Machaille Hassan Al-Naimi is the President of Community Development at Qatar Foundation
What has been the impact of COVID-19 in community development areas in Qatar?
Fostering social interaction has always been at the core of our community development efforts at Qatar Foundation, and, if anything, this became even more important when the pandemic took hold. We realized how vital it was for us to help people stay connected. This was where our long-held commitment to digital transformation at QF came into play. Before COVID-19, we already had plans to draw more people to QF’s Education City through digital pathways, including a dedicated brand, app, online marketplace, and social media presence. COVID-19 simply accelerated the process of making Education City a digital destination as well as a physical one. This is how we have been able to continue providing community classes, events, and activities which people can enjoy, learn from, and interact through, in virtual form. And the challenges we faced led to us upping the pace of innovation, thinking even harder about how to maximize our digital offer to engage the public. The pandemic has brought home to us how much more we could do, and how much more we still can do.
Do you think the pandemic has affected career opportunities for women?
From the perspective of working mothers, the pandemic has actually heightened the importance of balancing work and home life, and of both parents being actively involved in their child’s daily life. But, more broadly, the pandemic has compelled employers to think about how they treat their workforce, men and women alike. It’s sparked honest employer-employee conversations about work-life balance and how the digital sphere can be maximized for mutual benefit – the meetings we don’t need to have because alternatives exist; the extent to which we can be flexible; the fact employees can be just as productive and efficient outside the office environment as within it. This shift in thinking is one of the real positives to emerge from the pandemic, and I hope that, post-COVID, we do not simply return to the old normal.
How do you promote gender diversity and equality in Qatar Foundation?
QF believes in empowerment through agency. Across our universities, 63 percent of students are female, including half of our engineering students and 60 percent of medical students. Almost 40 percent of QF researchers are female. And women occupy 40 percent of our organization’s leadership positions. But it’s not just our numbers; it’s our ethos. At QF, we are committed to equality of opportunity, recognizing that every voice, idea, and contribution matters; and that everyone has the potential to be what we call a ‘student of change’. QF’s ecosystem of learning means women from Qatar and the region can access a world-class education without having to travel thousands of miles away. Our research and innovation landscape is gender-blind and incredibly diverse, with the only criteria being a passion for developing solutions and making a difference. And Education City offers myriad opportunities for both women and men to learn, explore, connect, and thrive. We recognize that female empowerment requires social innovation, and we remain committed to dismantling structural inequalities and ensuring women face no obstacles to education, innovation, advancement, and active citizenship.
How has technology helped your area of focus in the last year?
From a community development perspective, it has been transformational. Previously, our focus was on looking to draw people to Education City; now, with our increased digital offer, we are taking Education City beyond its own physical space. It means people don’t physically have to visit our Arab Museum of Modern Art, Mathaf, in order to view its collections, or Qatar National Library to take out a book. Technology allows us to make our environment so much more accessible and focused on the user journey, and to scale our offer beyond Qatar. Worldwide access to technology means our audience, and our reach, is multiplied many times over. The past year has moved our digitization phase to a new level, further opening up Education City to the world.
The accelerated digitalization that followed the pandemic is thought to be conducive for women empowerment and may potentially become a catalyst for gender diversity in the workplace. What’s your view on that? And does this apply to women in Qatar?
I prefer to look at this through the lens of empowering everyone rather than simply empowering women. Technology is an enabler for everyone in the workplace and for the whole of society, and the combination of COVID-19 and increasing digitization has forced us all to rethink how we approach work and the employer-employee relationship. I feel the result has been greater appreciation of employees as people, and stronger delineation between the office and the home. That empowers everyone, as shown by the increased productivity which proves that being able to deliver doesn’t depend on being office-based.