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Roberta Calarese

Founding Partner and Chief Executive Officer


Roberta is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of GHAYA, a management consultancy firm with a quest to inspire and transform leaders, governments, and organisations to make positive enduring change in the world through leading with purpose.  

A strategic advisor with 25 years of experience in the fields of financial services, investment banking, policy making, international relations, corporate and board governance, data protection, regulatory matters, real estate and family offices, Roberta is a well-respected management professional with passion for leadership with purpose, sustainability, culture transformation and employee engagement. 

Public Sector 
In 2002, Roberta joined the Dubai International Financial Centre (“DIFC”) where she spent twelve years developing a comprehensive policy and legal framework that allowed the DIFC to become one of the top financial centres in the world and the leading financial hub for the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region.  During her tenure in DIFC, Roberta held many positions including Chief Legal Officer and Secretary General of DIFC Authority, Data Protection Commissioner, Chairwoman of the Legislative Committee of the Board of Directors, and Director Policy and Legal Services of the Dubai Financial Services Authority. In those years, Roberta led many of the international discussions with fellow regulators which resulted in the signing of many memoranda of understanding (”MoU”), including the International Organisation for Securities Commissions multilateral MoU. She also led extensive discussions with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (“OECD”) on corporate governance standards for listed and non-listed companies in the DIFC, with the European Community on data protection and obtaining an adequacy decision for the DIFC and with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on several different initiatives. As a member of the DIFC Executive Committee, Roberta proudly served as a brand ambassador to promote the DIFC and develop key strategic and economic relationships with other countries through collaboration and sharing of expertise and solutions to development challenges for financial centres.   

Private Sector
Roberta started her career in 1996 as an investment banking lawyer with Goldman Sachs in London, followed by ABN Amro and Prudential Bache. Later on, she became the Chief Legal Officer and Executive Committee member of Majid Al Futtaim, the leading shopping mall, retail and leisure pioneer across the Middle East and North Africa.   In her role, she contributed to the evolution of the retail and real estate sectors in the UAE and was the leader behind the creation of the first female leadership empowerment program in the 20-year history of the company. 

Board positions
A seasoned board member, Roberta sat on the board of the United Arab Emirates Tennis Federation for eight years contributing to the development of the youth and sport in the UAE.  Other board positions include Vice President of the board of directors of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in the UAE (2004-2016), Chairwoman of Art Dubai (2012-2014), board member of Majid Al Futtaim Finance. 

In 2013, Roberta was voted Best Female Lawyer for the Middle East by the International Financial Law Review.  Roberta also received, on behalf of the DIFC, the award for Best Government Initiative by the UK Society for the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners for the drafting of the first Trust Law in the Middle East. 

Roberta holds an LLB from Warwick University and an LLM for University College London (UCL). 
Cambridge University: ”Sustainability and Circular Economies”
MIT U-Lab “Leading from the Emerging Future”