We sat down with Noha Mahdi Hayder of Give to Love, a UAE based start-up participating in the MIT Enterprise Forum for Arab Startups, and talked to her about some of the challenges that face the region and her hopes, goals and inspirations for the future.
1) Who inspires you in the Arab World?
Honestly, I’m constantly inspired by the amazing, inspiring things done by regular individuals across the Middle East. Whether it’s revolutionaries (in the every day sense of the word) who continue to challenge the status quo, or those living in terrible, oppressive conditions who refuse to give up, who still find the hope, courage and strength to give, love, create, innovate and believe in a brighter future filled with possibilities. Those are my heroes in the Arab World. Particularly inspiring to me are the likes of Mrs. Hazar Mahayni, who founded the Al Salam school for Syrian refugee children in Reyhanli, Turkey, and who strives daily to give them the very best education that she can offer, as well as Dr. Rana Dajani who founded the simple and powerful program of We Love Reading that is changing the Arab world one child and one book at a time.
2) Why did you apply for this competition? First and foremost, I applied to learn. Through the process of putting your idea down on (electronic) paper and presenting it to someone other than yourself, you inevitably learn something new, and find ways to develop your idea. My purpose in applying was to push myself to refine my idea, for it to become a reality and not remain a mere thought in my mind. I also applied to be inspired by the amazing energy of others who are doing great things. Ultimately, my goal is to learn and do enough that I’m able to make even the smallest of differences in my own community in the UAE, and in the Middle East.
3) What impact does participating have?
I’ll have to wait until the end of the competition to answer this question. For now, however, the impact is empowerment. It is triumphing over the feelings of helplessness that sometimes cross our minds and overcoming the doubt to realize that you can do it, whatever positive thing the “it” may be.
4) In your opinion, what are some of the benefits of such competitions in the region?
In my opinion, more than anything, what competitions like the MIT Arab Startup Competition do is empower people to believe in their own ability to change their circumstances, and to then do just that. It is an encouragement of entrepreneurship, innovation and creative ideas. We live in a region in a time where there is so much potential for improvement and so much opportunity for growth and development, and what better way than to source the best ideas from the people themselves and support them in bringing them to life and make change happen?
5) How did you prepare for the competition?
To be honest, on the one hand I feel like I didn’t prepare at all. I had been thinking about this idea for a while, and had refined it in my mind over time, but no specific preparation was made for this competition; I simply put an idea that I believed in down on paper, and shared it with the judges, from the heart. On the other hand, I feel like everything I’ve done and experienced up until this point has been something that’s, in some way, prepared me for this. If it weren’t for the many things I experienced, amazing opportunities that I’ve been given throughout my life and inspiring people I’ve met along the way, I wouldn’t have been ready for this. Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), here I am, as ready as I can be at this point in time.
6) In what sectors would you like to see Improvement in the Middle East?
Education. First and foremost, I believe that the most important sector for growth and development in the Middle East right now is education. It is through education that we reduce ignorance, build knowledge and self-awareness, redefine our self-identity and re-discover our personal and historical narrative as a people. It is through education that we build acceptance and tolerance, and learn to appreciate the power of diversity and the potency of words. It is through education that we can all start to give (love) back to our communities and help our countries and societies grow into the beautiful places they are, were and can become.
7) Any tips for those who may want to participate in similar competitions in the future?
I’m a dreamer, and an idealist. Coming up with ideas and optimistic solutions comes naturally to me, however, acting upon them is the hard part. Keep dreaming, and keep exposing yourself to things that inspire you, and at the end of the day, trust yourself, choose one simple thing, and simply start. Don’t over think it, don’t worry about succeeding or failing, just do the smallest bit that you can do right now, and leave the rest to fate (i.e. God). Through every step, we learn, and I have to remind myself that it is only in doing and trying over and over that you’ll eventually get somewhere. So believe in yourself, don’t give up, know that you will achieve your dreams one way or another, and just go for it
8) Last but not least, what’s something you consider a success and another you consider a failure in your life to date.. what lesson did you learn from your failure and would you repeat it again knowing the lesson you learned?
Too many failures to list, both small and big. I think one of my biggest failures so far has been not trusting myself enough to do the things that I want to and believe in doing. Of course, every failure is a learning experience, so I wouldn’t go back and change anything, but I’d hope for myself and others to trust ourselves more. And all my successes have been thanks to those around me who have supported me and helped me along the way, and thanks to the giants in our communities and history on whose shoulders we stand.
Keep up with the MIT Enterprise Forum competition on Twitter, and let us know what kind of improvements YOU’D like to see in the Middle East in the comments below!