Khadija Al Bastaki, Executive Director of Dubai Design District (d3), discusses her values and mission, how d3 supported the community during the pandemic, exciting initiatives, and lessons learned along the road

What is your vision of d3 in five years’ time?
At d3, our main objective is to seek out new ways to enable our creative community. We aim to provide an ecosystem that allows creatives to experiment, flourish and inspire and come together and rethink the regular. Within the next five years, we look to optimize our support for the creative scene even more by offering a platform to an increasingly diverse range of businesses and brands. This will include even more emerging local and regional homegrown talent and entrepreneurs to global names across our four segments of fashion, design, architecture and retail. We will look to building more exciting partnerships too on the local, regional and international level as collaboration is key to all that we do. And by following this vision we aim to support even further the vision of the Dubai and UAE leadership to grow the contribution that the creative sector makes to the economy and to transform the emirate into a global hub for the creative industries. The Dubai leadership announced plans this spring to transform the creative sectors and generate thousands of new jobs. The creative economy is seen as an engine of growth and their aim is to almost double the number of companies in the city’s creative sector to 15,000 by 2025 – and we aim to play an instrumental role in this at d3.

How have you integrated your values and mission into d3’s structure?
To me, collaboration and sustainability are vital values. As such, we have woven them into the fabric of our DNA here at d3. We are an extremely friendly and welcoming society always looking to form new partnerships and welcome talents from all corners of the world. Sustainability has become increasingly important in our world today and we at d3 have strived to demonstrate and advance human-centric approaches to design in efforts to make our lives more sustainable and increase efficiency and well-being.

Since taking on this role, my mission for d3 has been focused heavily on solidifying the community of creatives and supporting home-grown brands. As a regional hub for art and creativity, we actively seek opportunities to come together and promote local talent, celebrate achievements, and navigate the region’s next chapter of growth and innovation by rethinking art, architecture, fashion and design.

d3 is the region’s prime design hub that has something for everyone, from gorgeous offices with views and attractive studios to authentic dining experiences and homegrown lifestyle boutiques.

How has COVID-19 affected the industry, and how has d3 aided the community during difficult times?
Over the course of the pandemic to date, we have explored all sorts of ways in which to support the industry. And looking back, the last 18 months has seen our community show incredible resilience and collaboration. We took several measures early on to help our business partners to minimise uncertainty, ensure business continuity and maintain financial resilience. We are also very proud of the #AThread4Cause campaign which was launched in the first months of the pandemic, where we partnered with the Arab Fashion Council to call the UAE-based fashion designers to use their craftsmanship and haute couture flair to make surgical attire for the UAE’s healthcare industry. In the end, we at d3 became a central logistics hub for the campaign which saw seven business partners representing more than 50 tailors and pattern makers making the PPE. As the pulse of the region’s design and creative scene, we have absorbed many learnings from the pandemic, and we are even more determined to continue rethinking the regular by embracing the inevitability of change and becoming active architects of the future creative landscape.

What qualities do you possess that you think have contributed most to your success?
I believe my curiosity is a key factor in my accomplishments and the success of d3. We are inspired by anything that triggers passion and curiosity. That’s something we pride ourselves on here at d3. Our commitment to “Rethink the Regular” requires us to continually be curious and question ourselves, our ways of doing things, and what impact we hope to have on our community. Our innate desire to collaborate is also a key to our growing success. We are actively working towards a collective platform where we build each other up by combining our extraordinary talents, challenging each other to innovate and share a ride to the frontline of the global design landscape.

Khadija Al Bastaki is Executive Director of d3. She also manages the implementation of d3’s business vision and future growth plans.

How do you manage and motivate your team?
We at d3 are extremely motivated by the fact that we can contribute to such as exciting and multifaceted field holding immense cultural, social and economic value. Design matters more than ever before in a world that is changing so quickly and so profoundly. Despite the unprecedented times, the appetite for design and innovation is not changing, but simply migrating into other spheres, especially digital. Nevertheless, the design holds the key to innovation because it humanises technology and transforms the creative industries. Knowing this we strive to continually invest in emerging talent and provide them with a launching platform.

What do you find most difficult, and how do you strive to solve it?
Our community is home to a breadth of businesses in different stages of growth, and there’s no one size fits all solution in terms of the support they need. I find it to be an exciting challenge to explore how we can give them the right level of support and consultancy to reach new heights. The success of our students and start-ups is especially important to us, and we invest a lot of resources in enabling them. This requires that we constantly evaluate and enhance the scope of opportunities and assistance available, and devise innovative ways to provide them with a visible platform for future investment, partnerships and prospects.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date? Ensuring business continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic was an accelerated learning experience for all of us. We have always commended ourselves on our agility as a community, and the pandemic challenged how we responded to cascading regulations and strategies. I’m proud that we were able to rapidly deliver adaptive solutions and infrastructure so our business partners could continue creating, collaborating and innovating. It was a test that ultimately proved our resilience and unity as both a business district and creative hub.

What are the key projects you’re working on? Is there an important initiative or promotional activity you’re currently working on that you’d want to share?
We have just wrapped up the 7th edition of Dubai Design Week. The event was a huge success showcasing our creative community’s inspiring talents through forward-thinking panel discussions, workshops and insightful exhibitions. This year’s edition presented the most extensive programme to date with more than 250 events – and it was fantastic to see so many people back in person too. The community was delighted to be back together. We also presented 2040: d3 Architecture Exhibition, alongside Dubai Design Week. With a theme of ‘2040’ the innovative multimedia experience took visitors on a journey to envision how Dubai could look in 20 years, aligned with the urban transformations outlined by the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan. It was our second architecture exhibition at d3. And we’ve actually now extended it until December 31 given the interest in it. Prior to Dubai Design Week, we also welcomed the world to d3 for Arab Fashion Week-Women’s Spring Summer 2022, following our partnership with the Arab Fashion Council this summer. And we now look forward to having the men’s edition of Arab Fashion Week in January. With a variety of other upcoming events, there is much to look forward to and we’re very excited for a very busy program over the coming months. As we prepare for another exciting period, we’re always working to source new talents and form new partnerships to join the fold of the d3 community – this is always a key priority for

Connectivity Installation by Kart Group showcased at Dubai Design Week 2021

What were the key successes of this year’s Design Week – how do you plan to build on it going forward?
This past Dubai Design Week boasted the biggest programme in its seven-year history. It was amazing to offer the most extensive program to date and this really highlights the growing interest and appetite for design in Dubai and the region. The diversity of creativity was inspiring. We are so proud of our strategic partnership with Dubai Design Week and to see how the event has grown and evolved since we helped launch it in 2015. We showcased 130+ international and regional exhibitions and brands from over 20 countries. The event welcomed thousands of guests to the 50+ talks featuring regional and international industry leaders, shedding light on the latest innovations and trends in the global design scene. It is always one of the most exciting moments of the year for us at d3 – and it is so important to bring the design community together in this way, to exchange ideas, collaborate, learn from each other and inspire. Plans of megacities are being set today and construction is underway as we look to a growing population, which is set to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050. Establishing dialogue on the future of sustainable cities has never been so important, which is why we were excited to organise the second edition of d3’s annual architecture exhibition, following the successful inaugural event last year us.