Raya Bidshahri, a former head girl of The Winchester School – Jebel Ali, was included on the BBC’s 2019 list of 100 influential women from around the world
You describe yourself as a serial entrepreneur – tell us more.
My journey with entrepreneurship started in high school, when I joined the founding team of SciFest Dubai, a platform that is dedicated to promoting the sciences through the arts. SciFest Dubai grew to welcome 10,000 annual visitors, received support from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) and was even featured on the BBC. I also co-founded Intelligent Optimism and Café Scientifique Dubai, both initiatives that served to increase scientific and technological literacy among the general public. Later, I moved to the US to do a degree in neuroscience. There, I was part of the founding team of SheWorks, a contingent workforce platform for women. And now, I’m the founder and CEO of Awecademy, an award-winning organisation that offers future-focused education. Through an online platform and offline programming, we equip young minds with skills, values and mindsets that are often not covered in traditional school curricula.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
For me, entrepreneurship is all about finding solutions to problems. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to be an entrepreneur, but rather, there were problems that motivated me to bring about solutions. Entrepreneurship is one of the many ways that we can contribute to human progress.
What does it mean to you to be included on lists such as the BBC’s?
It is an absolute honour. It’s an incredible validation of the work that my team and I have been doing, which is very motivating. I recently gave a talk on the BBC stage in New Delhi, alongside several of the other inspiring women on the same list. It’s fair to say that every single one of them inspired and motivated me to keep doing what I’m doing.
To what extent did your school years influence you?
When I was a student at The Winchester School – Jebel Ali (WIN), I was very lucky to have access to an innovative range of extracurricular opportunities as well as a Gifted & Talented programme. We ran an astronomy club, organised TEDx events, contributed to SciFest Dubai, spoke at national conferences and even contributed as thought leaders on radio stations. My then principal, Ms Ranju Anand, encouraged risk-taking, student-led innovation and purpose-driven accomplishments.
Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of and why?
I’m very pleased with the incredible progress that we’ve made so far with Awecademy. This autumn, we launched the Awecademy Learning Hub where learners build core competencies through interactive workshops, engage with inspiring leaders and receive mentorship from industry experts. The first Learning Hub has been launched in partnership with Dubai Future Foundation’s Area 2071. Many of the students have begun working on innovative solutions in areas such as future ethics, exponential entrepreneurship and post-earth.
What else is on your horizon, any new projects or initiatives?
I’m speaking at a range of conferences around the world, with the goal of spreading our vision for the future of education. My mission is to create alternative models for education that are aligned with the needs of our technological era.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
The advice I always give to youth is to prioritise building their skills, portfolio and network. I encourage young minds to not ask “what do I want to be?”, but rather “what problem do I want to solve?” and “what is my purpose or passion?” Above all, it’s okay not to know the answers to these. The point is to not stop seeking those answers.