DUBAI: The example set by young Emirati woman Jawaher AlMheiri is an inspirational one, if perhaps a little intimidating. She speaks six languages, has a bachelor’s degree in aviation management, a post-graduate diploma in diplomacy and is adept at statistical optimization — all by the age of 28.
This month she saw off competition from 300 other candidates to earn a place in the “impact” category of this year’s 30 Under 30 list published by Forbes Middle East, which recognizes the achievements of young people from the region and their great potential to help shape the future.
Her inclusion highlights the fact that she is an outstanding example of the talented young Arabs, many of them women, who are changing the face of their region and breaking new ground as they increasingly take control of their own destinies.
She is following in the footsteps of other pioneering Arab women such as 42-year-old Razan Khalifa Al-Mubarak, the managing director of both Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency and the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.
Earlier this month, Al-Mubarak was elected president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, one of the largest and best-known conservation bodies in the world. She is only the second woman to lead the institution in its 73-year history, and the first Arab woman.
AlMheiri has similar ambitions to make a difference in the world, and a message for all young women in the region: Have the courage to pursue your dreams and grab the opportunities that come your way.
Her journey began at the age of 18 when she started dedicating her days to studying for a bachelor’s degree in aviation management at Emirates Aviation University in Dubai, and her evenings to a part-time job in finance at Al Ansari Exchange.
“My job was different to my major because it was the only available option,” AlMheiri told Arab News. “But it was a good field and I wanted to keep up with being independent given that my studies were not very cheap.
“I knew my parents would do their best and cover my expenses but I felt very responsible to not become an additional burden on them — I have eight siblings and they had to take care of their education.”
She was making just Dh4,000 ($1,100) a month but was pleased to be earning a wage by the age of 18. Her ambition and drive set her apart from many of her peers, shaping her personality, her thoughts and her behavior.
“I became more mature,” said AlMheiri. “I wanted to keep learning and I knew that if I started my career at an early age it would definitely pay off later.”
After graduating at the age of 21 she joined the engineering center of Emirates Airline as a business-development specialist, where she gained valuable experience. Her daily tasks included the development and interpretation of scenarios to support maintenance facilities, providing support to management and helping to shape strategic policies.
“I was very much into using applied statistical methods, which was very different to the theory I learned at university,” she said. “I worked with optimization methods to interpret scenarios and I truly enjoyed it.”
AlMheiri continued to gain experience and learn and, three years later, her professional interest shifted toward international affairs and diplomacy. A year earlier, while still working full time for Emirates, she had been appointed to Dubai Youth Council, and as part of her duties she represented local young people in front of the nation’s leaders, and at international events.
“I felt this was something I enjoyed and I would want to have a career out of it,” she said.
In the months that followed she represented the UAE at events overseas on several occasions, most notably at the UN Youth Assembly in New York, and at the Asian Youth Assembly of the Malaysia Urban Forum. The experience she gained at such gatherings gave her the confidence to pursue a career in diplomacy.
In 2017 AlMheiri successfully applied for a job as a junior diplomat at the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and began studying for a post-graduate diploma at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi.
She quickly began to climb the career ladder at the ministry and became a senior economic specialist in charge of the UAE-US economic file. In September last year she was promoted again and became head of the Asian economic affairs section.
“My role is about promoting and facilitating economic interests, organizing economic platforms, and researching key issues impacting the UAE’s economic and trade relations,” AlMheiri said. “And because it’s a senior position, I also have to supervise and support my fellow diplomats.”
Her dreams and ambitions, and determination to further her personal development, do not end there. This month, she began a paid sabbatical during which she will undertake two years of study for a master’s degree in international affairs at Columbia University in New York, with a focus on international finance and economic policy.
“I took this bold step because I never expected to be associated with one of the Ivy League universities,” she said. “It was something in my mind because, in our nation, nothing is impossible — but I was under the impression that I would have to be a graduate of an Ivy League university (to be accepted for postgraduate studies).
“But what I am living at the moment proves that this point of view is wrong; I am here and I am motivating people to pursue their education and to try to join these universities.”
AlMheiri said she was not intimidated by the notion that only certain types of people can enroll in such elite universities. She trusted herself and her abilities when she took the step to apply for a place at one of them and accept the challenge of improving herself, intellectually.
“I want to make the best out of this experience,” she said. “What pushed me is the support I received from work.”
Columbia awarded AlMheiri a fellowship that covers 70 percent of her tuition fees. The UAE Ministry of Education covered the remaining 30 percent, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation continues to pay her salary while she studies.
The announcement last week that Forbes has recognized her professional achievements by awarding her a place on its 30 Under 30 list, is testament to her success at building a successful career at a young age and her growing responsibilities.
“Now, I am not just responsible for representing myself or my family, it’s the region itself,” she said. “So, I have to make sure people in the region are inspired and I am representing them.”
AlMheiri spoke of the overwhelming support for female empowerment she has felt from leaders in the UAE, and across the Gulf, which is enabling growing numbers of young people to pursue their dreams in ways that can make themselves — and their countries and region — proud.
“I see all of this as a token of us giving back to our nations,” AlMheiri said. “They made sure we received the right education, support and recognition, so whenever these kinds of opportunities are presented, I personally make sure I try my luck and I am grateful things are working out in a very beautiful way. I feel I am working toward the right thing.”
AlMheiri’s advice to Arab young bloods is that they believe in themselves and their abilities, have the courage to pursue their dreams and grab the opportunities that come their way.
“I was one of those people who had to learn to trust myself in pursuing my dreams and achieving what I wished to achieve,” she said. “Don’t undermine yourself. Even if it’s a small thing, you should go for it. The region has a lot of talent under the age of 30.
“We’re all young, we have the energy, and if we come together with the same mindset and the same energy, we can really make the changes that we would like to see in the world.”