It’s the Saturday morning after Valentine’s night and I find myself in a motorcade whizzing down Sheikh Zayed Road flanked by police escorts, flashing lights and a handful of slightly agitated news photographers. No, this isn’t the result of a particularly wild previous evening, but instead what being offered the regional exclusive of face-to-face access to the one and only Ivanka Trump looks like.
The night before had been pretty wild – but not in the way you might think. I had emerged from an otherwise-innocuous mani/pedi to a flurry of missed calls and WhatsApps from my US Embassy contact. “Urgent. Call me,” they said. “The White House wants to speak to you at 8.15pm.” Not a series of messages I am used to receiving, believe me. I have since screenshot them for posterity because… well, you just would, wouldn’t you?
Some background: the Senior Advisor to – and daughter of – the President of the United States had been invited to the UAE by the Dubai Women Establishment (DWE), formed in 2006 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai, and headed by Her Highness Sheikha Manal Bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Ivanka had been asked to speak at the second annual Global Women’s Forum Dubai, the theme of which was ‘The Power of Influence’, incidentally, coinciding with the year anniversary of her Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative.
Ivanka Trump with H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai
“It feels like much longer,” she smiles when we sit down together in a meeting room at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, all perfect teeth and blonde highlights. “We spent roughly two years constructing [it]… I think that’s why we were able to generate so much momentum so quickly. We spent years just laying the groundwork, speaking to people around the world and NGOs on the ground to figure out what had been done well before that we could scale,” she tells me, neatly sipping on an espresso and running through the successes of the W-GDP, a bi-partisan initiative (almost always a good sign) that aims to reach and uplift 50 million women across the globe by 2025. In fact, Ivanka explains it has already helped 12 million women so far.
“This is the first-ever [US] whole-of-government approach to women’s economic empowerment in the developing world… so we have this robust inter-agency team working to advance the shared goal. I’m really proud of the fact that in such a partisan time, the initiative was so well-designed that a bill has been introduced in the Senate with a companion bill in the House to codify this into law, thereby in perpetuity prioritising the role of women in United States foreign policy. I think that is critical. To me, it’s obvious, but it’s not been done. So we’re quite excited about that.”
Policies aside, she cuts an extremely elegant figure – tall, sophisticated, not a hair (or a word) out of place. In fact, her sentences are as carefully considered as the wardrobe choices she has made for her two-day trip to the Middle East; modest, refined, and, of course, mostly courtesy of Arab designers. Political, yes, but polite also.
Ivanka Trump at the Louvre with Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington
The first glimpse I get of the First Daughter is swishing through the surprisingly still-very-open-to-the-public lobby of Jumeirah Al Naseem, wearing navy-trimmed gold lamé from Layeur, The Modist’s in-house brand. It shimmers in the sunlight as she smiles for the cameras, hopping into the van. Dazed, slightly sunburned beachgoers gawp, too slow to reach for their iPhones as we all rush to clamber into the parade of cars outside. “The motorcade waits for no one,” I’m told. I should not have worn heels.
Aside from championing local brands (she’s spotted on her final evening in the UAE in a rainbow chiffon gown from Bougessa’s Resort 20 collection), Ivanka is also nodding to the region by wearing an Arabic nameplate necklace, bought for her at Souk Madinat by her Communications Director the day before; one for Ivanka, and one for her daughter, Arabella.
“I hope I’m wearing it the right way around,” she jokes as wewalk together from the motorcade and into the labyrinthine corridors of the embassy – a building that looks like a Brutalist spaceship. It’s almost the end of a very long day, and this is the fourth of five locations on our whistle-stop tour of Abu Dhabi. In just a few hours, we’ve also ticked off the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a palace belonging to H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, plus a speedy jaunt round the Louvre. Delightful, by all accounts, although I hadn’t imagined my first time there would be backdropped by Secret Service furtively scuttling around the antiquities.
Ivanka Trump visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
As Ivanka is shown around by Museum Director, Manuel Rabaté, she’s photographed in front of a painting of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, the portraitist best known for his work that has appeared on the one-dollar bill for over a century. “The money shot,” someone jokes as we’re hurriedly ushered into the next wing. The whole thing feels like a very high-stakes school trip.
It’s the way the day started, however, that really set the tone; a roundtable over coffee at Fouquet’s with UAE luminaries including H.E. Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, H.E. Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, and H.E. Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General of Expo 2020, who said of the tribulations facing the female workforce in the UAE and beyond, “Status quo is not an excuse.”
“Research shows that women rate themselves as 35 per cent less competent than men,” added Krysta Fox, CEO of Changeosity, a Dubai-based company that ‘transforms the mindset of business leaders to create abundant growth,’ to which Ivanka responded, “There’s a statistic that says, unlike men, women will wait until they feel 100 per cent qualified for a role before they apply for it.”
It’s imposter syndrome, plain and simple, and sadly something that is distinctly a female issue. So when I get the chance, I have to ask – does she ever suffer from it? We can’t imagine Ivanka Trump ever has a crisis of confidence… she seems bulletproof; unfazed by the trolls and the detractors.
“Oh, it effects my confidence all the time,” she admits. “But I feel like you can harness that. When I started in business I was ‘Donald Trump’s daughter’, so therefore I built a body of work that allowed me to be my own person while still proudly being his daughter. But one thing I will say is that it’s never a bad thing to be underestimated in life – never. I experienced that in business… it could be [people judging you on] your hair colour, your height, your look… but I loved it because it meant that they weren’t prepared, so I would tend to prevail in negotiations. You catch people off-guard. So I’ll never complain about being underestimated and then putting up results.”
What’s her motto, I ask, genuinely intrigued. “Well, our family motto is ‘Never give up.’ That’s what I’m always telling my kids. I think for me, such a critical part of succeeding at anything, whether that’s as a public servant, entrepreneur or a human being, is a positive outlook. I bring that with me wherever I go and I try to apply it to everything I do. I’m extremely fortunate that I recognise that; it fuels a sense of determination to give back to those who don’t have what I have.”
Lastly, what does Ivanka Trump do with challenges thrown her way? “I’ve never met anyone who is successful who hasn’t been challenged and failed several times. It’s the lesson you take from the failure that makes you stronger, smarter, and more resilient for next time. My pivotal moment was three years ago. I was on a trajectory as an entrepreneur and mother with young children. I went off-track, took a left and went in a whole other direction. I really had to change my life, literally and figuratively. I moved cities, my children had to change schools, I was adjusting to a new environment and a new industry where I had to prove myself again – and I wanted to. That’s what you do. It was an enormous learning curve and I think I’m only at the very beginning of what I will be able to do. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” The world, no doubt, will be watching.
Ivanka Trump at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
From Harper's BAZAAR Arabia March 2020 Issue