Education and Early Career
Abeer grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, part of 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 went to work for 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.
Inspired by the bond between herself and her daughter Samia, Abeer wanted to connect her passion for fashion—which she had exhibited since her school days by altering clothes her parents bought her in France—with her dedication to charitable causes. She named her new company SemSem, the Arabic word for “sesame seed”—and also her daughter’s nickname.
From the very beginning, Abeer wanted her company to support 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. Her designs also utilize movement, layers, and dimension that reflect her engineering education. She spends her days drafting designs, inspecting fabrics, and supervising the business as a whole. With a team that spreads from Washington, D.C., to New York City and around the world, Abeer works diligently to bring her vision to the world.
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. Through this new business model, Abeer is committed to investing in the innovators and pioneers with bold ideas that have the power to change the world.
In addition to supporting organizations that help women and girls through SemSem, Abeer Al Otaiba works with local charities in her adopted home, including Children’s National Medical Center and the Hope for Henry Foundation. Abeer is the Honorary Chair of the Hope for Henry Foundation.
As an infant, Abeer’s daughter Samia needed to have surgery for a rare lung condition, which was performed at Children’s National and led to a full recovery. As a thank you to the hospital, the Al Otaibas co-chaired the 2014 Children’s National Ball, raising 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.
In addition to these organizations, Abeer has supported cultural exchanges, health care partnerships, and disaster relief activities around the world.