I am proud to share with you my amazing journey with the Misk fellowship program. The Misk fellowship program is “an ambitious program to refine the skills of Saudi youth showing high competencies and grand aspirations.” I saw the advertisement for the program inviting talented Saudi students studying in the top 100 universities to apply in March 2021. As soon as I read there was an impact creation phase where I could make a positive impact on my country, I applied because I wanted to be a positive figure for people with disabilities. In my application, I clearly indicated that I am blind and needed accommodations. I also stated that it is my mission to empower people with disabilities in Saudi Arabia and around the globe. In this blog, I am sharing with you my six-month experience with the Misk fellowship program starting from my interactions with the Misk team.
Misk Team Support
When I was accepted into the program, I received an email asking about the type of accommodations that I may need to succeed in the program. I was thankful when I read the email. As a blind person, I was concerned with how the Misk team would perceive me and how they would accommodate my needs. After I indicated my accommodations, Misk sent me the program documents in an accessible format. They also consulted with me every few weeks to see how everything was going and if I had any concerns. I sensed their passion, care, and their goal to make me feel fully included in the program which I was grateful for. With their support, I felt like I belonged to the program.
During our six-month program starting from July to December 2021, we had intensive trainings and webinars. Almost every week, we had different sessions about leadership, business development, and success stories. The most valuable thing that I gained from the Misk fellowship program was the social relationships with my coach, mentors, mentees, and other Misk fellows. I had a wonderful coach from Change Your Game Coaching who was assigned to help enhance my social and professional skills. On our competition team, we had an experienced mentor from Bain & Company who specialized in our SDG challenge to guide us throughout the competition phase. After I passed the mentoring training, I was assigned to work with beautiful mentees from the Misk College Prep program. And finally, throughout the six-month program, I worked and interacted with talented, creative fellows who came from different universities around the globe.
In academia, I am used to working with like-minded social science researchers. In the Misk program, however, I was introduced to and worked with people who came from different backgrounds, mostly from the STEM field. You can imagine the misunderstandings and miscommunications that occurred between us because we approached things so differently. Thankfully, we learned problem-solving skills in the Leadership Bootcamp at the beginning of the program. We were able to handle it because we wanted to make sure that we understood each other. Navigating conflict enabled us to succeed in the competition.
The competition was the section that I enjoyed the most. I was assigned to work on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 8, Good Jobs and Economic Growth. Our question was, “How can Saudi Arabia leverage ICT and digital solutions to foster the gig economy and enhance social empowerment and employability of individuals in vulnerable groups?” We were assigned based on our interests and SDG #8 was my first choice which aligns with my mission to empower people with disabilities in Saudi Arabia.
We as a team had to overcome working virtually, not knowing each other, and coming from different backgrounds in order to settle on an idea. We had weekly meetings to discuss the ideas and challenged each other. My team was very supportive and open-minded. After intensive brainstorming, we finally agreed on creating a platform to support people with disabilities in the gig economy. We chose this because there is an array of barriers that prevent people with disabilities from entering the gig market.
Once we agreed, I could not stop working on the project. I felt like it was my responsibility to apply all my knowledge to make sure that this project succeeds. And if it won, I wanted it to be ready to be implemented to reach its goals.
Celebrating our Accomplishment
The final ceremony was a monumental and memorable day. At the ceremony, every Misk fellow and team member convened in person for the first time to celebrate the accomplishment of completing the program.
My team won first place in the competition. I wasn’t expecting to win even though most people around me were saying, “you are the winner, you are the winner!” because they saw how much effort we put into the project. When they announced that we won, I had a mixed feeling. I couldn’t believe it. I was happy and couldn’t help thinking about how we would implement the project as we were walking to the stage to accept the award. I am happy and proud. Our project now is moved to the next stage, the Misk LaunchPad, where we will get ready to enter the market.
In addition, I was honored to be selected to give the graduation speech which was a remarkable experience for me.
The Misk team was very supportive and accommodating during the ceremony. They approached me and introduced themselves. As someone who is blind, this is a kind gesture and shows how respectful and kind they are. It made a great difference to me as they were accommodating my needs without undermining my professional identity.
I am proud and thankful for everyone who supported me during my Misk program. I would advise everyone who is looking to make societal change in Saudi Arabia to apply to the Misk fellowship program and start their own journey.