Aleksandar Ilić is General Manager of Awards International UAE, hosts of the Gulf Customer Experience Awards.

I spent this week in Dubai, doing business as usual, and among other things on my schedule I had a meeting with a person representing a business magazine published in the region. 

We had discussed the potential of them becoming a media partner for one of our events, when suddenly I was struck with their reply…

“Yes, we will support you…if you give us an award.”

I politely declined and continued with my day, but I was in shock. I’m still new to the region – is this how things work here?  

It turns out the answer is yes!

This is how things work here; the principle of you pay-you win is unfortunately common here, as it is elsewhere in the world, and it’s quite appalling. 

‘Pay2Win’ is a horrible principle even in the case of free mobile phone games, never mind an awards event with a global reputation for transparency!

Disrupting the market

Five years ago Awards International had its first event in the UAE. We are proud of our awards and every innovation for which we are responsible. We were pioneers who have brought transparency, fairness, and independence to the business awards culture in the Middle East.

Our awards are fair – panels of independent judges work diligently to assess every entry against clear criteria, while scores and judges comments are provided to winners following each event.

This is how we operate our awards in London, Amsterdam, Dubai, and Belgrade, and it will be how we operate in every other market we enter. 

‘You’re asking me to pay?!’

When it comes to our judges, it’s important to stress: judges do not pay to judge!

Judges are selected for each event based on their experience and qualifications. We do, however, ask judges to pay for their judging package, which includes promotion to raise their professional profile, their attendance of the awards ceremony, the incredible networking opportunities – not to mention the knowledge gained from having first-hand experience of the very best entries. 

In the hallowed words of one of our satisfied judges – the price of the package is much less than they would pay an agency to promote them. It also means commitment for us. 

“I was surprised I had to pay, but today I am coming to you again as I know what it means for my expertise to be a judge.”

Helen Pettifer, Customer service consultant, trainer and a professional speaker

Independent research conducted by Kantar involving all of the attendees of the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards shows we’re doing the right thing…

Sure, from time-to-time we’ll get a reaction to even mentioning the fee, or even an angry tweet. 

But seriously, stop shaming people for paying for the services and products they like or need! 


Should people working for a charity (not the volunteers, but the staff) not be paid? Talk about sustainability… 

‘Can I just buy it?’

No, sorry!

I wouldn’t be involved in this organisation if it was any other way. 

No one can buy our awards. Only the judges’ scores determine the winners. We don’t even know the winners until those few moments before they are announced. We have records of every judge’s scores for every event we have hosted in the UAE over the last five years.  

You cannot buy an award at our events!

You have to earn it. 

Can you play fair?

The Gulf Sustainability and CSR Awards 2020 are now open for entries – why don’t you give it a try?

If you are shortlisted to be a finalist (which is not something gained by just paying the entry fee) and present in front of the judging panel, you will receive a bespoke feedback report which includes judges’ comments and details of how your scores compare to others in your category for each of the nine criteria. 

Yeah, but…

Over the past five years more than 20,000 people have attended our awards, 3,000 of whom were judges. They are highly regarded professionals, ambassadors for their industries, who keep coming back to judge because of the value they get for their money. 


You are not entitled to free marketing, dinner, and networking just because you’re amazing at what you do. You are (hopefully) already paid well for that. 

Sorry, but my Renault Clio 2006 won’t pay for itself.