A Humanist Par Excellence
Best known for her philanthropist efforts as the head CSR at MBC hope, Mariam Farag’s humanist milestones go beyond those aired on TV. Her off-screen humanitarian aid has long been diligent, ever since she was only a teen who happily spent her youth in volunteering her time for the advancement of SOS villages in her homeland. Farag takes a moment from her hectic schedule to talk to us about her hopes for the future of the Middle East and the re-humanising the refugee crisis.
You’re a leading figure in philanthropy in the Middle East. When and how did it all start?
It all started when I was 15 years old. My mother planted a seed of giving in me when she urged me to start volunteering at the SOS villages in Cairo. Interacting with children, making them happy and, most of all, establishing a human connection between myself and them, was ultimately fulfilling. This was when I knew that volunteering and changing lives would be my calling. This is not just a job for me, but a way of living.
What do you hope for the future of the Middle East as opposed to how it is now?
We are currently facing the biggest refugee crisis this world has ever seen. Youth unemployment has risen in the past decade, making it very hard for this generation to have faith in their future. Extremism and radicalism have started taking over young minds, and as a result, we are embarking on a lost generation. The Middle East has valuable resources untapped, and in my humble opinion, the most untapped resource we have in our beautiful region are human beings, specifically the youth. If we do not start giving the youth a voice to best communicate their needs, we will never be able to have a productive future.
What can the public and private sectors do to help in that regard?
Different sectors each have a role to play in changing mind-sets and perceptions; from charity-based initiatives, to sustainable projects. We cannot do it alone. The private sector’s vital role of creating social impact on ground cannot be ignored, while the public sector needs to facilitate the administrative processes by creating regulations to give access to civil society and nonprofit organizations.
Tell us about your efforts towards re-humanising the refugee crisis, and the steps you advise taking in solving the issue.
It is very simple: storytelling is key to humanizing statistics. Refugees are not the problem, and most of them are assets to Europe and our region. There are many stories that show how refugees have positively contributed to their host countries in different sectors, and if the media focuses on the positive, resilient and successful stories, we will change perceptions.
How have you been able to work towards changing the lives of underprivileged women and children?
Since the beginning, my focus was always women and children. We launched a nations wide campaign, nineteen years back, focusing on economically empowering women heads of households in Egypt. For the past five years to present, in my capacity of leading the corporate social responsibility program for MBC Group in the region, we have been touching people’s lives as a team – be it on screen, off screen and most importantly on ground. We have launched programs such as ‘Mashrou’ Amal’ (Hope Project), which is a platform for women entrepreneurs in the region that provides them with the mentorship, support and the network they need to start their business and scale up. We have also worked with organisations to tackle many issues related to child protection such as therapy through art, and music for children victims of armed conflict. This has been team work, not only internally but externally with our stakeholders and partners on ground.
How do you juggle between your personal life and your career?
I try to stay true to myself. I used to be a perfectionist, who wanted to be the perfect wife and the perfect mother. Lately, I have realised that the only thing I can do is my best. With more than 70% of my schedule being hectic travel, sometimes I have to be creative in my parental approaches. Often my sons and I get homework done over Skype. More importantly, I have a set schedule of activities, school work and domestic matters. This schedule is my compass and I cannot do without it. I also have a support system at home; my husband is supportive and believes in my mission, which makes my life as a working mum a lot less stressful.
You have been raised by a single mother in Cairo. Would you say she inspired you to become the influential woman you are today?
Without a doubt, my role model is my mum. In the 70s, with the stigma of divorce and a young woman entering the male-dominated field of business, my mother was a successful businesswoman who gained the respect of others in the business community. As busy as she was, she was fully devoted to us. She was strong-willed and powerful. I learned from her that anything is possible. Even when she was exhausted, her smile never left her face. Our house was full of laughter, and she hardly let her pain and worries affect us negatively.
What advice would you give to mums who want to instil humanitarianism in their children?
Teach them to be compassionate and to accept and respect others for who they are. They must learn to be humble, down to earth and admit their mistakes. Sharing is caring, as they say, so instil in your children the beauty of helping others. Explain to them that giving does not have to be done only by giving money, clothes or food. Sometimes, the most valuable thing to give is your time and a smile.