DUBAI: Aalya Albeeshi, a speech and hearing sciences graduate of King Saud University, is on a mission to help people with auditory disabilities express themselves through technological innovation — a contribution she may not have made were it not for the Qimam Fellowship.
Now in its fourth year, the highly sought-after scheme selects just 50 students through a rigorous evaluation process from an annual pool of more than 15,000 applicants to participate in an intensive 12-day program.
Fellows are offered one-on-one mentorship from senior public- and private-sector leaders, leadership training by industry experts and professionals, and visits to the Saudi offices of top national and international companies.
Founded by McKinsey & Company and Dr. Annas Abedin, a McKinsey alumnus and entrepreneur, the scheme is designed to help talented undergraduates and postgraduates in Saudi Arabia fulfil their potential.
Born and raised in Riyadh, 22-year-old Albeeshi discovered the Qimam Fellowship in her final year of university in 2019. Although she had already learnt a lot from her course, the fellowship provided real-world applications for her studies and a clear career path.
“I had heard about the program and I knew they offered many things, like mentorship and company visits,” Albeeshi told Arab News. “At that point, I really liked what I was doing but I wanted to see if there was a way I could do more.
“I was thinking of options beyond graduation and to find out about more opportunities for me out there, so I thought it was a really good opportunity for me to learn more.”
The experience proved transformative. “One of the key takeaways was being a part of the community, and the fellows I connected with,” she said. “You have people from all over the country studying very different things and people studying abroad who came for the program, with very unique skill sets.”
Since its inception in 2018, the fellowship program has seen tremendous growth, receiving 13,000 applicants in its first year and 18,000 in 2019. Fellows are selected based on their academic achievements, levels of initiative shown outside the classroom, and their efforts or ideas related to social responsibility.
To date, the Qimam Fellowship has inducted 150 fellows — 55 percent of them women — from many different backgrounds, including business, medicine, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Its graduates originate from more than 30 universities across the Kingdom, and many others from abroad. Selected candidates gain exclusive membership to the Qimam Alumni Network and attend a high-profile awards ceremony on completion of the program.
“Given the vast pool of intellectually curious, emerging talent in Saudi Arabia, the country’s youth have immense potential to have a direct impact on the transformations underway,” said Abdullah Saidan, an associate partner at McKinsey Middle East, promoting the scheme.
“Strategic initiatives like the Qimam Fellowship have highlighted the many reasons the nation should be optimistic for its future, as the program has gone from strength to strength. Nurturing young talent in the Kingdom is an obligation we take to heart.”
Successful applicants are provided with in-person leadership training by executives and accomplished professionals from leading companies, as well as workshops on how to build a successful career in the area of their choice.
They also take part in one-on-one sessions with leading executives to receive personalized input and guidance for their chosen career plan and attend field visits to the offices of some of the Kingdom’s top firms, including Seera Group, Al-Khaleejiah, Careem, Cisco, General Electric, Ma’aden, McKinsey and STC among others.
These visits provide participants with a behind-the-scenes look at how these companies operate, an opportunity to engage with and learn from their top executives, and a perspective on their potential career paths.
After completing the training, participant profiles are shared with leading HR managers and executives in Saudi Arabia, opening up potential internships and job openings.
Fellows also build important and long-lasting connections with other program participants through the Qimam Alumni Network, which enables them to remain connected with each other as they go on to become leaders in their respective fields.
Albeeshi says the diversity of the fellowship’s intake and the opportunity to network with the executives of leading Saudi organizations has proved invaluable.
“I have made really powerful and meaningful connections,” she said. “These are people who are really rooting for you and help you with career choices or second opinions, which is one of the greatest things. Something I learned through the self-leadership course is that sometimes we tend to limit ourselves or we have very restrictive ideas of the impact we can have.”
Now, armed with these lessons and skills, Albeeshi is interning at the speech language pathology department at King Fahad Medical City.
“It is really special to me because this is one of the places we visited with Qimam,” she said. “And they are doing incredible work here. It is really such an important place and people are doing amazing things so I am really happy to be here right now.”
She is thrilled to be working in such a rewarding field. “I am really interested in communication and understanding it from a disorder perspective,” she said.
“And what really fascinated me is the idea of being able to teach someone a skill that they have lost, such as the skill of language or provide them with assistance with devices for a person who has lost hearing over time.”
Albeeshi is now developing such assistance technologies. After graduating from the Qimam Fellowship, she took part in the CoCreate program, where designers and engineers come together to develop innovative assistive technologies for the disabled through the Humanistic Co-design Process — liaising directly with the people these devices are intended to help.
“Instead of just making something and assuming it would be useful, here we are looking at interviewing the people, understanding their needs and coming up with solutions to make everyday life easier for them and to help them do something that is particularly difficult for them easier,” Albeeshi said.
“We are still in early development stages, but one thing I worked on along with the team is a tool that translates Arabic text into Arabic sign language as a means of communication.”
Albeeshi is also working on a mental health project, inspired by her work experience in clinics and among people with disabilities. “I recently joined this project and I found that it would be a great topic to explore.”
She is now working on a project affiliated with the Saudi National Mental Health Survey and says that she is pleased to see changes in the conversation around mental wellbeing in Saudi Arabia, especially given the “sensitivity” of the topic.
“It is all very telling of all the progress being made in general,” she said. “It also shows how everything is developing very quickly and that people are becoming more aware and just really open to having conversations and taking care of their mental health.”
As a young Saudi, Albeeshi feels compelled to contribute to these rapid developments taking place in her country — helped along by the skills picked up through her fellowship.
“It is important to have an impact,” she said. “You can be involved.”