Mona Demaidi – Assistant Professor at An-Najah National University Palestine

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We as women need to tell our side of the story, we need to reshape the dialogue to make sure that our voices are heard and not overlooked.

Dr Mona Nabil Demaidi is an entrepreneur and women’s rights advocate. She obtained her PhD in Advanced Software Engineering and Machine Learning, MSc with distinction in Software Engineering and Data Management from the University of Manchester, UK. Dr Mona joined An-Najah National University in 2016, to become the youngest female with a PhD certificate at the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology. Her research focuses on building personalized learning environments using machine learning. Besides her academic work, Dr Mona is an active member of several societies which globally support women in the technology sector. She has been a board member with Women in Engineering and Arab Women in computing since 2014. In 2017 she became the first female supervisor and senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) at An-Najah National University student branch. Dr Mona’s ambition to help Palestinian women was not limited to Palestine or the MENA region, she was keen to find opportunities to improve the network for Palestinian women and help them connect with the rest of the world.  Therefore, in 2019, Dr Mona became the Co-Managing Director for Girls in Tech in Palestine which is the first chapter in the MENA region. 

In addition to supporting women in Palestine, Dr Mona is highly involved in the Palestinian startup ecosystem, she consulted for several startups to improve their nascent ideas and expansion. Moreover, she participated in several judging panels and was selected to represent the Palestinian women in the International Visitor Leadership Program – IT entrepreneurship. Also, on the volunteering front, but closely tied to industry and education, Dr Mona served as the Chairwomen of the first Palestinian IEEE Women in Engineering Leadership Conference.

Currently, Dr Mona is leading two startups that aim to reshape the volunteering and startup ecosystems in Palestine. The first startup is Sawaed which is an intelligent volunteering Platform which matches volunteers with organizations and tracks their skills. The second startup is a newfangled co-working space to empower women and youth in trending technologies, fintech, and AI based startups. 

In a Nutshell: Tell us a bit about your job and what role technology plays in it?

At the beginning of 2016, I decided to return to my home country Palestine to contribute to the technology sector and empower Palestinian women. I joined An-Najah National University in the same year to become the youngest female with a PhD at one of the biggest universities in Palestine. Currently, I am an assistant professor at the computer engineering department teaching courses, supervising projects, and leading initiatives that highly contribute to the local and international industrial markets in technology. My academic research focuses on building personalized learning environments using machine learning. I have published a book and three journal papers which introduce a new platform for auto-generating assessment questions using the semantic web. Moreover, I won more than four research grants. 

Besides my academic work, I have been highly involved with several local and international technical societies that support the Palestinian youth and especially women. In 2017, I became the first female counsellor of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) which is one of the biggest student technical societies in Palestine. In 2020, IEEE awarded me the senior membership which is the highest grade of IEEE membership, to become the first woman in Palestine to obtain such an honorarium award. I am also highly involved with technical communities that support women in the technology sector. Since 2014, I have been a member of the Arab Women in Computing (ArabWIC) which is one of the biggest non-profit organizations that aims to support, inspire, and increase the visibility and status of Arab women in computing. In 2019, I was chosen to become a board member of the leadership committee. My ambition to help Palestinian women was not limited to Palestine or the MENA region. I have always been looking for opportunities to improve the network for Palestinian women and help them connect with the world. Therefore, in 2019, I became the Co-Managing Director for Girls in Tech in Palestine which is the first chapter in the MENA region. Currently, I am integrating all material provided by Girls in Tech to support women in Palestine by giving free online courses from the top technology companies worldwide and providing them with access to international job openings and mentoring opportunities. 

I do believe that “Gender equality in the technology industry could only be achieved when women in Palestine have the local and international support they need from a very young age”. 

In addition to supporting women in Palestine, in 2017 I became highly involved in the Palestinian startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem. I helped several startups improve their nascent ideas and expansion. Moreover, I participated in several judging panels. In 2019, I was selected to represent the Palestinian women in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in IT and entrepreneurship. Currently, I am leading two startups that aim to reshape the volunteering and startup ecosystems in Palestine. The first startup is Sawaed which is an intelligent volunteering platform that matches volunteers with organizations and tracks their skills. The second startup is a co-working space that aims to empower youth and women. Space will be opening this year in Nablus and it aims to develop and improve the technology startups that serve the MENA region and worldwide. 

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

My professional journey started in 2010 when I was 21 years old finalising my BSc in computer engineering at An-Najah National University, Palestine. I was very interested in virtual worlds and games. I developed a three-dimensional virtual game that users could use to socialise and interact with each other. The game won second place at the EXPO IT competition and second place in the best project plan competition which was held by the Palestinian Information and Communications Technology Incubator. My passion for virtual worlds and gaming did not halt at this stage. In the same year, I started my MSc in data management and advanced software engineering at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. My MSc project was a virtual educational world which students in STEM could use to learn about signals and how they propagate in the surrounding environment. The project was published in a conference and earned a grant from the University of Manchester to become a tool that students in electrical engineering and physics can use. I finalised my MSc in 2011 to commence my PhD in Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Software Engineering immediately also in the UK. My PhD focused on developing personalised virtual learning environments using artificial intelligence. I published a book and several research papers on the topic and won four research awards. Yet, I was always looking into transforming my research into a real product people could use. Therefore, in 2011, I started my first “M & M Innovators” startup which was founded in Islamabad, Pakistan. M & M Innovators aimed to develop personalized educational games to teach children programming. The whole experience was overwhelming and I learned how tough it is to be an entrepreneur. In 2016, I joined An-Najah National University to become an assistant professor at the computer engineering department. Being an entrepreneur helped to see the academic and industrial sectors from a broader scale. I comprehended what the market is looking for and transformed my courses to become a good fit. I also keen-sighted the underrepresentation of women in technology in job market which robustly reflects the high unemployment rate. Therefore, in 2017, I carried out a research study on 300 undergraduate female students to grasp the reasons behind the high unemployment rate. The results revealed that most of them lack confidence and do not see role models in the technology field.

The reasons behind the high unemployment rate: most of them lack confidence and do not see role models in the technology field.

I decided to work hard on this by leading and joining several local and global technical and social societies to empower them. “It is still a very long journey and colossal amount of work need to be achieved. Yet change will be coming very soon if we as women learn how to support and empower each other because empowerment is contagious”. It is our responsibility to provide these girls with an influential and uplifting platform to learn about successful women worldwide whom are doing spectacular work. To advocate for this cause, I am currently working on opening the first co-working space which supports and empower women and youth in technology in Palestine. Space aims to help reduce the unemployment rate and create opportunities. 

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

The greatest transformation I have witnessed in technology is in Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Blockchain, and Augmented and Virtual Reality.

When you think about ‘women’ and ‘technology’ what comes to your mind first?

I think about “my supporting system”. The amazing women who work every single day on inspiring, creating impact, and elevating each other. I think about the Arab Women in Computing, Girls in Tech, Women in Engineering and the marvelous work they are doing. I think about one of my dreams which I was able to achieve last year, “chairwomen of the first IEEE Women in Engineering conference in Palestine”. More than 200 undergraduate engineering females from seven main universities in the West Bank participated in the conference to learn from leading women in Palestine and attend training sessions. I think how we as women when working together, incredible things will unquestionably be achieved, higher decision and policy making, and leadership positions in corporates and organizations will surely be reached.

We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that? 

In the technology sector in the MENA region, the number of undergraduates’ females in computer science and engineering is significantly high. However, in tech industry, women are considerably underrepresented. The major reason beyond this is lack of confidence. Women feel that they do not have enough technical skills. The second reason is culture. Generally, society does not support women working for long hours and travelling from one city to another. The third reason is laws and regulation. The law does not mandate equal pay for work of equal value, does not mandate nondiscrimination in hiring based on gender, and does not prohibit employers from asking about family status. Another reason is the difficulty that female entrepreneurs face in having access to funding. To address the previously mentioned reasons, “we as women need to tell our side of the story, we need to reshape the dialogue to make sure that our voices are heard and not overlooked”.

What skills do you need for a career in tech (aside from the actual tech skills)?

To have a career in tech, we need to have the critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, entrepreneurship and debating skills.

How different would our world be if more women worked in STEM?

Having more women in STEM will boost the global economy.

Currently, STEM is the field where gender disparity prevails. It lacks the perspectives of women that form half of the world’s population. Having more women in STEM will allow us to see new innovative products and services with a different viewpoint that too often hasn’t been considered. The world will become safer, and the quality of life will increase. Simultaneously, having more women in STEM will boost the global economy.

What and who were the influencers of who you are today?

My main influencers in life are my parents Amnah and Nabil Demaidi. Since childhood, they both raised me to be strong and independent. They taught me self-confidence, caring and loving others, and above all honesty and courage to face my personal truth in everything I did. They raised me in a way that being a woman was never an obstacle or a challenge to accomplish great things. Discrimination was never discussed in our house. For instance, my brothers and I regularly and even as a family did our domestic chores. My parents are well-educated and successful in their careers and they both understood the key role of education in empowering women. Of course, I had my ups and downs during my studies and work, but they were always supportive and encouraging. Having my family support affected my career decisions and made me feel more responsible regarding empowering women in STEM.  

Having my family support affected my career decisions and made me feel more responsible regarding empowering women in STEM.  

Besides my family, I have always looked up to women who have done a great job in showing the world that skills are not associated with gender. In technology, I am influenced by Dr Anita Borg who believed that women should elevate each other and to achieve this, she founded the Institute for Women and Technology and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. In politics, I admire Dr Hanan Ashrawi who proved that women could reach high positions in the policymaking process. In media and TV, I have always been a huge fan of Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres. They both proved to the world that regardless of race and gender if you have the skills and persistence you will succeed. 

Generally, learning about successful women and seeing the great work they are doing to support other women had a huge influence on my personal and career decisions.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

Be yourself, the world is waiting for your super powers.

Don’t worry if things don’t go your way, we are all here to help, support, empower and encourage you. Be strong, you are blessed to be a woman; you are worthy. Be yourself, the world is waiting for your super powers.

Dr Mona Nabil Demaidi is an entrepreneur and women’s rights advocate. She obtained her PhD in Advanced Software Engineering and Machine Learning, MSc with distinction in Software Engineering and Data Management from the University of Manchester, UK. Dr Mona joined An-Najah National University in 2016, to become the youngest female with a PhD certificate at the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology. Her research focuses on building personalized learning environments using machine learning. Besides her academic work, Dr Mona is an active member of several societies which globally support women in the technology sector. She has been a board member with Women in Engineering and Arab Women in computing since 2014. In 2017 she became the first female supervisor and senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) at An-Najah National University student branch. Dr Mona’s ambition to help Palestinian women was not limited to Palestine or the MENA region, she was keen to find opportunities to improve the network for Palestinian women and help them connect with the rest of the world.  Therefore, in 2019, Dr Mona became the Co-Managing Director for Girls in Tech in Palestine which is the first chapter in the MENA region. 

In addition to supporting women in Palestine, Dr Mona is highly involved in the Palestinian startup ecosystem, she consulted for several startups to improve their nascent ideas and expansion. Moreover, she participated in several judging panels and was selected to represent the Palestinian women in the International Visitor Leadership Program – IT entrepreneurship. Also, on the volunteering front, but closely tied to industry and education, Dr Mona served as the Chairwomen of the first Palestinian IEEE Women in Engineering Leadership Conference.

Currently, Dr Mona is leading two startups that aim to reshape the volunteering and startup ecosystems in Palestine. The first startup is Sawaed which is an intelligent volunteering Platform which matches volunteers with organizations and tracks their skills. The second startup is a newfangled co-working space to empower women and youth in trending technologies, fintech, and AI based startups. 

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