Marketing Game Changers 2020: Priya Sarma

Priya Sarma

Senior sustainability head, Unilever MENA, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus & Turkey

Founder and board member, Advertising Business Group (ABG)

MCBG industry representative on UAE

Private Sector Advisory Council, UAE

Federal Competitiveness & Statistics Authority (FCSA)

Years in current position: 1.5

Years with company: 12

Previous jobs

2008-2019: Head of corporate
communications, Unilever MENA

Regional account director, NAMET,
Lowe-Look, Egypt

Account manager, Equity Advertising, Egypt

Key achievements

Launch of the UAE chapter of the Unstereotype Alliance with UN Women and positioning Unilever in the UAE as a leader in driving a sustainable business over the past few years.

Setting up the ABG in November 2016.

Supporting governments and communities across MENA during COVID-19 via monetary and product donations. (Unilever was one of the first companies to participate in the UAE campaign that donated 10,000 meals, illuminating 10,000 lights on Burj Khalifa).

What is your objective in your current role?

Translating Unilever’s global sustainability commitments locally via advocacy and partnerships.

Do you have a guiding principle?

Compassion, inclusion, integrity.

How do you make partner relationships work?

Inclusion and transparency.

What have you learned from a specific failure?

The value of strong but realistic planning. The ability to be flexible and pivot when faced with challenges. The need to get involved in the details for a successful execution.

What work do you wish you had done?

The launch of Love Beauty and Planet – a brand that believes that looking good and doing good go hand-in-hand. A small, hand-picked Unilever team took Love Beauty and Planet from an idea to reality in less than 12 months – an incredibly fast timescale in which to create an entirely new brand.

Who inspires you professionally?

Women who combine kindness with strength of character inspire me immensely. Lately, it’s Kamala Harris, US vice-president elect. She is intelligent, articulate, inclusive and a fighter against injustice, advocating for those who cannot fight for themselves.

How has Covid-19 changed your business?

Our belief in the need for increased collective contributions towards addressing climate change has led to new ambitious commitments being announced recently.

Agency reference

Hannah Beswick, Head of Partnerships, UN Women Liaison Office for the GCC

Priya has been the leading corporate force in establishing the UAE National Chapter of the Unstereotype Alliance, a thought and action platform convened by UN Women – the United Nations’ entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment – that seeks to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes in all media and advertising content. This member-led initiative seeks to collectively use the advertising industry as a force for good to drive positive change all over the world.

Priya has worn two hats throughout the co-development of the UAE National Chapter over the course of the past two years: as a senior member of Unilever’s sustainability team in the region, and as a board member of the Advertising Business Group. She has brought both organisations on board to the UAE National Chapter as founding members and has undertaken extensive outreach to bring aboard several other members, which led to the recent launch of the first outpost of the Unstereotype Alliance in the Middle East.

The work that Priya has done as a key interlocutor of the Advertising Business Group – particularly noting key research that was recently undertaken in partnership with Zayed University, which demonstrates the public demand in the UAE and GCC to portray women in increasingly progressive roles – served to create the baseline for the UAE National Chapter’s strategic plan and first year of work, which will focus on broadening the representation of women and men in non-traditional roles in media and advertising.

It should be recognised that Priya undertook the work of bringing together private sector partners to work towards the creation of the UAE National Chapter outside of her regular professional duties. Priya is personally and professionally committed to creating a world where gender equality and the empowerment of women are the norm, fully cognizant that in order to achieve these ends we must break down stereotypes in media and advertising – as the content we consume every day shapes how we see the world for ourselves and others – and can either constrain or expand the way that we view women’s and men’s roles in society.

Over the course of the two years that I have known Priya, she has simultaneously demonstrated bold leadership and humility, prioritised a team-based approach with a laser-focused vision on results, and has shown at every turn that she is a consummate professional. Priya is a delight to work with, and I consider myself lucky to call her a colleague and a friend.

Rapid fire

What are you working on?
Keeping our plastic in the loop and out of the environment.

Who are you following?

What are you craving?
A visit to my parents.

What are you hiding from?
My inner voice and the struggle between focusing on ‘me’ vs ‘we’.

What are you playing?
Stayin’ Alive.

What are you listening to?
Dr Andrew Huberman.

What are you reading?
The Glass House by Amitav Ghosh.

What are you watching?
Line of Duty on Netflix.

Where are you isolating?
My garden.

What did you learn over lockdown?
The deep interdependence, between people and planet.