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Tala Qaddoura, a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School, on building from scratch, hard work and seizing opportunities.
My name is Tala, and until a week before the MBA started, I was living in my country of Palestine and working on developing Palestine’s first master-planned city and largest construction project in its history. I worked in the Procurement Department; responsible for supplying a wide spectrum of material and services, ranging from multimillion-dollar construction contracts, to hiring influencers to promote the city’s attractions, all within tight quality, time, and budget constraints.
I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering and a Masters of Engineering in Construction Engineering and Management.
I come from a big family, the eldest of five siblings. My father is a retired public sector employee, and my mother is a nurse. My family moved to Palestine after the Oslo agreement as they wanted to take part in building the new state. My father worked in the public sector until retirement, and my mom still works with refugees through UNRWA.
I applied for the Laidlaw Scholarship because I genuinely believe that supplying women with more opportunities for higher education (including MBAs) at top schools would equip them with tools to minimize the representational gap and claim a seat at the table, particularly at top positions. I needed financial support to be able to pursue an MBA at London Business School, and I’m extremely honored and appreciative for having received a Laidlaw Scholarship – I wouldn’t be here without it!
What is the biggest life challenge you overcame, and what did you learn from it?
I grew up in a small conservative village in a premeditatedly traditional society, where many girls didn’t continue their education past middle or high school. I went on to pursue an education and, later, a career in the very male-dominated construction industry. I’ve always felt that I needed to work harder to “prove myself” or earn the same amount of respect/ be taken seriously, than my male colleagues did.
It is an unfortunate truth that women experience imposter syndrome more frequently than men, but it is even more unfortunate that for many women, that experience is also constantly enforced by exclusion, biases, and discrimination in and out of the workplace.
From these experiences, I learned that there is no magical solution, and that it takes grit and hard work to succeed, and that asserting oneself doesn’t mean having the loudest voice, or speaking for the longest time. I’ve also learned and came to appreciate the support women given each other throughout their lives, and to want to be able to give that support to other women as well.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
My favorite piece of advice is “always give your best to whatever it is you’re doing” which is intuitive enough, but sometimes, when things are going well, you can be tempted to relax, which is in itself needed sometimes, but be careful so that it doesn’t turn into a landslide. More importantly, when things are going bad, and you’re not happy where you are, make a conscious, deliberate effort to create change, but don’t lose the drive to give your best.
What is the worst piece of advice you have been given?
That “good things come to those who wait”. Of course, patience is important, but actively seeking opportunities and working towards goals is, in my experience, the way to go.
Top 3 tips that will help someone become a better leader
⚡️ Keep an open mind and listen, aiming to understand.
⚡️ Practice what you preach and set an example for others.
⚡️Always make sure that the team understands the underlying goals behind a certain decision or task, so that everyone is clear on the vision and is actively working towards it.
Which leaders in the world inspire you the most and why?
To me, the most inspiring leaders are those that rise from challenging circumstances to defeat odds that are stacked against them through hard work, perseverance, and integrity. They not only manage to excel at what they do, inspiring generations of young people to follow in their footsteps, but they also do so with grace and humility. Lastly, I think the most inspiring leaders are those who also give back to their community, whether through raising awareness, challenging unjust norms, or establishing or supporting charities that focus on solving problems in the world.
A great example of inspiring leaders, in my opinion, is Oprah Winfrey, who rose despite challenges and became a household name and one of the most influential people in the world, and who continues to support less fortunate people and to inspire young girls everywhere to follow their dreams.
What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?
To me, being a Laidlaw Scholar encompasses many values, some of which are:
⚡️ First, openness – to new experiences, new challenges, and opportunities. But also to venturing out of your comfort zone and to possibly changing your perspective on something you were sure of before.
⚡️ Secondly, passion – having that fire and drive to work towards a successful career, but also towards learning as a life-long process, and towards helping others rise along the way.
⚡️ Finally, excellence – on all levels and across industries; creating and implementing creative solutions to complex problems.
Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.
I would like to see a more inclusive and accessible procurement model in my country of Palestine, where smaller and family-owned companies are given the same opportunities to compete and win bids, especially in large projects or in public sector projects, without being automatically excluded as “too risky” or “financially incapable”.
I believe this goal, while ambitious, is achievable by working on increasing awareness and shifting the general perspective on these companies from “too risky and unstable”, to “more agile and competitive due to lower overhead” and by working with these companies on their strategies; how to choose the right project to bid for, capitalize on their strengths, build a strong foundation, and expedite their “natural growth”.
Something Personal to Add
I’d like to give two shoutouts to two organizations that I’ve worked with, and I’m constantly inspired by:
⚡️Miracle Corners of the World “MCW Global” - an NGO working towards world-wide improvement in education, health care and economic security. They have a fantastic “Young Leaders Program” helping young people bring about positive change in their communities.
⚡️ PCRF - a medical relief non profit focusing on the Middle East, providing free medical care to those truly in need.
📺 Currently binging: The Sandman
🎵 My current anthem: As it Was by Harry Styles
📚 My top book recommendation: On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
🎧 Podcast obsession:
I might be the last person on earth who doesn’t listen to podcasts yet!
🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: Arriving in London for my MBA, sitting on the grass in my local park in the sun, feeling both grounded and inspired.
Tala is a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School. You can find Tala on LinkedIn. The Laidlaw Women's Business Education Scholarship aims to help build a pipeline of future women leaders through access to best-in-class education, resources and global networks by providing full and half scholarships to women who would not otherwise be in a position to reap the benefits of attending an outstanding school.
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