All the winners at the Esquire Awards 2019
For ten years Esquire has being on the front lines of culture, style and politics – helping explore and demystify the misconceptions that people had of a region. A region that some would tarnish as having ‘no culture’. But we were here to champion the first waves of creative talents in art, film, music, fashion and literature; and we are still here to champion the brilliant new voices.
Ten years ago when we launched the region was a different place. The world was a different place. We have made enormous strides with regards to gender equality, accountability and sustainability. Creatively we saw the shackles of Arab stereotyping weaken, and a region that began to blossom with self-expression.
We have seen cinemas reopen in Saudi Arabia, an Egyptian win the Oscar for Best Actor, and recently saw an Emirati go into space.
It was a decade in which the region - and the planet - finally woke up to the potential of the Arab world as visionaries, creators and innovators. It was a decade when the region stopped being content with playing a bit part and demanded to be considered as the lead role.
Here are all the winners in no particular order:
Chef of the Year - Izu Ani
Breaking bread with good friends is an essential part of the social culture here in the Gulf – but for a period there was an over-reliance on importing big-name celebrity chefs to fly-in create some hype and leave as quick as they arrived. Our winner this year is the antithesis of that.
Having worked at Dubai stalwart La Petit Maison and successfully launching La Serre, our winner’s reputation continues to sizzle. This year alone he has opened three new restaurants – including his first outside the region in Monaco – and back in February his DIFC restaurant Gaia topped Esquire’s coveted 50 Best Restaurants in the GCC list.
Arguably the UAE’s first ‘celebrity chef’, this man personifies what it is we celebrate the most here at Esquire, someone who has helped showcase the region’s true homegrown talent.
Influencer of the Year - Jeetendr Sehdev
While Social Media can sometimes seem like an endless ocean of vapid self-indulgence, there are some people out there who have dedicated themselves to cutting through the noise to try and understand what makes it – and the people using it – tick. This is the talent of our next winner.
Not only did his debut book ‘The Kim Kardasian Principle’ rocket onto The New York Times’ best-sellers list, but so did his reputation as one of the most influential, thinkers in the world of business, branding and culture transformation.
This year has seen him speak at the United Nations, keynote some of the well-respected business summits, and even spark the idea behind Nike’s hugely successful advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.
Entrepreneur of the year - Elissa Freiha
By 2021, the UAE government has pledged to become one of top 25 countries for gender equality in the world — a goal that it would struggle to achieve if not for people like our next winner.
This exceptional Emirati-Lebanese businesswoman is the founder of Womena, a platform aimed at empowering women by attracting investors to invest in new female-led start-ups.
For more than five years Womena has dedicated itself to the goals of supporting more women in business, more women investors and a more inclusive, diverse, and consequently booming ecosystem. It is now the largest women-empowerment platform in the Middle East.
Inspiration Award - Oliver Percovich
In 2007, a scruffy Australian arrived in Kabul with little more than a bag of clothes and three skateboards. While working during the day, Oliver Percovich would lend his skateboards to Afghan teenagers to play with. They soon became the country’s first skateboarders. Noticing how skating drew positive attention from young people from various ethnicities and genders, Percovich decided to bring more skateboards into Afghanistan, and ultimately establishing the country’s first skateboarding school – with the underlying goal to provide Afghan youth a positive outlet and a safe community.
Today, Percovich‘s non-profit organization is known worldwide as ‘Skateistan’, and has since expanded from Afghanistan, to opening schools and community centres in Cambodia, and South Africa. In 2015 Skateistan was awarded The Laureas Sport for Good Award, and a year later it was ranked as the 65th most important non-profit in the world, according to NGO Advisor, helping touch the lives of tens of thousands of children around the world.
Business person of the Year - Khalid Al Darwish
Originally based in Jeddah our winner launched a chain of supermarkets that has literally taken the country by storm. In the next two years alone, the Manuel Market brand plans to open 100 new stores.
But what really impressed our judges, and millions of Saudi customers for that matter, is his success in becoming the first food retailer in Saudi Arabia to introduce organic food. Again, this has been a novelty in the Kingdom and we believe a real game changer when it comes to healthy living.
Contribution to the Arts - Butheina Kazim
This year Marvel Studios made $5 billion at the worldwide box office, and while we all clearly enjoy an Avenger’s film, there is a magic behind cinema that goes beyond the mega multiplex. One place that has been successfully able to capture that magic is Cinema Akil.
The only independent arthouse cinema in the GCC opened its doors in its current Alserkal Avenue location in Dubai just over a year ago and has become a beacon for lovers of independent film ever since. Not only does it showcase cinema from across the Arab world, major cult classics and award-nominated documentaries, but via vehicles such as the newly created panel discussions series ‘Debatable’, it allows the communities to discuss subjects that are not often spoken about in the Middle East like the Michael Jackson documentary Finding Neverland.
Cinema Akil’s success is a credit to community building in the UAE and offers a much needed break from yet another Avenger’s film.
Comeback of the Year - Anthony ‘The Mooch’ Scaramucci
Last year our next recipient worked for US President as his Communications Director. He was hired in a hail of publicity – and then got fired 11 days later.
Better known as ‘The Mooch’, he is an American financier and entrepreneur, who is also now making it big in this region with his SALT leadership forums, and has become one of Mr Trump’s most outspoken critics. And if that isn’t enough – in an interview in this week’s Arabian Business magazine, he doesn’t rule out a bid for the White House himself one day.
Humanitarian Award - Kashif Siddiqi and Bacary Sagna
Football is a game that has transcended the world like no other. Whether you are in the deserts of Al-Ula or the foothills of the Himalayas chances are young kids will be likely kicking a make-shift balls around for the sheer enjoyment of it. That is the starting point for the charity, Football For Peace.
This diplomatic youth sports movement uses the influence of football to educate and facilitate global integration regardless of race, creed, status or nationality.
Supported by heads of states and a who’s who footballing legends – including Harry Redknapp, Ronaldinho, and Dwight Yorke – Football for Peace looks to spread the message of social justice, gender equality, water sustainability and poverty, as a way of challenging mindsets through the power of the world’s most popular game.
Comedian of the year - Ahmed Helmy
One of the most loved and recognizable faces in Arab cinema, this Egyptian actor has built a storied career not just as the gold standard in comedic roles, but also as a film producer, television presenter and – alongside his wife, actress Mona Zaki – as a force for good, using his profile to promote fantastic causes including the United Nations’ ‘Food for Education’ project.
Proving that his talent has no expiry date, he made his film debut more than 20 years ago and yet still today, with his latest film Khayal Maata, shows that he remains in an elite group of leading men capable of pulling people away from their phones and into cinemas, a modern day miracle.