Academic achievement: Kamilla Bakytova wins at Cannes Lions’ Hatchuel Academy

Kamilla Bakytova not only represented the UAE at the exclusive Cannes Lions Robert Hatchuel Student Academy, but was also part of the team that won its annual creative competition.

By Austyn Allison

Kamilla Bakytova, a former student at the American University in Dubai (AUD), was part of the winning team in the annual Roger Hatchuel Student Academy (RHA) competition at the Cannes Lions.

The Academy, named after the founder of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, is a multi-day programme for 40 students selected from around the world. Attendees are taught and mentored by some of the leading figures in international advertising and work in teams to produce a creative project at the end of the week. This year, the Academy partnered with the World Woman Foundation (WWF) for a brief on gender equality.

Bakytova says of her time with the RHA: “I’ve learned from the leaders of the industry, the most fascinating insights from them. We had this amazing opportunity to ask them questions, to learn more about their life stories, their experiences, and it surprised me when all of them shared not only their successful life stories but also their failures.”

That theme of learning from both the good and the bad is a principle embraced by the Academy. “We champion learning by doing, and we believe that it’s OK to learn from your mistakes because there is no success without failure,” said Maksimilian Kallhed, innovation consultant and founder of Amongst Friends, Hyper Island AI chairperson and board member of the World Woman Foundation, when the WWF’s partnership was announced. “This virtual classroom is a space everyone belongs to, no matter their background or previous experiences; we believe everyone is creative.”

In the UAE, the admissions process for the Academy is run by Motivate Val Morgan (MVM), the cinema advertising arm of Campaign’s parent company, Motivate Media Group. Bakytova’s lecturer at AUD, professor of advertising Dina Faour, encouraged her students to apply. To do so they had to make a two-minute video that represented their “inner voice”, says Bakytova. She adds: “In my video I shared childhood images and videos and started from the beginning, basically, sharing how as a child creativity has always been in my life throughout the years, how I managed to explore the advertising sphere specifically and found this niche for myself, something that I’m passionate about and something that I want to explore more and share with the world.”

Three students from the UAE were shortlisted and interviewed by MVM’s deputy marketing and PR manager, Dumindrini Ratnayake. Bakytova showed her portfolio and explained what she expected to get from the Academy. She says it was “honestly one of the best meetings I’ve had. It was super open and we shared what we’re passionate about.”

She was selected to represent the UAE at the Robert Hatchuel Academy. But as the Cannes Lions advertising festival was held virtually because of Covid-19, the Academy had to take place online.

“I’m still surprised how we managed to do that,” says Bakytova. “Although the whole experience was virtual, we still got a chance to get a lot out of this experience, and to receive all the knowledge we needed to. And sometimes it really felt like we were all sitting in one classroom talking to each other. I feel like although we are so different, we all had one main goal, our passion for creativity. That helped us connect with each other and learn more about each other’s background and culture.”

The brief for the competition was to create an advertising campaign in three days for the World Woman Foundation. It was focused on gender equality in business, and specifically on how women can be empowered to connect with other female entrepreneurs.

Baktytova was put on a team with fellow Academy attendees from Spain, Sri Lanka and Nigeria, and they spent hours each day brainstorming over Zoom and WhatsApp. Working with students from different cultural backgrounds was eye-opening, she says. “We all came to the conclusion that gender inequality within business is everywhere. … It’s a worldwide problem.”

The team came up with the idea of an app for WWF that would allow female entrepreneurs to connect with one another and to potential investors. They then created a video with a call to action to sign up and become part of the movement of businesswomen around the world.

During the project, Bakytova caught Covid-19 (she has since recovered), and says her team helped her through. “It was a really nice surprise when I realised how my team was so supportive about it,” she says. “They were so helpful, they tried to cheer me up. I was isolated, but when we had meetings I didn’t even feel that I was like alone in my apartment.”

Even for the non-infected team members, the whole process was cathartic. “The amount of times we just cried during a session, I can’t even count them,” says Bakytova. “It was so emotional and everyone was able to share. No one was left out.”

Bakytova has now graduated from AUD, as well as from the RHA, and is working in social media for Toh PR in Dubai. She is keen to thank not only the Academy itself and MVM’s Ratnayake, but also her professor, Dina Faour. “She is so supportive and challenging and always pushes her students in the right direction,” says Bakytova. “She teaches not only academic lessons but life lessons as well.”

On top of meeting mentors from the industry and fellow students, Academy attendees were connected with previous graduates who are now making their way in the global advertising world. “RHA is definitely a family of the most creative, fascinating changemakers,” says Bakytova.