Roxana Jaffer’s Personal Life & Company’s Life

The Arabia Times: Explain your background and your Company’s in detail.

Roxana Jaffer: I am the product of a unique upbringing, nurtured by four loving parents who each imparted their wisdom and values in distinct ways. My biological father, a talented Tabla player, instilled in me a deep sense of rhythm and harmony. My biological mother, a well-read and knowledgeable woman, shared her insights from various scriptures, enriching my understanding of the world. My adoptive mother, a dedicated teacher for the mentally challenged and disabled, taught me the invaluable lesson of embracing diversity as strength. My adoptive father, who had a strong fondness for stargazing by the seaside, introduced me to the wonders of the night sky and the ethical myths they stood for.

While my heart gravitated towards the arts, my biological father envisioned a more conventional path for me, such as pursuing a respectable profession like law or medicine. However, my passion led me to London, where I embarked on a journey to become a certified accountant (ACCA). But the allure of creativity never waned, and I found myself writing stage plays, producing, directing, and even gracing the stage in London’s vibrant arts scene. I danced before numerous celebrities and hosted grand shows, blending my love for the arts with my financial acumen.

My professional journey took off as a cost and management accountant in local and global firms, eventually leading me to Dunkin Donuts (UK), where my rapid ascent saw me become a Finance Director at a remarkably young age. An opportunity to advise the buyer of a group of Donut stores paved the way for my own venture, a Donut factory that churned out over 10,000 delectable donuts nightly. Our clientele included prestigious establishments like Harrods, Selfridges, British Rail Stations, and airlines. Managing nearly 100 employees, I honed my leadership skills, making swift decisions and inspiring a shared vision that propelled my company to great success.

At the age of 45, I sold my thriving Donut factory, realizing I was far from ready to retire. This led me to establish ‘InDoorOut,’ a real estate inventory company in London. My passion for mentorship shone through as I hired fresh graduates, imparted valuable skills, and guided them towards successful careers.

However, destiny had something new in store for me—Dubai. Joining my husband in this dynamic city, I was uncertain about my career prospects. Serendipity intervened, presenting me with an opportunity to oversee the completion of two significant properties: a 310-room hotel (now the renowned Holiday Inn, Dubai) and the Splendid Hotel Apartments (112 suites) that awaited interior design. Additionally, I took on the task of profiling and designing nine restaurants. As I assumed the role of CEO and Resident Director, I embarked on a transformative journey.

Today, I take immense pride in the accomplishments under my leadership. All the restaurants and the Holiday Inn have not only thrived but have been recognized with prestigious awards. The crowning jewel in our achievements is the consecutive seven-year winning streak of the Arabia CSR Award among 12 Arab countries. In 2022, we were also honored with the ‘Best Practices in Hospitality’ award.

My life’s journey has been a tapestry of diverse experiences, and my commitment to excellence continues to drive me forward. As I navigate the intricate world of architectural project management and interior design, I eagerly anticipate the challenges and successes that lie ahead.

The Arabia Times: Give us one word that describes you the best.

Roxana Jaffer: I find it challenging to describe my essence with just one term. However, I recently sought the perspective of three of my work colleagues, as I believe external viewpoints can provide valuable insights.

Interestingly, two of them described me as ‘Visionary’ So, I believe ‘Visionary’ is a fitting adjective to describe me, based on their thoughtful assessments.

About Roxana Jaffer

The Arabia Times: Can you tell us more about your journey from being a Kenyan girl to growing up in the UK and now residing in the UAE? How has this multicultural background influenced your career and personal life?

Roxana Jaffer: My journey from growing up in Kenya to residing in the United Kingdom and now calling the United Arab Emirates my home has been a rich tapestry of cultural experiences that have profoundly influenced both my career and personal life. This multicultural background has shaped my perspective in numerous ways.

In my formative years in Mombasa, Kenya, I learned the importance of cultural integration and embracing diversity. Kenya’s multicultural society meant that people of different races and ethnicities coexisted, but it also came with its challenges. I often encountered derogatory labels, like ‘Wahindi,’ whether or not I was of Indian descent. However, I understood that to truly connect with the local community, I needed to learn Kiswahili, the national language, and proudly sing the National Anthem. These experiences instilled in me a sense of belonging and the realization that respecting and understanding the culture of the place you call home is essential.

One Kenyan proverb, in particular, left a lasting imprint on me:

Treat the Earth well.

It was not given to you by your parents.

 It was loaned to you by your children.”

This proverb has become my guiding principle as I actively promote Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) not only within my workplace but also at sustainability conferences and educational institutions.

Subsequently as I grew up in London, finishing my schooling, I was met with several prejudices. Despite being fair skinned with brown hair, I was addressed as ‘Muffin’ or ‘Paki’ by the white population – not being from India or Pakistan, I took great umbrage to this form of color prejudices.

Further I was exposed to challenges related to gender bias and sexual harassment. I recall a time when a signed contract with Harrods was overturned after just a weekend, seemingly due to a competitor’s underhanded tactics. While I did not engage in the politics of a “Boys Room,” I used fair and ethical strategies to regain the contract’s favor. I invited the Harrods buyer for a drink and showcased the quality of my products alongside those of the competition. Ultimately, the quality of my products spoke for themselves, enabling me to win back the contract.

Armed with these experiences, I ventured to the UAE with a determination to confront any gender biases or prejudices I might encounter. To my pleasant surprise, I encountered no such instances. In the male-dominated world of hospitality, as a female CEO, I was treated with respect and given an equal voice alongside my male counterparts. Today, I lead a senior management team, with a majority of male members, and report to male shareholders, finding that my perspectives and ideas are always valued and respected.

The learning’s I acquired from my parents, my experiences in Kenya and the UK, and now my life in the UAE, often referred to as my “multicultural background,” have enriched my thinking. Living in the UAE, where I interact with people from diverse countries, cultures, and religions, has deepened my understanding of global diversity. The leaders of this country actively encourage us to connect and reflect on this diversity, fostering an environment where people from various backgrounds can come together and explore their differences through mutual dialogue, ultimately promoting our shared humanity.

My multicultural journey has not only influenced my career but has also molded me into a more inclusive and open-minded individual. It has taught me the value of embracing diversity, respecting different cultures, and using my experiences to contribute positively to the world of business and beyond. I am proud to represent Kenya, my home, wherever I go, and to carry forward the lessons and values instilled in me by my diverse upbringing.

The Arabia Times: You believe you were “born to be successful.” Can you elaborate on what you mean by that and how you define success, especially in the context of your mission to bring positive change to the underprivileged?

Roxana Jaffer: “I was born to be successful.” This quote originates from an article featured in Gulf News as part of the series “UAE SUCCESS STORIES” Titled Meet Roxanna Jaffer, CEO, thought leader, motivator, social entrepreneur, strategist, and agent of change,” which you can read at this link:

To delve deeper into this perspective, my definition of success extends far beyond the accumulation of wealth or the attainment of a particular social status. Rather, it is rooted in the idea that true success is not measured by economic circumstances but by the person you become, maintaining humility after achieving financial stability and the positive contributions you make to improve the lives of the underprivileged.

In essence, success, as I perceive it, hinges on personal growth and the meaningful impact one can create in society, particularly for those who are less fortunate. It involves utilizing one’s resources, influence, and abilities to uplift those in need.

With this definition guiding me, I’ve dedicated myself to the pursuit of economic stability and the channeling of my resources toward initiatives that bring about positive change for the underprivileged. Success, within this framework, is an ongoing journey, and while I’ve achieved significant milestones, I remain committed to continuously striving for a lasting impact on the lives of the less fortunate and contributing to the overall betterment of society.

So, by my own definition of success, I believe I am making significant progress. However, I view success as a continuous journey, and there is always more work to be done to fulfill my mission of creating a positive and lasting impact on underprivileged communities.

Roxana Jaffer’s Achievements

The Arabia Times: Being recognized as one of the “Indian S U P E R 100 Women Achievers in the MEA” is a significant achievement. Could you elaborate on the impact this recognition has had on your career and your advocacy for women’s empowerment?

Roxana Jaffer: Being recognized as one of the “Super 100 Women Achievers in the MEA” has had a profound impact on my career and my advocacy for women’s empowerment. It’s not just the accolade itself that I cherish, but rather the article that accompanied it, which highlighted my efforts in “Pioneering the fusion of social responsibility with business strategy”. This recognition served as a catalyst for my determination to redefine the concept of CSR within organizations.

I set out with a mission to transform CSR from being a label for companies into a philosophy that every individual within the organization would embrace. I wanted every colleague to become socially responsible by understanding the Sustainable Development Goals and driving initiatives that could contribute to the betterment of our planet, guided by clear and defined ESG strategies. While my primary focus was on empowering women, my CSR empowerment drive encompassed both genders equally.

As a result of my social work and the Super 100 recognition, I received numerous awards, including the “GLOBAL INSPIRATIONAL LEADERSHIP AWARD,” which is bestowed upon women leaders recognized for their distinct innovations and initiatives. I was also honored with the “Best Woman in Hospitality UAE” Award by “Women Leaders in UAE,” in association with HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, presented to outstanding women professional leaders who exhibit vision, flair, acumen, and professionalism in driving positive change and achieving remarkable results within their organizations. These accolades, proudly displayed in my office, not only humble me but also serve as conversation starters.

I relish the opportunity to discuss my achievements because they inspire many young women, recent graduates, and those taking their first steps on the corporate ladder to reach out to me. This engagement allows me to mentor them, offering invaluable advice based on my “12 mantras of success” and instilling in them the ambition to surpass my accomplishments. I always emphasize, “If I can achieve what you see here, you can undoubtedly achieve even more and emerge as a respected leader in your own right.”

The Arabia Times: Holiday Inn Dubai – Al Barsha has received the “CSR Arabia Award” for seven consecutive years under your leadership. Could you tell us about some of the key initiatives and practices that have earned this recognition and made a positive impact on the environment and society?

Roxana Jaffer: At Holiday Inn Dubai – Al Barsha, we’re truly passionate about corporate social responsibility and sustainability. Over the years, we’ve undertaken numerous initiatives, large and small, all contributing to our commitment. It’s an integral part of our ethos here.

One of our standout efforts is the ‘Embracing Ramadan’ campaign when pledge to help the hungry in the world, in relation to the Iftars that we serve in our restaurant.  In partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme, this initiative has touched the lives of over 509, 692 hungry by providing them with essential nourishment. It’s truly heartwarming to see the impact we can make on those in need.

But that’s just one example. We’ve taken significant steps in various areas. Our Linen Reuse Program, for instance, not only helps in water conservation but also aligns with our responsible resource management goals. By encouraging guests to participate in linen reuse during their stay, we’ve been able to make a substantial difference.

When it comes to reducing plastic waste, we’ve taken action too. Plastic bottles have been completely eliminated from our meeting rooms, and we’ve switched to sustainable glass bottles. It’s a small change that has a big environmental impact, as it also sets an example for our guests and partners.

One of our more unique initiatives is the internal ‘Recycling Exhibitions.’ It’s both a fun learning opportunity and a friendly competition among our employees. Here, our talented staff members compete to create the ‘best out of waste,’ promoting creativity while emphasizing the importance of recycling and waste reduction in our workplace.

We also proudly partner with the Emirates Environmental Group (EEG), allowing us to actively participate in tree planting initiatives and engage in can and paper collection drives, making meaningful contributions to broader environmental conservation efforts.

And let’s not forget our ‘Charity Bazaar.’ It’s a heartwarming tradition that reflects our commitment to giving back to society. The proceeds from this event directly support various charitable causes, making a tangible and positive impact on the community.

These initiatives, along with our ‘Embracing Ramadan’ campaign, embody our dedication to corporate social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and community engagement. Our consistent attaining of the ‘CSR Arabia Award’ for seven consecutive years underscores our commitment to creating a better, more sustainable future for our community and the environment.

Challenges faced by Roxana Jaffer

The Arabia Times: Balancing a successful career, philanthropic endeavors, and writing books must be challenging. How do you manage your time effectively and maintain a work-life balance?

Roxana Jaffer: Balancing a successful career, philanthropic endeavors, and writing books can indeed be quite challenging, but I’ve found that the key to managing my time effectively and maintaining a work-life balance is unwavering focus.

Once I have a solid idea or project in mind, the first step is to set a realistic target for completion. This target serves as a guiding star, helping me stay on course amidst various commitments. With a workable plan and excellent time management, I can break down my tasks into manageable weekly goals rather than overwhelming daily ones. This approach allows me to allocate dedicated time to each project or responsibility and ensures that I make steady progress while still having time to enjoy life beyond work.

My book, “Why I Did Not Die,” delves into the profound realizations I’ve had during critical moments when I faced the possibility of death. Each incident in the book is followed by a reflection on why I did not succumb, highlighting the reasons behind my strong will and determination to persevere. This book serves as an inspirational and self-help guide, illustrating the importance of resilience and the refusal to give up in the face of adversity. It’s a testament to my unwavering commitment to completing any task I undertake.

I firmly believe that being a good human being and having a genuine desire to serve the community and the planet are the driving forces behind my ability to excel in my various endeavors. By staying focused on my goals, managing my time effectively, and drawing inspiration from my own experiences, I’ve been fortunate enough to find success and fulfillment in both my career and my philanthropic work. I consider myself truly blessed.

The Arabia Times: Can you share a memorable experience or story from your journey that has had a profound impact on your outlook and mission in life?

Roxana Jaffer: I’ve encountered numerous unforgettable experiences that have significantly shaped my mission and perspective. One particular story that continues to resonate with me is about my assistant, Lorena.

Lorena had to leave Dubai due to her declining health, but a year later, she reached out to wish me on my birthday. During our conversation, I naturally inquired about how she was doing and what she was currently involved in. Her response left a deep impression on me.

Lorena shared that despite facing her own set of challenges, she was actively preparing 12 goody bags filled with essentials like half a kilo of rice, sugar, tea bags, and cookies. These bags were intended for her less fortunate neighbors in her small village in the Philippines. I was totally moved and asked her how she managed such a charitable act while dealing with her own difficulties.

Her response struck a chord within me. Lorena simply said, “Ma’am isn’t this is   what I’ve learned from you about being socially responsible?” She even quoted the wise words of Prophet Mohammed: “Life is only worth living if lived for someone else.”

Her actions and words reminded me of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Lorena’s selflessness and dedication to her community serve as a constant reminder of the transformative power of compassion and social responsibility. This experience with Lorena reinforces my commitment to my mission and fuels my determination to contribute meaningfully to the betterment of society.

Motivation behind abc Foundation

The Arabia Times: What motivated you to start “abc Foundation”?

Roxana Jaffer: The ‘abc Foundation’ was borne from a real-life experience that highlighted the significance of language.

Dubai, known for its cultural diversity, especially in the hospitality sector, is a place where people from 25 to 45 different countries come together to work and live. To ensure effective communication and unity amid this rich diversity, I recognized the need for a common language that could bind us together. It became clear to me that English, being a widely accepted global language spoken in most countries, could serve as that common thread.

My motivation crystallized during a visit to ‘The Royal Budha,‘ our Thai restaurant, shortly after its opening. It was midnight, and I wanted to observe how the kitchen team was managing their tasks after the guests had departed. What I witnessed was not only a scene of diligent work but also a powerful lesson in the importance of language.

In that bustling kitchen, four young team members – one from Ethiopia, one from Pakistan, one from the Philippines, and another from a different country – were striving to communicate and strategize how to clean up the kitchen left in disarray by the chefs.

I approached Irshad, the Pakistani team member who seemed to have assumed charge, and in my broken Hindi, asked how he planned to complete the task. Despite the language barrier, we managed to communicate through gestures, and Irshad assured me they would finish by 3 a.m.

When I returned at 3 a.m., I found a spotless kitchen and four happy faces. I asked Irshad how they had accomplished it, and he simply replied with ‘mushkil se’ meaning ‘with great difficulty.’ This encounter underscored the transformative power of language.

I asked him to see me when on day duty. To cut the story short, I enrolled him at an elementary English school. As he improved his language skills, his confidence soared. He started to mix with hotel guests with confidence. Soon enough, he got promoted to Concierge, Head Concierge and Front Office Rep. Today he has his own entrepreneurship – a tour company in his hometown employing 10 Staff.

This experience planted the seed for the ‘abc Foundation’ – ‘an Advent for Building Human Capital.’ After conducting a feasibility study in six neighboring countries to UAE (where our head office is situated) we established ourselves as a non-profit organization in Pakistan and as a trust in India.

Our flagship program, ‘English for Hospitality Professionals’ (EHP), developed in collaboration with the British Council, empowers unemployed youth through six weeks of specialized training, by trained tutors.

Whilst the course cost is $100 per person we offer it for just $10. We take great pride in having graduated 1117 students in Hunza, and 495 students in  Delhi, with an impressive 86% success rate in helping them secure employment or pursue further studies.

This journey vividly demonstrates the life-changing impact of language empowerment on individuals and entire communities as we build human capital.

Future of the Company

The Arabia Times: Looking ahead, what are your future goals and aspirations for “abc Foundation” and “abc Finale” in terms of expanding their impact and reach, both locally and internationally?

Roxana Jaffer: As we look forward, our focus remains primarily on local impact and growth. We currently do not have immediate plans for international expansion unless we are fortunate enough to find a supportive patron or investor who shares our vision.

In terms of immediate goals, we are excited about the recent grand graduation ceremony we held in Hunza. Our target is now of doubling the number of students we enrolled, leading to twice the number of graduates. What truly inspire us are the stories and achievements of our graduates – their successful job placements and entrepreneurial journeys. These outcomes underscore the positive development of human capital that ‘abc Foundation’ strives for.

We have a similar graduation event planned for December in Delhi, and we aim to build on the success we’ve seen. If the results are as promising as they were in Hunza, we anticipate expanding our impact in Delhi, following the same principles and dedication to empowering youth through ‘English for Hospitality Professionals’ (EHP) and providing them with valuable opportunities in the job market.

Through abcFinale we place the graduates in jobs with hotels, embassies, restaurants and such like.

Advice from Roxana Jaffer

The Arabia Times: Would you like to say anything else to our viewers?

Roxana Jaffer: I’d like to offer some valuable advice to those who are on their own journeys toward success.  In life, it’s crucial to remain flexible and open to change, especially if you find yourself in a stagnant or dissatisfying position. Each one of us is born with incredible potential, and the key is to believe in ourselves and actively work on actualizing that potential. It’s essential to have a clear vision for where you want to go and share that vision with your team. Together, you can achieve remarkable things.

While I am a strong advocate for gender parity, I’ve also learned that there are certain tasks that can only be accomplished by the masculine gender. In my role project-managing two hotels, I found myself in challenging situations, like ascending hoists in scorching 49-degree heat to oversee construction work. I felt that I was taking up jobs of an engineer, an architect and a designer as I built the hotel from scratch. Building a hotel from the ground up required a diverse set of skills and the determination to tackle tasks that might be considered traditionally masculine. The experience taught me that success often demands us to break barriers and embrace versatility.

Today in the Holiday Inn Dubai-Al Barsha, I am aware of every brick on the wall, the wood, and the stone that has gone into constructing the hotel.

Instead of relentlessly pursuing success, I encourage everyone to prioritize the pursuit of excellence. When you consistently strive for excellence in what you do, success inevitably follows. It’s been my personal mantra, and I’ve seen it bear fruit in my journey.

I’ve always lived by my values and standards, never seeking validation from others. Instead, I’ve expressed gratitude to those who have supported me on my path. It’s crucial to remember the people who’ve played a role in our journey and acknowledge their contributions.

I’d like to conclude this interview with a quote from one of my favorite entrepreneurs, the legendary animated film producer, Walt Disney: “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

So, let’s continue to dream boldly and pursue our aspirations with unwavering courage.

Connect Roxana Jaffer on LinkedIn