Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 August 2020

My UAE: businesswoman Najla ­Al-Midfa turns towards mentoring

Nick Leech speaks to businesswoman Najla Al-Midfa, the founder of an online careers service aimed at young Emiratis who want to pursue a career in the private sector.
Najla Al-Midfa, who founded Khayarat after working across the world. Reem Mohammed / The National
Najla Al-Midfa, who founded Khayarat after working across the world. Reem Mohammed / The National

To describe Najla ­Al-Midfa’s career as blue chip is something of an understatement. It has taken her from the UAE to the United Kingdom, the United States and back to the UAE again. During that time, the Sharjah-born businesswoman has worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Shell, Google and the international management consultancy McKinsey & Company.

The 35-year-old holds an MBA from Stanford University and is also a board member of the Young Arab Leaders and the Sharjah Business Women Council. In 2012, Al-Midfa became a member of the United Arab Bank’s board of directors.

On her return to the UAE, Al-Midfa entered the public sector with the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise and Development. This experience convinced her of the need for Khayarat, her online careers office designed for young Emiratis who want to work in the private sector.

“I considered it a labour of love while I was at the Khalifa Fund, and I realised that I was really enjoying the process of helping individuals fulfil their potential. However, a lot of the Emiratis I was mentoring were not fully aware of what the opportunities were in the private sector.”

For Al-Midfa, Khayarat, which translates as “options”, is more than just an employment ­agency.

“I will guide the students and make sure they know what they want to do, that their résumés are up-to-par, that they are prepared for interviews, but also that they are going after careers and jobs that actually suit them. It’s about exploring their ­passions.

“I was very fortunate that in each role I’ve had, I had a mentor who guided me towards the next step,” Al-Midfa explains. “In many ways, I feel like I’ve come full circle and now I’m giving something back.”

My favourite book

A book that inspired me recently is called Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl, I guess in many ways because it refers to what I’m doing. He says what keeps man going in life is a sense of purpose and how important it is to have a sense of purpose to achieve your potential. It’s a message that I tell my students. It’s not about finding a job, it’s about finding your personal purpose in life.

How would you describe yourself?

The MBTI personality test describes me as an introvert, and yet I also think of myself as ambitious, quite stubborn and passionate about what I do. I have a strong desire to work hard to get to where I want to be.

My favourite city

I’m torn between New York [pictured] and San Francisco, to be honest. New York has a great vibe and I can go there at any time and be happy, but San Francisco has a natural beauty, which is rare to find. The only other place that comes close is Cape Town.

My favourite place to eat

I tend to spend a lot of time at Baker & Spice in Souk Al Bahar. It’s one of my favourite places to meet people. It’s one of those places where, when I walk in, people greet me really warmly and they know my first name. I always wish that more restaurants would have that kind of personal service.

What trait do you most admire or dislike?

There’s curiosity and hunger, but first and foremost it’s humility. I try to tell young Emiratis that I work with that, irrespective of what they achieve, they should stay humble. There is always more to learn.

My favourite author

If I think about my childhood, I used to love all of Roald Dahl’s books. He started my love of reading and I will always think of him as somebody who is very special.

What object would you save if your house was burning down?

I have a box that contains all of the letters, all of the cards and all of the postcards I have received since I was 12 or 13. Every time I got one, I put it in the box. In terms of monetary value, it’s worth nothing, but in terms of sentimental value, it’s priceless.

My best piece of advice

The advice that I give most often is a piece of advice that was given to me – and now I’m passing it on. When I got into Stanford, my mentor wrote me an email and I still have it. It says: “We find comfort amongst those who agree with us, but we find growth amongst those who don’t.” I meet students who say that they don’t want to work in the private sector, because there aren’t many Emiratis in the private sector, and, yes, sure, you will be comfortable in an environment like the public sector where there are lots of Emiratis, but if you truly want to grow, you need to expose yourself to diverse nationalities and opinions.


Updated: November 27, 2014 04:00 AM



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