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UAE’s Roxana Jaffer talks social awareness, sustainability and upholding humanity

From environment to humankind, Roxana Jaffer touches lives, spreading smiles and doing greater good, one initiative at a time. ASPIRE catches up with this hotelier who has set her eyes on making a real difference to the world around her

As a prominent humanitarian in the hospitality industry, Roxana Jaffer plays multiple roles from CEO, thought-leader, author, strategist, change agent to public speaker, and motivator. Yet what drives her the most each day is her contribution to the environment and the world. Her professional commitment as CEO of Holiday Inn Al-Barsha and how she has ensured the hotel embraces social responsibility and sustainability at its core is remarkable.

Well-Thought Initiatives

Roxana moved to the UAE in 2006 with her husband after living and working in the UK for years. She was planning to lead a retired life but soon got bored, yearning to do more. Taking up a new challenge as a hotelier with Sovereign Hotels, she not just succeeded in building up the company but also scaling it to greater heights, embedding soulful initiatives at the heart of the brand.

Roxana observes that Dubai in a very short span of time has undoubtedly proved itself by acclimatizing to sustainable measures. With the belief that every human being has a role to play in society, she decided to empower her staff and colleagues at work to become socially responsible. Beginning humbly and moving gradually with well-thought-out initiatives, Roxana paved the way by collaborating with various organizations working towards social causes.

“A truly sustainable company makes a difference and successfully incorporates in its DNA the principles of economic prosperity, social justice, and environmental protection. Simply, our sustainability remit is to help improve quality of human life, through responsible business practices,” Roxana asserts.

The words of the founding father of UAE remind her of the globe’s depleting resources as she quotes UAE’s much-admired visionary Late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan: “Our land and in the sea, our forefathers lived and survived in this environment. They were able to do so because they recognized the need to conserve it, to take it only what they needed to live and to preserve it for succeeding generations.” 

Over the years, Roxana has also worked towards designating a day during the Holy Month of Ramadan to bring underprivileged children from special schools to break their fast for an evening at the hotel’s surroundings. Over time, the property has hosted children from Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special needs; Adopt-a-camp, Special Needs Future Development Center; Eduscan Schools, etc., to name a few in their bid to brighten their days and spread happiness. “It was just great to see them enjoy our hospitality, and they felt proud to be accepted in mainstream society, which felt heartening,” smiles Roxana.

She was also honored to be a Task Force Member for UN – Women Empowerment Principles (WEPs) to bring awareness on gender equality in the UAE

Illuminating Lives, Spreading Smiles

For over a decade, Roxana and her team have collaborated with various local and international community organizations bringing awareness to stakeholders by participating in their initiatives.

A partnership with United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP), the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, was really the turning point for Roxana as she accomplished the achievement of being accepted by UNWFP to be a partner and run initiatives that would help to engender funds to feed the hungry in the world. “This gave a direction and meaning to the Initiative for Social Responsibility: Holiday Inn Loves You Campaign” (HILUC) that I gave birth to,” she reveals.

The campaign was initiated eleven years ago with a mandate to support compassionate causes, plan initiatives to raise funds for building a civil society, and uphold global partnerships that help global disasters.

Furthermore, in supporting United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs Goal #2)– ‘End Hunger, Achieve Food Security’ Roxana and her team have impacted over 497,941 hungry souls. She was also honored to be a Task Force Member for UN – Women Empowerment Principles (WEPs) to bring awareness on gender equality in the UAE.

Radiating Resilience And Love

Roxana faced a few road bumps on the journey, but her motivation to sustain the drives never stopped. “The biggest challenge was the year 2020 and the pandemic to combat COVID 2019. Lots of our programs were halted and our annual targets did not actualize. ‘Embrace Ramadan’, an annually held initiative for the month, came to a halt. That’s when we pledged that for every Iftar taken at our restaurant, we would donate a dollar to the hungry. Our ‘Bridge for A Cause’ and ‘Bazaar’ that raised awareness and funds for the hungry too were at a standstill,” she shares.

Roxana and her staff were not thwarted and found innovative methods to look after the people and environment during the pandemic. “While glass partitions at checking in desks, social distancing, contactless menus in restaurants, and safety posters became the norm, we thought of new avenues to give care to our guests and staff. For guests, I sanctioned dedicated areas for steaming with special steam machines and wellness tea (a special recipe to thwart the virus) being served in our all-day dining,” says Roxana.

Despite the shortcomings of the year, the team also managed to achieve a 34% Reduction in Water usage, 27% Reduction in Electricity Usage and 24% Reduction in Carbon Footprint. Holiday Inn Al-Barsha has won the coveted ARABIA CSR AWARD for 5 Years in a row for its sustainability drives. As the force behind the initiatives, Roxana herself is a recipient of many awards: ‘Global Inspiration Leadership Award 2015, for Outstanding Leadership’, ‘Best Best Woman in Hospitality Award, UAE 2015’, United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) recognition for ‘Putting Sustainability Goals into Action’,
Femina World HRD Congress 2018 ‘World Women Super Achiever Awards’, Berkeley Middle East Investors Club 2019 ‘Most Influential Women Leader Award’, to name a few.

She is also the founder of an NGO “Advent in Building Human Capital” operating in 3 countries – India, Pakistan, and UAE. A specially formulated educational program: “English for Hospitality Professionals”, it allows growth and employment to discerning youth with an 80% year on year success rate.

There is no stopping Roxana who wishes to continue touching lives, radiating love and humility while at it. “I hope and continue to keep to our sustainability mission as long as I can. My aspiration would be that my colleagues and stakeholders continue the work of being socially responsible with greater zeal in bringing awareness of social responsibility to all stakeholders and upholding one of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) sayings – ‘Preserve the earth because it is your mother’,” she expresses.


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