The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is generally an up and coming region with respect to its wider economic development. Specifically, the region has seen a growth and importance in fintech, producing its own unique innovations, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the space. As The Fintech Times in September celebrates Women in Fintech, we take a moment to hear more from some of the leading female leaders in both the Middle East and Africa. One of them is Alya Al Zarouni from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who currently works in a senior leadership position at the city’s financial centre, Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).
In her role as Executive Vice President of Operations, Alya Al Zarouni oversees a number of internal functions, including Information Technology, Procurement, Administration, Corporate Development, Government Relations, Government and Registry Services. Her prime objective is to ensure DIFC Authority’s internal operations are well aligned to support the delivery of the 2024 Strategy and objectives. She is also the head of DIFC Academy, which is based in DIFC and curates a full range of impactful, regionally relevant executive education programmes that are developed in partnership with internationally recognised business schools, professional development providers, and other training academies.
Prior to her current role, Ms. Al Zarouni held the position of Senior Vice President – Operations at DIFC Authority, and before that was Senior Vice President – Government & Registry Services for five years. In this capacity, she was responsible for driving the strategic direction across the organisations Government Services, Registrar of Companies and Registrar of Properties offices.
Before this, Ms. Al Zarouni worked with the Programme Management Office at DIFC Authority, where she rose from Assistant Manager to Director of Government Services Office. During her tenure, she partly managed and assisted project managers in handling a number of complex projects in the Centre. Ms. Al Zarouni earned both her BSc in Computer Science and MBA from the American University of Sharjah. She is a PMI Certified Project Management Professional (PMP), an LRQA certified ISO 9000:2000 Series Auditor/ Lead, and an LRQA Certified Internal QMS Auditor. Ms. Al Zarouni has also successfully completed the Young Leaders Program from the Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Leadership Development.
Describe your career journey
Having completed my BSc in Computer Science and MBA, I started my career with Emirates Group for three years. I performed roles which gave me a good grasp of digital transformation and redesigning processes to make them more efficient.
After that, I moved to DIFC Authority, working for the project management office, supporting the organisation with project delivery and reporting.
This then led to me managing the operations of DIFC Government Services. Over time, my scope continued to grow and now also includes Registry Services, IT, Procurement, Administration, Corporate Development and the DIFC Academy.
My main goal is to make the organisation as efficient as possible whilst ensuring all controls are in place. I also play an active role as head of DIFC Academy in developing human capital and contributing to building a knowledge based economy.
As a recognised thought leader and a female, what difficulties have you faced in your career?
We all face challenges, however it is better to seek something positive from them. I have learned the most during challenging times. These circumstances have shaped who I am today and have taught me how to navigate through difficult decision-making processes.
As a female and a young leader, I recall facing a challenge about being taken seriously by seniors at an early stage of my career. I gained credibility by quietly focusing on my priorities and delivering on promises to change this perception.
What are the future trends and predictions you see happening in the region?
The obvious trend which I have seen and continues to be the focus area for all organisations in this region is digitisation. Organisations continue to build and re-build systems. I expect to see more emphasis on cyber security especially given COVID-19 implications and digitisation in general. I foresee more collaboration between home-grown tech start-ups and big organisations.
What advice and recommendations do you want to give future female entrepreneurs and thought leaders who are based in the Middle East & Africa (MEA) region?
Read, read and read to stay relevant and keep an eye on what is happening beyond your area of expertise and scope. The world is changing so fast and you need to keep up with this pace of change. Leading without understanding technology might make you obsolete before you know it.