Education and Early Career
Abeer grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, in a family of engineers, including her mother, father, and uncles. She attended Catholic schools in France, where she especially enjoyed studying math and physics, and later returned to Egypt to study civil engineering herself.
After completing her studies, Abeer’s career began at Orascom Telecom in Egypt as a civil engineer, where she quickly distinguished herself in a predominantly male-dominated field. Her success took her to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where she continued to work as an engineer.
While in the UAE, Abeer met Yousef Al Otaiba, who in 2008 was appointed as Ambassador of the UAE to the US. The couple married in 2010, and moved to Virginia, where they still live today with their two children.
Shortly after her daughter Samia was born, Abeer Shoukry-Al Otaiba felt a calling to pursue her lifelong passion for fashion. Inspired by the bond between herself and her daughter, Abeer named her new company SemSem, the Arabic word for “sesame seed” — and also her daughter’s nickname. In founding the fashion house, Abeer created a way to inspire and support women by pairing her creative work with her dedication to charitable causes.
Passionate about corporate social responsibility, Abeer founded SemSem on the foundational value of supporting women and girls around the world. Every season, she chooses a female-focused nonprofit organization for SemSem to support with its collection. Past partners have included the Association and Development of Women, Women for Women International, Every Mother Counts, and the International Rescue Committee.
As Creative Director of SemSem, Abeer focuses on bringing together colors, textures, and ideas from the Eastern and Western cultures in which she grew up. A reflection of her engineering background, her designs also utilize movement, layers and dimension. She spends her days drafting designs, inspecting fabrics and supervising the business as a whole — prioritizing sustainability and inclusivity wherever possible.
With a team that spreads from Washington, D.C., to New York City and around the globe, Abeer works diligently to bring her vision to the world. Abeer’s entrepreneurial pursuits with SemSem earned her a spot on Forbes Middle East’s list of 40 Women Behind Middle East Brands.
SemSem on Instagram
Founding Al Otaiba Investments
In October 2020, Abeer became the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Al Otaiba Investments. This international investment firm is now helping to drive impact, growth and sustainability across the globe.
Al Otaiba Investments is headquartered in the United Arab Emirates, with offices in Abu Dhabi and Washington, DC. By investing in meaningful projects, Abeer is committed to supporting innovators and pioneers with bold ideas that have the power to change the world.
In addition to supporting international philanthropic organizations, Abeer Al Otaiba works with local charities in Washington, D.C., including the Kennedy Center, Children’s National Medical Center and the Hope for Henry Foundation. Abeer is the Honorary Chair of the Hope for Henry Foundation.
Abeer lends her philanthropic focus and efforts to causes surrounding pediatric health. With her daughter Samia having experienced a medical emergency as an infant, Abeer understands the value of medical care and research. As an infant, Samia underwent surgery and treatment for a rare lung condition at Children’s National — efforts that led to a full recovery.
To show their appreciation for the institution’s role in helping their daughter, the Al Otaibas co-chaired the Children’s National Ball where they raised more than $10 million. The hospital awarded the couple the Joseph E. Robert, Jr. Prize in Philanthropy for giving back after going through a harrowing medical experience with their own family. Additionally, Abeer and Yousef have established a Goodwill Fund through the King Hussein Cancer Foundation, which helps to provide the funding necessary to treat underprivileged children and refugee cancer patients.
In addition to these organizations, Abeer has supported other philanthropic organizations centered around cultural exchange, health care partnerships and disaster relief activities to give back to those in need around the world.