Maryam Abdulatif Al-Naemi
It is well known that the strength of any country lies in its youth. In fact, as Qatar’s 2030 vision illustrates, there is no investment more sustainable than that of human capital. Hence, Qatar took the initiative to insource a number of the most esteemed universities and educational facilities to contribute to the thriving of its youth, the future leaders, entrepreneurs, and pioneers of our country. An example of Qatar’s investment in its youth is Maryam Abdulatif Al-Naemi, a recent Carnegie Mellon graduate. She has dedicated a great portion of her time and efforts into improving her community. She was able to manage being active in both her academic life as an Information Systems student and in her extracurricular activities, representing herself as one of Education City’s most active youth. It is on this basis that we introduce Maryam Al-Naemi as an inspirational Qatari woman.
What was your journey as a Carnegie Mellon student like?
I was an Information Systems student, with a specific focus on a user-interface design track with a minor in History. However, I made sure to explore different courses in Psychology, Human Studies, Arts, and Engineering. It was important for me to have a whole scope of general knowledge that I could lean on along with my major. Alongside my academics, I was involved in many extracurricular activities, it’s something I’ve been doing since high school.
During high school, I was a member of the student council where I helped organize a lot of events such as talent shows and bake sales. I also organized a voluntary trip to the elderly house with Hamad Hospital as part of my personal project, a project we had to complete in order to get into the International Baccalaureate program. It was these initiatives that showed me that I had a passion for event planning and for being the leader of a bigger cause of any form.
When I joined university, I founded Helping Hands, a charity and volunteering club. The main reason I founded this club was that I wanted to fill a gap; we had a lot of clubs at our university, but I did not feel that there was one that met the demands of all charity and volunteer work at the university. Helping Hands was thus founded to facilitate charitable causes by serving as a platform that any student could approach with a cause that we would in turn help organize. At the same time, I was nominated to become the president of the Qatar Student Association (QSA).
It was at that moment in my life that I learned a valuable lesson: if your life is not chaotic, you’re not doing enough. It was difficult to balance all those projects that I was involved in, but it was the hardships that came along with it that taught me some of the most valuable lessons that I could learn. There is nothing in this world that anyone can accomplish alone, and even if they can, it would not reach its optimal potential. Every project requires a team, whether it is a team of friends, family members, or professionals, to be the backbone of its formation. Of course, I always had my priorities and when I found that one project was taking too much of my time, I had to make some hard decisions.
What has come of Helping Hands now that you have graduated?
To open a club in the university you have to write a constitution that must contain all the relevant information regarding the club and its continuity. This includes rules, hierarchy logistics, the number of executive members, the elective strategy of the next president and vice president, and many more. The purpose of this is to ensure that the club can be sustained beyond the founder. To this day Helping Hands is a successful part of the university and it still hosts and participates in many events. Last I checked when I graduated it won Best Club of the Year. In my days, we used to win Best Booth at events, so this really shows that not only did it survive as a legacy, but it moved up the ladder as well.
You emphasized the importance of having a whole scope of general knowledge outside the boundaries your major, what is the reason for that?
I chose my major at a time when I was still uncertain about what I wanted to do in the future. I decided on Information Systems because of its reliability as an occupation. I have loved and enjoyed my time studying Information Systems, but it is not the field that I am most excited about. Until today, I have not found the field that I am extremely passionate about. I do think that the field could be event planning, but only on the days that it does not make me want to tear my hair out!
Could you tell us about your recent project: Kaffeinated.
My goal during my senior year was to expand my horizons and expertise by organizing events outside of my university. I had previously collaborated with Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU), specifically, the administration at Student Centre in Qatar Foundation, for an event called Qatar Glory, which aimed to support Qatari businesses. The team is extremely welcoming and supportive of any students who wanted to pitch ideas. Accordingly, I went to them with my next idea: Kaffeinated.
The idea behind this event purely came out of my love for coffee. I felt that people were not looking at coffee as something beyond a drink in their hands, so I wanted to introduce them to the coffee culture that I loved. I decided to do this through a fun event by gathering Qatari-owned cafes in one place. It was successful and cafe owners were proudly standing next to their booths and were inspired by the environment around them. They were even socializing with one another. It is a community that is still being built and is constantly growing. It is because of this success that I wanted the next event to be even bigger, so we introduced sponsors. Our biggest sponsor was Vodafone, who had built a coffee booth with the help of Empire Cafe. Since I wanted people to hear what other cafe owners and successful people in the coffee industry had to say, we introduced interviews, talk shows, and even lottery competitions to this event.
You mentioned you like to work in teams. What was the Kaffeinated team like?
The team started very small with just me and the help of some freelancers. However, as the project is growing, I am hoping to create a bigger team. As I mentioned earlier, a strong team is vital to the success of any project and for that reason, I am very particular about having a stable team for Kaffeinated and so I will be taking some time before introducing new members to the team.
How did you deal with the stress of handling big events?
Event management is straining in every way, mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually. It is the kind of stress that follows you throughout the day; you can’t just clock out after work hours. When I am working on an event, I spend all day thinking about it. The thing that has helped me the most is the support that I have gotten from my loved ones. Both my parents and friends, the people that know me the most, were able to calm me down after a long and exhausting day, they constantly reminded me why I was doing what I was doing. I would say you need a support system, that is the most important thing.
How did you balance your time between your education, extracurricular activities, and your family?
It was not easy. I am the eldest child, the first to attend university, and the first to graduate. It was difficult for my parents to understand the breadth of time that my projects and classwork required at first, especially during my first year when I was trying to find a balance between my work and family. After they started seeing results, however, they became more lenient as they were able to understand the demands of the work that I aspired to achieve. But this required understanding from my end as well; while I was out from 7 am to 9 pm during the weekdays, I would devote a whole day during the weekend to my family in respect to my parents and their dedication to me. The truth is that most parents are not trying to make it harder for their children. Their fears are partly from them missing you and partly from them worrying that you will take your eye off the ball focusing on one thing and losing track of the more important thing.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
If your parents are proud of you and Allah is happy with what you are doing, nothing else matters. The most important thing is that you make sure that, whatever you’re doing, you are doing it for yourself and for the sake of your happiness, not for fear of what others will think about what you do.