centre and catalyst for that content creation across the MENA region and beyond.


What future initiatives, events, plans etc., do you have planned for twofour54 ibtikar?  This year, we hope to help even more people see their ideas come to life. We are widening our scope into different content genres including online apps, electronic games, documentaries and (digital) publishing. An important milestone achieved in 2013 was the launch of an exciting creative space called #thelab. It a new and exciting free space to bring the creative lab’s online community to life through socializing, mentoring and the provision of technical facilities. It offers a number of specialist production facilities and access to all creative lab community members to attend creative workshops, events, screenings, and brainstorm sessions. At the launch event in June, we held our first ever creative lab awards ceremony to recognize top talent and their exceptional contributions to the community’s numerous projects. We also plan on expanding the number of internship opportunities and invite more talented and passionate creatives to shadow on productions, giving them the experience to kick-start a career in media.

You can join the creative lab community by registering online or follow them on: Twitter: @CreativeLabME Facebook: Instagram: @creativelabme YouTube: WORDS BY: SHABANA H. SHAIKH IMAGES: COURTESY OF twofour54