My “tale of two cities” life!

A few weeks ago, I was at Sydney airport’s international terminal enjoying a cup of mocha while observing aircraft landing and taking off.

My phone buzzed and I started exchanging a few WhatsApp voice notes with a client who is based on another part of the planet! Those messages were pretty much our periodic progress review meeting for a year-long project.

A project that’s delivered by my office in Dubai and through our “Virtual Editorial and Production Room” whose members spread across four continents from Australia to Europe.

This WhatsApp meeting made me (once again) realise and appreciate how far I’ve come in intentionally designing and building the lifestyle I’ve been living for more than 3 years now.

A tale of two cities!

A digital nomad life!

I’m not talking about the cliché digital nomadic life in which I’m supposed to live in Bali and make money by blogging or vlogging from the beach!

Nope!

I’m talking about establishing and growing a “traditional” B2B business with products/services that range from storytelling, to digital content production, to advisory services!

The cornerstone in my version of this entrepreneurial life is to have my business and life actually based in two cities at the same time:

Dubai and Sydney!

Why am I sharing this story with you? Because I frequently find myself in a conversation sparked by the following question from a friend or an acquaintance who finds my story inspiring or intriguing:

“Ibrahim, how do you do that?”

In this post, I won’t answer this question. Sorry to disappoint you! I promise to share my answer to this question in a separate article.

Actually, I’m writing this first post in my space here to answer the following question that I believe should be discussed first:

Why am I doing this?

The story started on a rainy summer day back in 2007.

Back then, I was in Sudan — my “home” country, and I was reading “Shift — Inside Nissan’s Historic Revival” by Carlos Ghosn — the famous chairman and CEO of the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance.

In this book, the Brazilian-born French businessman of Lebanese ancestry tells the story of how Nissan was about to go bankrupt back in the 1990s, and how a new alliance between Renault and Nissan was formed to save the Japanese company.

As part of the deal, Ghosn became the CEO of Nissan and Renault. He moved to Tokyo with his family while still leading Renault back in Paris.

He shared many stories on the joy and challenges of switching constantly between the two very different cultures: Japanese & French. On both professional and personal levels.

His story immediately captured my imagination and inspired me to make an immediate and spontaneous decision: I want to live this life!

I decided that I want to establish a business and a life in two different cities that belong to two different cultural systems and go through all the excitements, growth opportunities and the challenges that come with such lifestyle on both personal and business aspects.

That moment wasn’t the most encouraging moment to make such a bold decision.

To offer you some context, I was going through a very low-point in my life. The business I started a few years earlier was dying! And to make things more interesting, and after living & doing business for three years in Sudan, I was beginning to think that I was actually a misfit in my own “home” country!

Was my bold decision a reaction? My way of bouncing back after hitting the rock bottom?

Maybe.

What I was sure about is that I needed to leave! I needed an adventure, and I needed to connect with the world.

I had no idea at that moment how to bring that “twin cities” fantasy to life.

But that didn’t worry me!

That was my moonshot! Decided at a magical moment, and I was confident that I’ll figure it out later!

A typical entrepreneurial approach, something I learned from my late dad.

Fast forward to 2019, my WhatsApp meeting moment at Sydney airport. I spent most of the time while walking to my flight gate reflecting on this journey between those two moments.

The adventure started a few months after that moment in Sudan, and it took me until 2016 to realised my “two cities” tale. Well… it’s not a tale anymore!

I recalled many moments in this adventure, which made me understand (again!) why that gut decision was the the right one for me! After all, it fits my archetype — being an innocent adventurer.

The “Dubai - Sydney” adventure I’m living is a colourful mosaic of experiences, wins and lessons, in business and life.

Through this adventure, I was blessed to have the opportunity to pursue my passion, do things I wanted to do and live some interesting moments like:

  • Meeting with Sir Tim Burners Lee, establishing Dubai’s node of the Open Data Institute and becoming among the first group of the certified Open Data Trainers.
  • Making it to the United Nations HQ in New York where I participated in a special meeting for eGovernment experts from around the world.
  • Creating FlyLab concept from scratch, and winning the 3rd spot in the global Drones for Good Competition.
  • Visiting countries that I like such as Estonia and Singapore. And having the opportunity to play the “cultural adaptor” role between governments and businesses across West-East or North-South.
  • Allocating time for family and taking my dad to some exciting trips before he passed away.
  • AirB&Bing for the first 18 months after moving to Australia! I just wanted to explore my new “home” without having a fixed location on the map.
  • Advising and meeting with members of royal families, Sheikhs & ministers in several countries. Here’s the most recent moment of these, speaking in a special event and with Sheikh Ammar bin Humaid Al Nuaimi — The Crown Prince of Ajman in the UAE.
  • Advising governments at national, state & local levels and contributing to interesting initiatives ranging from innovation to open data.
  • Meeting with some interesting people, at both business and personal capacity! I got inspired by some, and let down by others!

Through this life, I’ve developed a deeper understanding of the leadership lessons shared by Mr. Ghosn in his book, especially the ones related to handling cultural differences. I’ve seen first-hand how decision makers in government and non-government organisations can struggle in understanding small cultural differences, and how that can hinder effective communication and reaching the desired agreements.

I feel grateful that I had the opportunity to be an agreed-upon cultural adaptor in many situations, an interesting role that I’m keen to play even more in the near future, starting with my talk at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney next week.

I also feel really blessed and privileged to succeed in turning this “tale of two cities” from being just a fairy tale I dreamed of back in 2007 in Sudan to a reality! A reality that I can reflect on while boarding the flight from Sydney to … the next adventure!

A storyteller, cultural adapter and innovation catalyst.