While standing on stage at the closing ceremony and awards session of the Arab and African Youth Platform (AAYP), World Youth Forum (WYF), and holding her Arab and African Promising Youth Award from the President of Egypt, Haidy Mousa realized that this, sustainable architecture, was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She had just received three awards at the International Student Challenge UrbanFarm in Italy in 2019, including the Young Minds Award from the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS).
Haidy went on to receive The Best Paper Award from the World Renewable Energy Network (WREN) in the UK for her outstanding presentation on the paper she had published in Springer Nature, give a TEDx talk at the American University of Cairo, speak at the second Global University Network for Innovation’s international conference on Sustainable Development Goals organized by UNESCO and the UN in Spain, and win second place at an international competition organized by The World Renewable Energy Congress (WREC) in Lisbon.
She has not always believed that architecture was the path for her, having first dreamt of becoming an aerospace engineer. Her family advised her to pursue a degree in architecture as it was a ‘better choice for girls’ and would have more job opportunities. Her first three years at university were very difficult and made her question her choices; however, in her fourth year, she enrolled in an architecture and sustainable development course. This proved to be a turning point in her career.
When she was growing up, she had always been interested in learning more about global warming, greenhouse gases, and the impact of climate change. She would often wonder why there were no radical solutions put into place to avoid a climate crisis. This course taught her that architecture can play a major role in preventing or alleviating climate change via controlling construction to reduce its environmental impact and the environmental footprint of the building being designed, and she has been in the field ever since.
This was a challenge because of the limited course offerings and job opportunities in sustainable architecture in the region. Haidy had to look outwards and apply to international conferences and competitions to be able to do and learn more about what she loved. Since this was a new concept to many of her peers and loved ones, she was not particularly encouraged to pursue this path. There was some familial pressure to focus first and foremost on university and its curriculum instead of seeking opportunities outside of it, believing that university grades will guarantee a good job.
Her architecture and sustainability professor motivated her to set aside her doubt and fear and enter the competitions. She believes that her professor’s support along with her stubbornness, motivation, and drive to succeed helped her overcome the negativity and push through. However, after finding success and winning awards, especially on an international level, people’s perceptions began to change. “People only pay attention to someone’s work after they have made an achievement, so I knew these challenges were just temporary. It made me stronger.”
Haidy says she has always drawn inspiration from other successful women, particularly Zaha Hadid, a renowned Iraqi architect, artist, and designer. She loves to read their stories and see where they started and how they struggled only to overcome the obstacles in their paths and succeed. Stories about powerful, successful, accomplished women motivate her to follow her passion and instill in her the belief that she can make a difference. When in doubt, Haidy keeps in mind why she is doing what she is doing and looks to the future. It is this thinking about the future and other women’s accomplishments that help carry her to the end of a project.
She has considered quitting before due to a lack of relevancy of her interests in the current Egyptian market. However, any time she has come close to quitting, she finds something to push her back into the field. Typically, she will find and enter a competition, then another, then another. She has also found that some people follow her work and her ideas and that professors at her university have begun to encourage students to participate in activities outside of the curriculum, and this has pushed her to continue her journey.
She has, in turn, worked to motivate and provide support for young women who want to follow a similar path. Young women ask her how she did it, and are driven to share their ideas and find their version of success. Haidy also notes that there is more pressure to get married and settle down since she has finished university and that it is a very cultural experience, even though she would much rather focus on her work and passion for the time being.
As for advice, she tells young women and girls to “follow your passion and believe in your potential. You might face negativity, and people might put you down. Throw that away and continue working for what you believe in because your ideas could benefit someone down the line. You do not know your impact until you achieve your goals.”
Haidy also believes that university grades should be given less attention, and companies should instead focus on the bigger picture, such as what this person has done outside of university and what their interests are. “Grades do not say anything about someone’s personality or their strength; look for someone who can multitask, someone who can hold down the fort while managing their time, studies, interests, work experiences, and social life.” Moreover, she believes that schools should include more stories about women who are pioneers and leaders, she believes it is important for young girls to hear these stories and know that anyone can do whatever they set their mind to.
This story was written by Ghada El Kawas