“Always Try and Don’t Wait Around for Things to Come Your Way”

Dina Khanat has over 10 years of professional experience in North American and the Middle East across private, public and non-profit sectors. Her experience includes media analysis, managing public perception and education, where she taught globalization and entrepreneurship courses at Zayed University in Dubai. In addition, Dina closely worked with government officials in the UAE and the US Department of Defense, advising them on policy and strategy. She has a number of published commentary on the politics of the Middle East. She was selected for the Leading for Impact Fellowship, by the Skoll Centre for social entrepreneurship at Oxford University, which recognizes leaders with the most potential to make an impact and to drive social change.

Q: Tell us a few things about your country, and also your life's story!

A: I grew up in Kuwait until the age of 9 when the First Gulf war broke out. We fled to neighbouring Jordan, and a year later to Syria where we spent three years. Unable to find employment in either country, my parents relocated us to the US and in 2000, we resettled in Canada.

Q: What is your view of the world as it is today? And how do you define the concept of a better world?

A: I think the world is made up of many good people who mean well and want to do well. However, I see the world as very much concentrated in the hands of powerful corporations that exacerbate the gap between the rich and the poor. I see inequality as a fundamental problem. I see technology and AI as sophisticated tools that are increasingly used by these corporations to sink us further into the world of materialism and consumption and away from simple things in life that are the real source of happiness, such as nature, relationships, and compassion. To me, a better world is one with a lesser gap between the rich and poor and more human interactions.

Q: What are some of the key challenges in your society?

A: The Middle East is a wonderful place with a lot to offer. In terms of challenges, for me, the biggest challenge is lack of cooperation, trust and connection between the citizens and between the people and their governments. In addition, some of the challenges I see is corruption, poor quality education and a lot of wasted talent.

Q: As a young individual what are a few of the hurdles that you had to overcome up until today?

A: The hurdles never stop, but I always find a way to overcome with, with the help of amazing people and opportunities that come my way, including this programme. Growing up, I never had a normal upbringing, constantly uprooted from one place to another. When I landed in the US at the age of 13, I spoke no more than a dozen English words. It was very difficult to adjust to a new environment. My family has broken apart, only half of us made it to the US and my parents' financial situation was not good. Since the age of 15, I began working and going to school. I continued full-time school and work or holding two full-time jobs until I moved to Oxford.

Q: Why is the role of a mentor important for you?

A: Moving to the US as immigrants in their late 50s, my parents were not able to provide me with the guidance and mentorship that I needed. In fact, the roles reversed and I was the one helping them navigate their way around an unfamiliar culture and contributing financially. As I entered university and began working, the main motivation was always survival. I never reflected on what I wanted, what my dreams are and what I would enjoy doing. I had to constantly take a job if it paid the bills. I have always, therefore, yearned for a mentor and wished that I had someone to guide me. As my programme at Oxford draws to a close, having a mentor is of tremendous importance to me.

Q: Do you have a lesson that life has taught you and you would like to share?

A: I learned to always try. I never shy away from asking and trying. Many times it doesn't work but sometimes it does. In the end, I am always the winner, because I have given it my all and I did not just sit and wait around for things to come my way.

Q: Name a project, a foundation or a person in your country that you think is doing great work in helping improve other people's lives!

A: Saeed Al Ismaily. This is not a famous person or well known rich figure. This is a regular person who does good for the world every day in his own way, without being recognized and for the sake of doing good, not for publicity. Saeed is a friend. He is not from my country but he is an Emirati, who could have enjoyed a life of luxury and ease, but instead, he chooses a life of service. First by teaching locals at Zayed University (where I met him), then by working for none profit Dubai Cares. Forgoing double the income that he could earn just by virtue of being one of few locals, Saeed's selfless and honesty is an inspiration. He organizes fundraising for labor workers and he is always there to help anyone before they even ask.

Q: What are some of the challenges that women in your country face and what efforts are made towards gender equality?

A: Women globally face many challenges, but in the Middle East and North Africa, these challenges are pronounced. To give an example, the worst female labor participation rate in the world is in MENA, despite the fact that more female than men hold university degrees in the region. I am currently working on a project targeting stay at home mothers and females, offering them an opportunity to work remotely by linking them with companies looking to hire part-time and remote workers.

Q: Athena40 is the first ever global selection of the top 40 women forward thinkers, commentators, activists, authors, academics, entrepreneurs, executives, innovators. Can you think of a truly innovative and forward-thinking woman from your country that you wish to nominate for the Athena40 global list?

A: Hanan Ashrawi

Q: Share with us a phrase, a poem or a story that you love or you find interesting!

A: "Think lightly of yourself, and highly of the world" - Miyamoto Musashi

Q: Tell us one thing that you have learned from your mentor.

A: That it is never too late to make your dream come true.