The Arab Culturalist
This feature was commissioned and published in Shawati’ Magazine, Issue 47
Nasif Kayed calls himself The Arab Culturalist. Born in the Gulf, the business entrepreneur spent two decades living in the US before moving back to the region. In the GCC, Kayed has developed over 40 companies and ventures. He has spent a lot of time working on cross-cultural coaching and advising business associates on how to relate in a multi-cultural business environment. He worked for eight years as the Managing Director of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding where he developed programs based around the notion cultural tourism in the UAE. Today he resides in Dubai where he continues his mission to promote the region, building peaceful coexistence and understanding through education, training and development programs that focus on diversity and inclusion, cultural awareness and cultural intelligence.
Can you tell us a bit about your role as The Arab Culturalist. How do you define what you do?
Companies and individuals seek my advice on how to connect and build relationships and trust within the Arab, Emirati and Muslim culture. We create individualized programs specifically tailored to their needs and fields of work, helping them to understand the deep intricates of the culture and how to best function within it. So, in a way I help them feel confident, knowledgeable and aware of how best to interact, communicate and find success on a personal and business level.
What is your personal satisfaction from your job and what keeps you going?
I do it out of necessity, as I feel it’s our duty to help the expats and guests that are coming to visit, reside, work and establish their businesses in UAE to understand us without distortion, misconception and stereotype. Additionally, it helps put people to be at ease and give them the edge to live with peace of mind and thrive in a new cultural environment. My satisfaction lies in the words I receive after my sessions of sincere thanks and gratitude of having been a great help to them in deepening their understanding and learning in a fun and creative way.
With the region being so wide and diverse, how do you manage to keep yourself as a specialist in Arab culture?
Besides my observant nature and experience and training the field, I am Muslim by faith which dictates my character and Arab by birth and native language. Additionally, I have lived in both sides of the world. It makes me keenly aware of the subtle differences in work and lifestyle that make us who we are. I began my first business venture in the US where I travelled to study. I quickly learned to connect with people by asking lots of questions. In return I had to explain who I am, my culture, beliefs, traditions and history of the region where I come from. The result was a bond of friendship and trust with those I encountered and long-term genuine relationships. Now living in the UAE, I noticed the sincere need for the people coming into the region to understand the same about us, so I began to help create programs, some at a non-for-profit organisation and now my own organization called The Arab Culturalist. The platform brings people from all walks of life together under a common goal to connect us through focused training, constructive friendly dialogue, explorations of cultural norms and important facts that help create lasting change in or perceptions about other cultures.
Who is your target audience?
Everyone with no exception; companies’ staff, visiting delegations, individuals planning to start their business, professionals, university faculty, schoolteachers and students. People from all backgrounds landing in the UAE or planning to do business or live in the Middle East can trust that I’ll help them feel at ease in the region with good knowledge and answered questions no exceptions.
Why do you think that cultural awareness and integration is so important in a country like the UAE?
It’s important everywhere nowadays. We live in a small world where we move around so easily and so often. We need to know the basics of intercultural communication and that cultural norms can have an unexpected impact on business etiquette and social protocols. In the UAE demand for this training and learning grew as fast as the convergence of people from all over the world for the opportunities found here. At the same time, meeting Emiratis is somewhat of a challenge due to population ratio, yet Emirati culture is the foundation of the social norms and business environment. There is also the ever-present media machine, that sometimes spreads wrong information, misconceptions and leads to stereotyping. My goal is to provide the tools and resources for reliable information to answer questions and address concerns. Understanding one another which leads to peace of mind, happiness and tolerance.
Would you say that part of your work is about creating a new corporate culture for the region?
Not creating a new culture, rather polishing it and enhancing its flexibility, agility and ease accept and adapt; which in return makes it much more effective to lead companies and teams to be successful in a multi-cultural and diverse society like the UAE.
This is the year of tolerance in the UAE, how is that aligned with your values both personally and professionally?
While tolerance might be seen or thought of as a virtue, I believe it’s an essential character trait to communicating, working and living in a diverse cultural environment, so you can function effectively.
I’m sure you get asked some strange questions, can you tell us some of the most unusual ones?
Most questions start from the way we dress, so why you dress like this? Is it comfortable? Is it religious? Why white for men and black for women? Do you have to wear it? Can we wear it?
Do women have rights in your society? Can they get education? Can they work? Are they forced to marry whom the family choses? How many wives does the average man have?
Does the government give everyone oil revenue? How come Emiratis are all rich and can afford fancy cars?
How can you live in such hot weather? Why do you guys live in the harsh desert? Where do you get your water from? How many camels did you give your wife when you married her?
And much deeper, more personal, cultural, religious, political and off the wall questions which I enjoy each and all.
What’s your best piece of advice to someone arriving in the UAE for the first time?
You are in a place which has grown like never in the history of humanity. The forefathers and founders of the UAE worked very hard to make life good for everyone who lives here. Do not hesitate to take advantage and learn, explore and enjoy everyday you are living here. Immerse yourself in the beauty of diverse cultures living and live in harmony with one another.