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Emirates Woman of the Year Award
Imran Rashid
20 January 2008
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    Zenny Hirji with the Emirates Woman of the Year Award. Courtesy of Emirates Woman magazine

    In May of 2007, Emirates Woman magazine hosted its second annual Emirates Woman of the Year event in Dubai. Published by Motivate Publishing Group, the magazine recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and has a circulation of around 28 000.

    In 2006, independent film-maker Nayla Al Khaja received the first-ever Emirates Woman of the Year Award (2005) at a high-profile event in Dubai, attended by some 160 VIPs from across the country. For their achievements in the areas of business, philanthropy and lifestyle, six exemplary women received nominations for the Emirates Woman of the Year 2006. They included: Raja Al Gurg, Executive Director of the Essa Salegh Al Gurg Group; Katy Newitt, Chairwoman of Foresight; Zenny Hirji, Chairwoman of Children's Hope Foundation; Maryam Al Noori, CEO of Intraflora; Girja Sinha, Chairperson of Indian Ladies Association; and Dyala Sabbagh Evers, CEO of Proof Woody.

    Zenny Hirji, Chairwoman of Children's Hope Foundation with the Emirates Woman of the Year Award with fellow nominees and participants of event. Photo: Courtesy of Emirates Woman magazine.

    From among these six highly-accomplished nominees, Zenny Hirji founder of the Children's Hope Foundation (CHF) received the 2006 Emirates Woman of the Year Award at a high-profile luncheon at Le Méridien Dubai. The event was attended by prominent businesspersons, professionals, civic dignitaries and other eminent personalities from the UAE.

    Hirji, who moved from London to Dubai in 2000, brought with her years of experience with various charitable organisations in the UK. Hirji was also Chairperson of the Aga Khan Foundation Annual Ball in London for two years. Shortly after moving to Dubai, she assembled a group of like-minded volunteers to set up the Children's Hope Foundation.

    Children's Hope Foundation logo. Courtesy Zenny Hirji

    In Dubai, the CHF comprises of 10 organising committee volunteers and has been involved with philanthropic initiatives where children are the primary beneficiaries. In most cases, CHF initiatives seek to promote education and/or alleviate poverty. CHF, for example, supported Manzil, a non-profit organisation that provides a professional, care-giving environment for special needs children. Radiant School in Sharjah, with the assistance of CHF was able to complete its school playground and secure funding to maintain subsidised tuition fees. CHF has also assisted other UAE-based organisations such as the Dubai Centre for Special Needs and Al Noor Training Centre, but is reaching beyond the country's borders. It has assisted with and is an ongoing contributor, to children's projects in the UK, Asia, Africa and Europe. In Afghanistan CHF has contributed to the Focus Humanitarian Assistance School Milk Project as well as the Roshan Project which provides educational opportunities for children living in Kabul.

    Speaking about the Award, Hirji reflected on the words of Shahnaz Pakravan keynote speaker for the event. Pakravan, who has worked with the BBC and Al Jazeera, noted that the awards are instrumental in highlighting the role and efforts of women in the Middle East. “I think [the award] highlights what we are doing, which can only lead to more help for the children.”

    Zenny Hirji and Thomas van Opstal are proud of their unique cookbook that contains recipes from different countries. Courtesy Zenny Hirji

    When asked about her specific role, Hirji said “Fundraising is something that I have done for a long time and am passionate about.” She is very creative at it as well. Her recent endeavour with the Sheraton Hotel in Dubai resulted in a unique cookbook which compiles recipes from diplomats stationed in the UAE from different parts of the world. The 31 recipes are both fun and pragmatic – a lot of thought went into ensuring that the recipe's ingredients were available locally. Moreover, the chefs at the Sheraton tested each recipe. The cookbook was a successful fundraising effort that highlighted Hirji's networking ability, creativity and other talents.

    Hirji felt that receiving the Award would open more doors for the Children's Hope Foundation and that she would be able to leverage this recognition to realise even stronger partnerships as well as more generous support for the Foundation's work.