Qatar has recently witnessed unprecedented growth on all fronts, from market expansion to diversification of human capital and strengthening infrastructure among many others. One of the factors that played an important role in this growth is the field of entrepreneurship, which has been developed by society to meet the community’s demands and compete with global markets. This field was elevated by Qatari women’s participation, where they have changed its structure to suit all members of society. One of Qatar’s pioneering entrepreneurs is Dr. Latifa Ali Al-Darwish, who through her long and valuable experience has improved the features of the Qatari market for the better. So, who is Dr. Latifa Al-Darwish?
I am first and foremost a mother, and I have four children. As for my professional identity, I am a writer in the field of entrepreneurship, and I have worked as a consultant in the past. I love working on start-ups as I have experience that I wish to transfer to everyone, and I do that through my company that I founded five years ago. Before the opening of this company, I worked for about twenty years in service of the State of Qatar, I started as a teacher then moved to the petroleum sector. I was the first head of the ‘Qatarisation’ department in Qatar Shell, Maersk Oil, and in QAPCO. Through these different positions I gained many valuable experiences, especially in the field of organization and administration and how to interact with people different cultures. These experiences are what attracted me to administrative work, I did not plan to enter the world of administrative planning as I majored in computer science at Qatar University. I started working as a data entry officer at the HR department, and somehow, I found myself supervising the training program – I was the only Qatari female at the time – and slowly moved up in positions until I became the head. As for the second stage of my professional life, Allah has gifted me with children and as such I found the responsibility of working in the petroleum sector a bit difficult. So, I moved to the media department where I worked as the head of the HR department for three/four years. The last position I held was the head of HR department at Qatar Primary Materials Company (QPMC), and my position was just under the CEO in terms of managerial hierarchy. I consider this stage in my life beautiful, because the construction sector was very different from anything I worked in before and it is considered a male dominated sector. In this sector, I started out by managing operations for a year and I made significant progress. I then moved to strategic plans, after that I moved to administrative affairs and then retired at the end of 2019. Even though I have retired, I am still working. Currently, I am working on reviewing my companies. There are companies that I established a long time ago, and there are new companies that have recently appeared in the market. These companies focus on human resources, startups, and entrepreneurship due to my experience. This is Latifa. I love the beginnings, where I get to arrange the company and outline its capabilities, and then I leave the company and repeat the same experience in different places. I absolutely hate routine; I can’t bear staying in one place. This is what encouraged me to obtain my master’s and doctorate, where I did it for myself and not for a title or a job.
How was your educational journey?
I graduated from Qatar University with a degree in Computer Science, but I did not feel that my major suited me. Even in my graduation project, I focused only on the analysis part of the project where I transformed lists to schemes. My colleagues were surprised by my passion to work on analysis instead of programming, while I was surprised by their love of programming. Glory be to Allah, everyone has their own direction and field in which they excel. I obtained a master’s degree in business administration, human resources and marketing from the University of Leicester, UK, while I obtained an honorary doctorate degree from the American University. The American University proposed a study and research through the PhD program for leadership on the work of young Qatari women in the petroleum sector, where there was around a hundred candidates or less and I was one of them.
What encouraged you to move from teaching to the petroleum field?
I got out of the school system when the independent schools’ program was established, I couldn’t bring myself to adapt to the new system. Praise be to Allah, there was an available opportunity for me to work as a data entry clerk, and at that time this job title was relatively unknown. There were not many people who specialized in the field of computer science, as such people couldn’t register in online courses and required someone specialized to do so. As a data entry clerk, the process of registering employees and entering their data was my responsibility under the training section. This turned into an obsession later on, I wondered what is it exactly that I’m working on? Is it just data entry? I started looking on the internet about the training department and its mechanisms, which involved the pre and post evaluation of a training program. So, I took all this information and put the company logo on it to incorporate it into the training program. After that, I drew a budget and schedule for the program, and step by step I began to further develop it. I would even often return to the main company to see their training department and compare. At this stage, I began to get involved in the world of human resources and development and my love for cooperation with people and change began to blossom. I used to enjoy seeing the capabilities of employees at the beginning of the courses, and the change they show at the end of training. The training in question focused on cultural understandings, especially Qatari and foreign cultures. It was an amazing and a strange experience at the same time, especially when we discovered differences in the cultural concept between foreigners and Arabs and discussed them. For example, we once created a scenario where an employee’s child was sick, and that employee wanted to leave work to see their child. When we asked our foreign employees to weigh in, they said that the employee must stay at work, and when they finish their job they could go to their child as the company does not stop working and pays the employee for their work. While on the other hand, our Arab employees answered that the child is more important, and work cannot be compared to a human’s life. These discussions highlighted the difference in cultures and there is no wrong point of view, but these discussions raised our awareness and attracted me more and more to the field of human development. I enjoyed learning new things, and I began to read more in this field. Although it should be noted that I was not fluent in English, but I tried to develop my grasp on the language, especially in the field of business administration, to become more proficient in my work.
Have you had the same experience at QAPCO?
Of course each company has its own experience. For example, when I worked at Shell, I noticed that it was more organized in training and they had developed many things. While QAPCO, on the other hand, had a completely different and more practical system. In QAPCO I was responsible for helping young newcomers in overcoming the probation period and stay in QAPCO. They are usually underestimated at work due to their young age and meagre experience, which made many of them look for other jobs. We needed Qatari engineers, which made me more involved in the world of petroleum to help them overcome this period and master the job. My responsibilities also included writing the job description for these engineers, and to write a comprehensive description covering all the requirements I had to be in the field and understand the equipment and how it should be used by engineers. That is why I gained a lot of skills and information when I was working in the training department, as I get to know all the jobs and tasks in a detailed way. After that, I moved to work as the head of the department in Maersk Oil. During this period, I decided to get a master’s degree, the nature of my work at that time was stable and slow and I decided to make use of this to develop myself.
Could you talk about your experience at QAPCO?
I usually tell the companies that I work for that I will fix the situation and leave, but circumstances forced me to stay longer than usual. Every day that passed in QAPCO had a new and interesting project, and I always worked with the CEO who happens to be an engineer. As such, I learned all the engineering terms and nature of work, and the experience gained from this job was very different from other jobs I had. I first entered the operations department and worked in managing important projects at a state level that cost billions. I remember when the blockade occurred, we went through a crisis in terms of searching for new suppliers, but Praise be to Allah and the wisdom of the Emir and the Father Emir we managed to overcome the crisis. They focused on expanding the country’s reserves to meet the state’s demands for the coming years, and that it is the basis of strategic planning. Although this phase was filled with tension, it was so beautiful.
Is there a valuable moment in your career that stands out?
There is also another stage in my career journey that I loved so much and learned valuable lessons from it, and that was when I worked in Q-Media. The company was going to declare bankruptcy, and at that time Mr. Youssef Rashid Al-Khater was appointed as the new CEO. He was a very brilliant manager, and I learned valuable lessons from him. In six months, he changed the company’s status from a company at loss, to a company that is qualified for sale, to a profitable company. He used to meet with all the managers to make sure that everyone understood everything and was on the same page, and because he gathered all departments the information that was presented was new to everyone. I remember whenever we finished our meetings we would go to YouTube to learn and understand what was said.
You recently published a book to help entrepreneurs establish their companies, can you talk more about this initiative?
In 2014, I started to think about writing a book that would benefit my community, but I did not know what to write on. I discussed the topic with Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al-Thani, who advised me to write something that would help Qatari women in entrepreneurship, and we agreed to write a comprehensive guide that brings together all the steps for opening and managing a company in Qatar in accordance with the law. I rejected the idea at first because this guide is available at the Ministry of Economy, which means that this book will not present anything new and useful. Still, Sheikh Faisal encouraged me to write this guide because the ministries have a specialized guide that suits them and there is no general guide. So, I started considering the idea of writing this guide seriously. I worked on this idea for two years, where I put all the steps in order, starting with opening a register for the company and keeping the name and all the other steps in both English and Arabic. In the book, I wrote about the experience of fourteen Qatari businesswomen and how they established their companies to show the challenges they went through. I published the book in 2017 and called it “The Guidebook for Women’s Work in Qatar”, and it is meant to encourage everyone to contribute to the development of the state’s economy in the right way. This book is an essential guide for every entrepreneur in Qatar, whether they are Qatari, foreigner, or a man. Sheikh Faisal bought a large number of this book and distributed it everywhere to increase the number of people that benefited from the book; I even worked with embassies to provide the book for every person coming from abroad who is interested in Qatari business. The book serves as a guide for everyone, but for the purpose of marketing and the interviews mentioned in it, I have focused the title of the book on women. After publishing the book, I started giving courses in consulting and training, and joined many social initiatives to inform the rising generation of girls what business administration means. For example, I participated with my colleague Nouf Al-Fadhala, Aisha Al-Shahwani and Musha Al-Kuwari in a recent initiative called “Yes You Worthy”, and more than a hundred people registered to attend this workshop. In this workshop, we asked all attendees to present their projects and shared with them our opinions to improve and develop their projects. We even gathered and connected entrepreneurs to help them reach the goals of their projects. The last initiative I participated in was the “Tamkeen” initiative with “Qatar Charity” and “Bidaya”. It was a training workshop in which we presented steps for initiating a project in the State of Qatar, and it aimed to help families and businesses that affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In these workshops, we focused on all aspects of managing a project in Qatar, including legal matters, marketing, visual identity, and pricing.
Have you encountered any challenges during your personal or professional career?
Of course! Had it not been for these challenges, I would not have reached the many positions that I held in the past. I clashed with many things, whether it was with a Qatari or non-Qatari director, but the most reoccurring issue that I faced was my gender’s relationship to the work that I was doing. Usually, they underestimated my ability to work on some projects because I am a woman. They would often think that because I am a woman, I would certainly reject a certain project and not be able to it. I was upset about this issue, and warned my colleagues that they should ask me before they decide what I can do. At the end of the day, I would not hesitate to answer honestly if I am able to do a project or not. Nobody should ever underestimate a woman, she has the ability to do anything. There was something that bothered me too, and it was not a challenge or something that disrupted my life, and that is that I look young. When I attend meetings, people did not look at me and gave me the respect usually attributed to a manager because they thought I was a recent graduate. When I spoke in meetings, people were surprised at my ability to understand everything. Luckily, I workshops that taught me how to grab people’s attention, so I managed to hold their attention even when they thought I was much younger than them. Praise be to Allah, throughout my career my mother and husband were understanding and supportive of me in every step. Although I was one of those who worked until sunset, I was sure about my children being taken care of and this was for me the most important thing. My priority was always home, and not work. My family’s valuable support allowed me to work, study, and start my own business. Had it not been for this support, this experience at work and study would have been very difficult. Lack of support would have led to an imbalance in life, either in family, work or social relationships, which are factors that I highly value. I want to show women that they can experience whatever they want without neglecting their homes. It is when you enter such interesting fields you increase your awareness, and diversify the discussions at home with children. All these valuable experiences made me eager to help society more, so I joined the Qatari Women Association, the Businesswomen’s Association, and the Qatari Women’s Salons Association which all require contribution. The Qatari Women Association aims to spread the Qatari culture and identity, and in the association there are retirees whom we are trying to include their voice in our online discussions during the pandemic. The technology we are using is new to them, so I took it upon myself to teach them ways to use applications such as Zoom, email, and protecting their online presence in order to make it easy for them to attend our online seminars. They are indeed retired, but that does not mean that their lives has ended, we must continue our journey of giving.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
Today, Qatar has opened up so many fields for us. It would be amazing if our girls go out to these fields and prove themselves, and at the same time respect Qatar’s laws and customs as we represent our country. For example, when we see Her Excellency Lulwa Al-Khater, we admire her and her morals, culture, and commitment. Her speaking skills is also beautiful and clear, and this is the style that should be emulated by the society. Present a beautiful picture of the country, and yourself above all. Do not give up your ambition if no one encourages you, rather encourage yourself. Even if you presented a project and it was rejected by others, do not get dejected and move to the next step and be creative. The beauty of work lies in giving, not taking. Do good things and forget about it, it will return to you unexpectedly.
- Interview written by Al Anoud Al Kuwari.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.