The story of a leader, a maker of hope who derives her strength and inspiration from her belief in her mission

Mariam Farag

Mariam Farag is an icon of leadership, hard work, and unconditional giving in Egypt and all over the Arab world.  She has a very clear and articulated mission in life that she devotedly seeks to accomplish.  Her lovely smile, abundant hope and humbleness are contagious.  Mariam runs on a very tight schedule, and has been interviewed many times before, so when I approached her to publish her story, I was expecting to receive a typical biography of her career achievements.  She not only surprised me with the story of Mariam the ambitious and serious personality who works tirelessly on her mission, but also the story of Mariam, the authentic human being who is sometimes strong and sometimes weak; sometimes capable and sometimes lost, is very successful yet often fails and learns from her mistakes.  At the end of her story, Mariam lists 10 steps to success that she recommends for any woman who wishes to be a true impactful leader.  In my humble opinion, her 10 steps summarize all the important lessons needed by any woman who wishes to play a positive role and leave a legacy … I am honored to be sharing her story

I am a mother, a wife and a human being interested in youth and women affairs and I have been in the field of humanitarian causes and sustainability for almost 18 years now.  My interest in volunteer work started when I was 15 years old.  My mother planted in me the seed of giving, and to me my work is a calling not a job.  Any day I spend in the office or on the ground, I feel I am fulfilling my purpose

Without a doubt, my role model is my mom and I am really proud of her. Thuraya Abdel Wahab was divorced at the age of 37, with three young children to raise, my two elder brothers and I.  In the 70’s, my mother succeeded to become a businesswoman in her own right, and managed to enroll us in the best schools and universities.  As busy as she was, she was fully devoted to us and was always there for us. She was strong willed and powerful, and I learned from her that nothing is impossible.  Her smile never left her face, our house was full of laughter and she never let her pain and worries affect us negatively.  She encouraged me to start working at the age of 14, although we did not need the money, but it was to learn how to be responsible and proactive.  I started to work during the summers and I did a lot of volunteering as well

In 1999, when I was 24 and just graduated from the AUC, I was granted a scholarship from Westminster University in London to pursue my master’s degree, in “War Affairs”.  My dissertation was about rape as a weapon in wars

Upon returning to Egypt, I started working for the “National Council for Women”.  I visited villages in remote areas and met with Government officials all over the country. I remember it was a huge challenge to prove my worth and gain respect a young woman who just graduated from the AUC

The greatest challenge of all for me is the fact that women in the Arab region have not yet acquired the right to join board leadership positions based on their merit.  Campaigns and initiatives to empower women and give them a voice have been initiated all over the world, yet there is still so much to be done.  We need the full buy-in of both the public and private sectors to create societies that fully acknowledge and support women as human beings and contributors to society.  I strive to promote this concept in the Arab region.  I want to change the stereotype imbedded in our culture that the woman’s place is only in the home, that society does not need her contribution, that if a mother works, her children will be lost and if she succeeds in her career, her husband will be jealous

I aim to be a living example of what I strive to see.  I strive to be successful at home, as a wife, as a mother and as a pioneer in my field of humanitarian affairs and social responsibility.  I feel that God put me in the media field for a reason, and that I have a responsibility towards my cause through the media

Like every woman, I have my moments when I fall down, when I cry my eyes out, when I get tired and frustrated, when I want to just give up.  Yet, every time I fall down, I pick myself up and continue the journey.  My dream is to leave a legacy for Egyptian women and girls, and that gives me the motivation to pick myself up every time I fall.  One day I want women all over the world to say “We wish we could be as inspiring as Mariam Farag”

Loving and giving sincerely bring the biggest fulfillment in the world.  For me, nothing beats putting a smile on a child’s face, or helping a young man or woman find a job.  I feel ecstatic when I inspire a young woman to start her own project and succeed.  I am in the business of creating hope for a brighter tomorrow, and I would not give that up for anything in the world

Life has taught me many lessons along my journey.  The most important lesson I learnt is that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it, but everything worthwhile takes a great deal of patience, perseverance and faith.  I learned that success does not come easy.  Failing once, twice and three times is a pre-requisite for success and is how we gain our experience

I also learned that you should always trust and follow your intuition.  Unfortunately people, especially in Egypt, tend to go with the flow or follow the crowd and pay too much attention to what other people will think or say.  I learned to always listen to my heart and my instinct and never be influenced by the prevailing trends.  I always try to be authentic and align with my intention in every project I undertake and every cause I stand for

What I know now that I wish I had known when I was much younger is the importance of listening really well, and to take things much easier, and think thoroughly before showing any reaction.  I know now that I should listen to the voice of my heart and also listen more closely to wise people.  Listening is learning. I started to learn more when I began to listen more

I also learned to shut out all destructive feedback, and to open my ears to only what is constructive and will help me improve.  Those who hurt me, I never hate.  I only wish them well and forgive them.  All successful people have deep trust in themselves and belief in their role in life, and therefore do not let themselves be influenced by the negative people they encounter in the course of their life

I constantly work on myself and strive to learn something new every day. I learn from my team at work, from my children, from my husband, from my friends and from my family. Actually I learn from anyone I meet, whether young or old.  Each one has his own story to share, and his own personal experience that I can learn from

I am happy to report that, with all this learning and growth, I have not lost my sense of humor or passion.  On the contrary, my enthusiasm has increased and is now directed through better planned steps as I learn from my mistakes and failures

I am constantly asked by working women how I was able to balance my roles.  How I manage handling my work, my home and my frequent travels at the same time, knowing that I have two young energetic boys at home with a full schedule of studies, activities and entertainment

My answer is that I always depend on God, I stick to a strict routine and have a well-organized system.  And I have a very strong support system that I constantly fall back on.  My husband is my biggest supporter, as are my friends and my mother.  I also have extra help at home to support me with the housework and errands.  I also work on destressing and emptying my glass often.  Otherwise, you can’t cope.  You will just get overwhelmed and lose your control

My 10-step success formula for women:

  1. Have faith in God and trust Him in everything
  2. Be clear about your priorities. My priority is my children. When my home is stable, I then have the energy to be creative, productive and full of new ideas at work, and am able to concentrate on my plans and projects. You should also create a routine and schedule for yourself. The more organized you are, the more effective you become and the easier things get achieved
  3. Do not aim for perfection by any means. I always wanted to be perfect and I learnt my lesson the hard way.  About 4 or 5 years ago, I had a nervous breakdown due to the stress and pressure I was creating for myself with my professionalism.  Let go of perfection.  Accept that things are perfect just as they are in their imperfections, and yes there is always room for improvement.  Something has got to give.  It is ok, and needed, to pick your battles carefully
  4. We will make many mistakes. Accept this idea and embrace your mistakes with self-compassion.  When you do fall, know that it is not the end of the world.  Just make sure you never give up and always try again.  I no longer punish myself for my mistakes.  I pick myself up, learn and move on.  We are not supernatural beings.  We are human being not human doings.  There is nothing wrong with deciding you just can’t today, or your too tired today, or you’ll take a day off today. This is fine, not shameful. I learned that after so many years of believing that acknowledging that I am down and tired is a weakness and a luxury I could not afford
  5. You must assign time in your schedule for yourself. I always used to tell myself that there are more important things I need to take care of, that I was already at work for so long, and I always put me in the bottom of my list of priorities.  Of course, I hardly every reached the bottom of the list.  At a point I felt I did not know myself anymore.  I had no time for sports, I didn’t see my friends anymore, and I let go of all my hobbies and things I enjoyed such as reading, writing poems, and listening to music.  That was wrong and I learnt the hard way.  You can’t pour from an empty cup.  In order to be successful and in order to give, you must give time to yourself to be YOU, not the wife, not the mother, not the sister.  I now create time for myself.  I learned to see what makes Mariam happy.  Do you know what makes you happy?
  6. You need to find your own safe haven for releasing stress and negative energy. For myself, I found my safe haven in sports
  7. Almost all working mothers have a problem with feeling guilty for not giving their children enough time. My advice to you is simply to just stop feeling that way. It is never how many hours you spend with your family that counts, it’s the quality time where you can give them undivided attention, unconditional love and compassion.  Look at all the examples around you.  Not a single study has confirmed that children of stay-at-home mums are happier, more successful or more psychologically balanced so stop believing it
  8. Think of how to become an example and a role model for your children especially your daughters. Make them proud of you. Try to engage them in your life and what you do.  Ask for their advice and pay attention to what they say.  As much as they share in your work, they ‘ll feel they are part of it and will appreciate what you’re doing. When I travel, it is hard for all of us, but my boys always anxiously wait for my return to hear the stories I bring back from my journey.  When I travel, I constantly connect with them on skype, arrange their schedules, tell them “goodnight” and “I love you” every night, and that I miss them.  Whenever I get the chance, I also take my children with me to events in orphans or refugee camps and fund-raising conferences
  9. I am a mother of two boys. Raise your boys to be men of honor, to respect women and protect them, not just as their mothers, and wives and daughters but as human beings in their own right with an important role to play in society on both the economic and social levels.  Teach them what it is to be a man.  Teach them how to treat a woman well, to be kind to her and never abuse their masculinity.  Tell them never to be jealous of her success, but to be proud and supportive, and show them how her success is in fact their success as well.  Be an example to them of mutual respect between their parents even if you are divorced. Teach them to encourage their female colleagues and help them to succeed.  Teach them how wrong it is when they grow to mistreat or discriminate women simply because they are women
  10. Create your support group of champions, people who vouch for your success, support you and make you feel better. It is so important to meet regularly with those friends as they will be your trusted sounding board for the challenges you face.  An added perk is that you feel you are not alone and that there are others out there who feel what you feel and really care about your well-being

Many times when I am travelling, I return to an empty room in a foreign hotel after a long hectic day.  I feel lonely and homesick.  However, I forget all that when I remind myself that it is my calling to spread hope; to help women stand up on their feet and depend on themselves, to put a smile on little children’s faces.  I am continuing the legacy that my mother instilled in me all these years ago……


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