Dr. Sohair Wastawy, Executive Director of Qatar National Library, has more than 40 years of international library and university management experience in the Middle East and the US, and has practiced and taught librarianship in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the US.
Prior to her new role, Dr. Wastawy worked as Dean of Libraries at Florida Institute of Technology. She held the position of Dean of University Libraries at Illinois State University, and was the first Chief Librarian for the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. Dr. Wastawy also served as Dean at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
As well as her work in library management, Dr. Wastawy has worked as a consultant to many not-for-profit organizations, corporations, and accreditation commissions, and has been the recipient of international awards, including a Peace Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship.
Dr. Wastawy began her library career at Cairo University Library, Egypt, and taught librarianship in the first women’s library program in Saudi Arabia. She holds a Doctor of Arts in Library and Information Management from Simmons College, Boston, MA; and a Masters in Library and Information Science from The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.
Having an extensive international library experience in the US and the Middle East, we would like to know more about you, since the beginning of your distinguished career till now?And how did you come to leave Egypt and become an American citizen?
I hadn’t originally planned to study library science, and I later discovered that many who joined the profession had stumbled on it from different backgrounds.
Earlier, I majored in comparative linguistics, and I began with a BA degree in Semitic languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) from Cairo University then pursued an MA degree in African languages followed by a PhD in comparative linguistics at Cairo University. Before I could complete my PhD, however, my advisor Dr. Mourad Kamel, unfortunately, passed away. Because I was dealing with 6 languages as part of my thesis, it was difficult to work with any other advisor. At that time, I was working at the university library as a temporary job until I finished my PhD. Once I knew I wasn’t going to finish, I decided to stay on as a librarian and take up librarianship as a profession. However, I didn’t want to go into a profession without formally studying it.
After the Camp David Accords in 1978, the US was offering peace fellowships to a few Israeli and Egyptian students to pursue postgraduate studies in the US. I learned about this by walking past the AMIDEAST building in Cairo where I spot a big sign that read “Scholarships in the US”, so, I applied. Then, I didn’t know that in the US, unlike in Egypt, you could pursue a post graduate degree in a field other than your major. Knowing that I could choose any field of study, I shifted my career to library and information sciences.
After I completed my master degree, I was accepted in the second top program in the US: a private women school called Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, where I completed my PhD studies in 1987. After my PhD, I came back to Egypt and stayed for eight months, during which I met my then-husband. I eventually moved back to the US with him I started my career in the US as a part-time research librarian at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and I have been practicing librarianship since then.
As a woman pursing her career and a working mother, what are/were the major obstacles and challenges that you had to face in your life and career?
Since 1988, my job has always been about building and managing libraries. I managed the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) main library with its 5 branches for 14 years, before I was appointed as chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, which also required building the library sector services and collections. After my tenure in Alexandria, I held the position of dean of university libraries at Illinois State University followed by similar position at Florida Institute of Technology.
Being a working mother is a difficult task; juggling between family and work is often relentless. It is also a delicate balancing act, especially when you are away from family and friends. I didn’t have the kind of support system that comes with living in your home country. You have to be extremely organized and very judicious with your time. In general, the responsibility of being a manager is challenging as you often don’t operate with fixed hours. It is all about getting the job done. If the job takes 10 hours or 15 hours, you owe that much time. Creating a balance between family and work requires super organizational skills. You have to organize activities for the kids and you have to share tasks with your partner.
Did you find any cultural gaps between women’s role in society in the Middle East and the US?
Gender discrimination exists in most societies. The US has given me opportunities and leadership skills, and I was for the most part, treated equally and was selected on the basis of merit. When I got my first position as a dean, I was 37 years old. I was also the first female dean IIT since it was established in 1890. I was a woman with an accent; different in completion and background which made some people regard me with suspicion. When I attended a meeting with a number of male deans, my proposed ideas fell on deaf ears. When the other male deans reiterated what I said, their ideas were met with “Oh, wow! That is quite wonderful”. I took issue with this and long before equal pay became a big thing in the US, I told my president that I was no less intelligent than these men, and I demanded to be paid as much as the other deans.
I must say that in Egypt, women have assumed leadership positions in governmental and national institutions, but we still have not seen many women judges or some other high-ranking professions. We still have quite a journey ahead of us.
Being an effective manager who has a broad repertoire of management styles, can you tell us more about the styles you used throughout your career with your employees all over the world? And how did you develop them?
There is no single management style that fits all. It is situational. You maintain certain values for equality, fairness, objectivity, and professionalism. You honor these core values, but remain flexible in how you execute them. In general, management techniques are not magic mantras but simply tools to be reached for at the right times.Some situations require the leader to hover closely; others require long, loose lines.
To be a manager does not merely entail giving orders. Being a leader is about understanding that strategy equals execution and that all the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can’t be implemented in an efficient manner at the right time. As a leader, you delegate and empower others, but you also pay attention to details, every day, never above operational details. In a service profession like librarianship, loyalty to the ethos of the profession of equality and democracy are crucial. On the personal level, you must have a high-energy drive, a balanced ego, and the drive to get things done.
5- As a working mother, how did you raise your son? Has he understood the role you played in the cultural arena? How has that affected his perspective on life?
The year my son was born, I was made dean for the first time. Meaning that my son has always seen me throughout his life in leadership roles. He has always been very proud of what I have achieved. He used to brag about me when he was little, telling his friends that I was the president of the university.
Because Kariem has always seen me in leadership positions, this has had both a positive and some unhelpful effect on him. As proud as he was, my son often thought that he has to do everything perfectly in order to get my approval.
Being an immigrant in the US, you are always judged. I didn’t want my son to acquire this trait: judging people or situations prematurely. I tried to instill in him empathy toward people, and I taught him to treat people equally and with respect. Kariem grew up in a post-9/11 America, which was a very hard time for all Arabs. He was bullied by kids at school who told him that all Arabs were terrorists. This was alienating to a child who cannot defend himself, had neither the vocabulary nor the understanding to be able to say that this wasn’t our fault or that these terrorists were different people.
The atmosphere was very difficult and Arab children, like my son, had to struggle through all that because of the name-calling. Some kids told him to go back home, and Kariem used to tell them that this was his home. I tried to help him understand that these children knew little, and to teach him empathy during this time of ignorance. I also taught him not to be defensive and help educate others. Those were some of the values I tried to instill in my son. I am proud to say that he has an amazing sense of empathy, kind, open and have friends of all backgrounds and religions.
Reflecting on how your parents raised you, what ideologies do you wish to instill in girls in Egypt to become future leaders in society?
Though my father was born in 1917, he was such a liberal man in his way of thinking. He supported me all the way, and I was the first girl in the family to study abroad. That was not very common then. For a man from a different era, I think it was all a matter of trust, which he tried to foster between him and his 5 children. He always wanted us to believe in what we did. He had such work ethics and was a real patriot. He wanted us to succeed not only for our own sake but also because we owed it to our country.
We were 4 girls and 1 boy, and he urged us to choose whatever we wanted to do with our lives. Two of my sisters are doctors, one is a pharmacist, and my brother is an engineer. His advice was to always be the best at whatever you choose.
Both my parents were teachers who believed in girls’ education and independence. They were like any good parents who give their children wings to fly. That’s why each and every one of us led the life they wanted without being hindered by any limitations. Those are values that I wish all parents instill in girls in Egypt. If they do not acquire them at a young age, they will become more difficult to acquire as adults.
Having contributed to promoting an excellent image of inspiring remarkable Egyptian women and change makers, what advices do you wish to pass on to women of Egypt all over the world?
To believe in what they do, have a purpose in life, and to try to make a difference. It doesn’t matter if it is going to be gardening, teaching, a factory worker, a doctor, or engineer. Just try to make a difference. Being a stay home mom, in my opinion, is a tough job. Raising future leaders and good citizens is not for the faint of hearts. Women, who have the ability to give, can volunteer at any institution and receive a sense of accomplishment for being able to give something back to their community—either their time or energy.
Your self-worth and self-esteem rise when you contribute to the welfare of others. It is not about making money or attaining a high position; it is about what you want to be remembered with. No matter what profession you belong to, what is really important is to ask yourself these questions: how can I make any difference in my brief time on earth? If you find answer to such a question, then you will be able to find your path.
What are your future plans on both the professional and personal levels?
On the personal level, I am very much looking forward to retirement. I want to pursue hobbies that didn’t have time for when younger. I like to write, and I have been writing a collection of short stories for over 25 years now that I would like to finish. I would also like to take digital photography, gardening, creative writing and ballroom dancing classes. I also plan to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian organizations that help in the relief of human suffering.
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A surprising appointment of a New Prime Minister was decided upon yesterday by the presidency of the republic in replacement of the previous three months old government.
Any project is necessarily represented by political, social and economic forces otherwise it would be doomed to failure. The major challenge for Algeria at this conjecture would mean Algeria in need of foresight and adaptation strategies to implement operational instruments capable of identification so as to anticipate changes in the behaviour of the economic, political and social actors at geostrategic level.
There is a dialectic link between development and security, because without sustainable development there is necessarily increase of insecurity that has rising costs. Algeria per the reckoning of many international experts has the full potential, subject to far-reaching reforms, to establish a diversified economy responsible for the creation of sustainable jobs and therefore lead towards more stability not only of the country itself but of the entire region.
In order however to avoid perverse effects that might be harmful to its development, it would be dangerous for the future of Algeria to go into a monologue, fill the void inherited from the rentier culture of the past and allow certain organizations that are unable to mobilize society because of their non-credibility to deliver to activism without real impact.
There is a theory in political science that says 80% of poorly targeted and disorderly actions that are covered by activism have an impact on 20% on objectives and conversely 20% of well-targeted actions have an impact on 80%. The price of oil drop will definitely remain low for at least some medium term duration before being affected by the new on-coming technologies.
This would mean adaptation strategies are urgent and whilst avoiding the illusion of a model of linear energy consumption as of outdated models of the 70s and 80s as based on material development whereas we are at the dawn of the fourth economic revolution. This will predominantly be geared by and through the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, see latest report of the World Economic Forum titled «The Impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution».
We must imperatively reframe the debate, avoid the utopias of the past and adapt to the new world through a language of truth and tackle the essence and not appearances. As I demonstrated recently in a long interview to the US daily American Herald Tribune of December 28, 2016 and in the French financial daily La Tribune of May 07, 2017, I would like to consider the stability of Algeria, as a strategic element acting in favour of the stability of the entire region, which does not mean some form of status-quo, but to carry out reforms in a positively historical movement. This could be a prerequisite for the recovery of the required national cohesion and the construction of a home front as a solid and sustainable support for political and socio-economic reforms that are in fact challenges of the new world of today and of the future. In the areas of political and economic changes, social and cultural would include the pivot and central element of good governance and the reform of the school taking account of the Foundation of the development era of the 21st century based on knowledge.
The strategic objective must reconcile modernity and cultural authenticity, economic efficiency and a deep social justice if one wants to run to avoid the marginalization of Algeria within the global society with meanings geostrategic implications. Government and Opposition must agree for a national renewal of Algeria.
It will be what the Algerians will want it to be. The devil being in the details it is up to us with regards to healing like involving a broad National Front inclusive of all sensibilities, tolerating all differences of ideas, a source of mutual enrichment. To finish on and regardless of whoever is the appointee as a Prime Minister, prerogative falling exclusively onto the President of the Republic, the important thing is to focus on the best interests of the country.
For this reason I wish every success to Mr. Ahmed Ouyahia, who was head of Government in the past at the time I chaired the National Council on privatization between 1996 and 1999. Gloom apart, Algeria having all potentialities out of the current crisis, because failure would be harmful to the country and thus geostrategic implications of destabilization of the entire region.
Algeria in this difficult environment of fiscal pressures and geostrategic tensions needs stability, to bring together instead of dividing through a productive dialogue and a shared sacrifice generalised to each and every citizen. And through sustainable development, encourage all producers of wealth for the benefit of all its children, taking into account the harsh reality of the world, a world in perpetual motion or any Nation who don’t advance not necessarily stop.
A brilliantly educational article of Brad Keywell with our compliments shed some light of what awaiting us in the near future. This is positively a world where Human Brilliance, Ingenuity and Skills will always be needed.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about empowering people, not the rise of the machines
14 Jun 2017
The world is changing. There’s no way around this fact.
Billions of people and countless machines are connected to each other. Through ground-breaking technology, unprecedented processing power and speed, and massive storage capacity, data is being collected and harnessed like never before.
Automation, machine learning, mobile computing and artificial intelligence — these are no longer futuristic concepts, they are our reality.
To many people, these changes are scary.
Previous industrial revolutions have shown us that if companies and industries don’t adapt with new technology, they struggle. Worse, they fail.
But I strongly believe that these innovations will make industry – and the world – stronger and better.
The change brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution is inevitable, not optional.
And the possible rewards are staggering: heightened standards of living; enhanced safety and security; and greatly increased human capacity.
For people, there must be a shift in mindset.
As difficult as it may be, the future of work looks very different from the past. I believe people with grit, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit will embrace this future, rather than cling to the status quo.
People can be better at their jobs with the technology of today—and the technology that is yet to come—rather than fearing that their human skills will be devalued.
Human and machine
I’m reminded of chess.
We have all heard the stories about computers beating even the greatest grandmasters. But the story is more nuanced; humans and computers play differently and each has strengths and weaknesses.
Computers prefer to retreat, but they can store massive amounts of data and are unbiased in their decision-making.
Humans can be more stubborn, but also can read their opponent’s weaknesses, evaluate complex patterns, and make creative and strategic decisions to win.
Even the creators of artificial chess-playing machines acknowledge that the best chess player is actually a team of both human and machine.
The world will always need human brilliance, human ingenuity and human skills.
Software and technology have the potential to empower people to a far greater degree than in the past—unlocking the latent creativity, perception and imagination of human beings at every level of every organization.
Power of data, power of people
This shift will enable workers on the front line, on the road and in the field to make smarter decisions, solve tougher problems and do their jobs better.
This is our mission at Uptake—to combine the power of data and the power of people, across global industries.
Here’s what this looks like:
Railroad locomotives are powered by massive, highly complex electrical engines that cost millions of dollars.
When one breaks down, the railroad loses thousands more for every hour it’s out of service (not to mention, there are a lot of angry travellers or cargo customers to deal with).
After the locomotive is towed in for repairs, technicians normally start by running diagnostic tests. These can take hours, and often require technicians to stand next to roaring engines jotting down numbers based on the diagnostic readings.
That’s the old way – or, at least, it should be.
Machines, rather than something to be feared, are the tools that will help us solve the world’s biggest problems Image: Unsplash/Sorasak
When locomotives operated by our customers roll into the shop for routine services, all diagnostics have already been run.
Our software has forecast when, why and how the machine is likely to break down using predictive analytics — algorithms that analyze massive amounts of data generated by the 250 sensors on each locomotive.
Our systems have examined that data within the context of similar machines, subject- matter experts, industry norms and even weather. If there’s a problem, we detect it, and direct the locomotive to a repair facility.
A mechanic can then simply pick up an iPad, and learn in a few minutes exactly what is about to break down, as well as the machine’s history and the conditions it’s been operating under.
That leaves the mechanics to do what they do best: fix it, using their experience, judgement and skill. And the mechanics decisions and actions become data that feeds back into the software, improving the analytics and predictions for the next problem.
So, technology didn’t replace mechanics; it empowered them do their job.
In the same way that chess masters and computers work best together, the mechanic used human skills that a machine can’t replicate: ingenuity, creativity and experience. And the technology detected a problem that was unknown and unseen to human eyes.
In short, when the mechanic and the technology work together, the work gets done faster, with fewer errors and better results.
Multiply this across all industries: aviation, energy, transportation, smart cities, manufacturing, natural resources, and construction.
The productivity we unleash could be reminiscent of what the world saw at the advent of the first industrial revolution. But the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will run much broader, and deeper, than the first.
We’ll have the knowledge, the talent and the tools to solve some of the world’s biggest problems: hunger, climate change, disease.
Machines will supply us with the insight and the perspective we need to reach those solutions. But they won’t supply the judgement or the ingenuity. People will.
The WEF recommends to read more on the same subject:
Knowledge and good governance were found, since time immemorial and at all times, to be the basis for prosperity of civilizations; a country without its elite is like a body without soul. Algeria is no different in that it is knowledge as basis for Algeria’s Development that would enable it transcend this critical phase of its history and hopefully flow to better climes.
Recently, hundreds of high school students and thousands of families because our children recount with precision what they have heard or seen, welcomed me on this day I will never forget of December 13th, 2016, at the invitation of that famous high school (Lyceum ex Ardaillan of Oran) of mine, that by the way saw many politicians, scientific and military personalities of renown of all regions of the country pass through its doors, halls and corridors. It is the greatest gift that was given to me after a long career, and it was also a very long time I did not cry, with joy this time, noting a big difference between these spontaneous questions marking the innocence of these kids with their discourse of truth, especially with the different national and international conferences that I am regularly invited to.
I was greeted with the national hymn (Nasheed Al Watani), a poem and a song in my honour, flowers and a picture with my name on; gifts from a collection by the hundreds of high school students and teachers and not on the school budget. Many souvenir photos with these children of boundless sincerity were taken. How beautiful were these girls and boys in their senior year with their questions testifying all their attachment to the future of Algeria; issues shared between hope and legitimate concern about the fall in the price of hydrocarbons and many other questions on certain enrichment without efforts that undermine the society as well as depreciating the value of true and honest work.
I have tied the whole of my career since obtaining the Baccalaureate (A Level) in 1965 and my doctorate (PhD) in 1974 to acquiring the knowledge and expertise in the vast domain of Economics studies. I insisted on the fact that without knowledge, there may not be development for any country and that a good training should be a must whilst taking into account the new world that is encompassed by the digital revolution in order to find a job.
“You are young as those who liberated this country between 1954 and 1962”, I told them before adding, “they were your age and you are the hope of Algeria of tomorrow.” I insisted strongly, and “we must not have a vision of gloom of the future of our country that has significant potential.” Yes, this youth is conscious of the future challenges facing both the world and Algeria. I for one and in the face of all evidence, I keep a flawless hope in the future of Algeria if only we could mobilize the youth.
The idea that for years I defended not always without difficulties, i.e. a broad national front, taking into account the different sensitivities, is to give priority to the best interests of Algeria. It was defended here before me by the present teachers and hundreds of students, who promised to convey this message that is strategic to their peers and kin because of its paramount national security and meaning for the future of our country.
For instance, the ministerial positions that are inevitably ephemeral with some present Algerian ministers, living of illusions and intoxicated by their functions, e.g. being received with great fanfare because representing a great country and not for their writings or skills are just uselessly passing time. Once an end is put to their functions, they are completely ignored and ineluctably become “has been”.
By the way how many Algerian ministers do you remember the names that the country has had since independence to date?