Haifa Beseisso: #SheCreates her destiny in Dubai
The UAE YouTuber quit a TV job for social media and feels the democratic response to content makes a more level playing field
THE PANDEMIC MAY have temporarily grounded her YouTube show, Fly With Haifa, but that doesn’t mean the content beast has remained unfed. Dubai social media star Haifa Beseisso turned to uploading more homegrown episodes, branching out beyond travel to discussion-based vids in order to create dialogue among the region’s various communities. With trademark colour, energy and flair, the transition has achieved great acclaim. Combine this with the fact the 29-year-old Palestinian walked away from a cushy job in traditional broadcast television just seven years ago and went on to single-handedly build a personal platform empire, it’s no wonder Facebook included Beseisso in their latest project, #SheCreates. Celebrating women in media and entertainment, the tech giant is publishing an e-book featuring content creators, influencers, and CEOs who will share their experiences and what it means to be a woman in power in today’s world.
We caught up with the talent for an all-encompassing chat.
How does it feel to be part of Facebook’s initiative? What unique feature about you do you believe demands your inclusion?
The fact I represent a lot of girls that grew up with a dream. I went through a lot of rejections and built everything that I have from zero. I was creative with the building process. It’s the story of a hungry girl who maximized her resources to travel the world, make her dream and I hope to help others make their dreams too. I like being real about the process and if anyone is struggling they can look to me as inspiration.
Was your relationship with social media an instant match made in heaven?
It started by coincidence because I was working in TV and was rejected from having a show unless I changed things about myself. I didn’t want that. I really believe that this is the time of us being ourselves. We don’t want to be told what we want or how to look. So I posted a few videos on YouTube trying to get a job as a host. That was 2014 when there weren’t many YouTubers, especially Arab girls. We were just learning as we went along. I loved how I could create a story about anything I wanted. So, I quit the TV world to do it. It became my full time job. Very quickly I realised you have to be responsible with what you put out there. I have a personal branding coach and have a team. It could be a bit toxic because it takes over all of your time plus there’s the judgment and worrying about the numbers, it could affect you, but I do a lot of work around mental wellness to stay sane.
It has completely changed my life. I have travelled the world, hosted the Nobel Peace Prize concert and sat with presidents. Social media is so powerful. You don’t need anyone to discover you. You put yourself out there and the people decide. You have to keep working hard and hustling. People think social media is easy. When my family come to work with me and see how hard it is, they are surprised.
How do you think being a social media star in the UAE compares to elsewhere in the world? Has it made the journey to success easier at all?
I think it’s really helpful. If I lived anywhere else I don’t know if I could have done this. It’s the land of opportunities. It’s diverse. People are always telling you to ‘go, hustle, grow.’ It’s so open-minded. One of the topics I talked about recently, if I did that elsewhere I could have been in actual physical danger. I feel safe here and surrounded by openness. It is a reason lots of social media people come to Dubai.
Who are your influences and why?
My inner voice is who I listen to most. I take a little from elsewhere too but not too much from one person or you end up being disappointed. People like Muhammad Ali, Frida Kahlo and Bob Marley, they all had passion and drive.
As a largely Arabic language content producer on Instagram, do you feel the reactions to your output are any different to your primarily English vids on YouTube? Is the Arabic social media world more tolerant and welcoming?
Arabic culture is so emotional: if they love you they love you so hard. If you trigger them, you really trigger them. It could be true of any culture, but this is what I have experienced. I have been celebrated as a girl traveling the world. But recently I have been doing content around women and when some people don’t agree with it, they are harsh.
Having featured on broadcast media and now being a name on social, how do the two sets of fans differ when you meet them? Do you feel TV is still important?
When they (fans) stop me on the road it’s because of my social output. When I did TV, it was more cinematic with an amazing crew but filming with a phone seems to hit the nerve a bit more.
How did you get on during the worst of the pandemic? Has the experience changed you?
Sitting at home has changed my life in so many ways. Inner voices have come up. That’s why scholars and thinkers used to sit in silence in nature. My channel is Fly With Haifa where I travel the world, but this year I got to travel to the world within. I discovered a lot and got closer to my family. I miss traveling but being in Dubai is just as good. I got healthy.
How does it feel to be a person in charge of their own destiny instead of working for someone else?
It’s a huge responsibility. I can’t seem to stop working. I try to take weekends off but that often doesn’t work out. Leadership is important, so when I hire a team I want to lead by example. I am creating the rules. If I slow down, everything slows down.