Dubai: Emirati innovator Fatima Jasem Al Zaabi, 31, has received an invitation to dinner at the White House from US President Barack Obama, in recognition for her innovative use of Microsoft PowerPoint for creating architectural designs for homes.
Fatima, who currently lives with her family in Abu Dhabi, has always had an eye for technology and although her last qualification is her high school diploma, she has been self-taught on everything she needs to know about computer programs and technology.
Gulf News spoke to with Fatima ahead of her Washington trip, which will take place in the coming months, and discussed her achievements, her motivation, and her future plans.
Why did you decide to renovate PowerPoint, and how long did it take you?
Fatima: I first took up an engineering course at Al Khawarizmi International College in Al Ain because I wanted to become a civil engineer. But when I started using the software application Auto Cad, which is a specialised program that enables users to draw villas in 2D or 3D designs, I found it very difficult to use. After a year, I decided to drop the course and took up the challenge of finding an easier alternative so that everybody could have the tools to draw their ideal home, without having to enrol in a professional course. It took me six years to install new options on the tool bar, and to come up with ways on how to change the regular elements of Power Point so that users can draw their own shadows and dimensions, and give it a 3D effect.
What were some of the challenges you faced while redesigning PowerPoint?
It was a struggle because I was not sure exactly which tools I needed to incorporate, and I had to structure it in a way that children and adults who are not specialised in computer programs could both use. It took a lot of trial and error but over the years, each version was better than the last. At the time, one of my sisters wanted to design a new home for herself, so I was testing the new tools out and looking at whether the requirements needed to design a home were met.
Once you finished your project, was it easy to gain recognition and market it?
When I finished working on my project, I published the first edition of my book on my own expense, which thoroughly discusses how PowerPoint was improvised and the new tools that I incorporated into it. I approached a number of establishments but they did not take my work seriously, as they presumed that it already existed in Microsoft’s latest version of Power Point. I then went to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and through their guidance, encouraged me to take my work further. Before I knew it, I received a Microsoft certificate of appreciation and an invitation to the White House for dinner. I have also recently been approached by Microsoft and Google who are interested in buying my program.
Do you have an agenda during your visit at the White House?
When I go to the US, I want to project the image of women in the Arab world. There is a preconception of what veiled women can do, and in the West, they think that our capabilities are limited. I made a personal decision about five years ago to veil my face, and I want to show everybody that it has not limited me in any shape or form. One of my favourite hobbies is playing basketball and I am now captain of the women’s basketball team at the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood. I want to show the rest of the world how empowered women in the UAE are, and that since the country was founded, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan had made it a mission to eradicate women’s illiteracy and empower women.
Have you always had a penchant for technology?
Since I was a child, I was fascinated on fixing things and even though nobody taught me how, I would open up the broken electronics we had at home and find a way to repair it. My brothers also turned to me to fix their computers, and if I ever came about a problem I did not know how to overcome, I would read and teach myself.
For the time being, I want to focus on writing nasheed and working on my job at the Royal Group, which was launched by Shaikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. So far, I have written 30 nasheed poems and plan to write more. Any free time I have is dedicated to the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, where I advise young women on starting up their business and the means on how to get investors and to market it.