"Globally, Ooredoo’s mutual vision across its markets is to enrich lives through the power of digital. I think we’ve stayed true to this vision since our first day in the Maldives – continuing to lead the shift in technology and connecting the people here to new opportunities for social and economic development." Noora Zahir - Manager Brand & Marcomms Ooredoo Maldives
This month, The islandchief got the chance to have an enlightening conversation with Noora, the Manager Brand & Marcomms at Ooredoo Maldives. An experienced Public Relations Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the telecommunications industry, Noora shares her journey, the vision for Ooredoo Maldives, the philosophy behind the brand’s focus on women empowerment, and much more.
Please tell us a few words about your career at Ooredoo Maldives. How did it all begin?
I was 21 when I first got a glimpse of life at Ooredoo (then Wataniya Maldives) – while working on a corporate video. It was a great introduction of the company, as I was fortunate enough to meet and interview some very interesting people from across departments. I remember being fascinated by the work culture and the drive to always reach new heights that I soon realised was a common factor for the whole team. I returned for a few more projects, and I think I was around so much that they decided to let me stay.
I got the opportunity to join the team about nine years ago and I have not looked back. After a short stint in marketing, I got the opportunity to lead a newly created function created under HR, responsible for Employee Engagement & Internal Communications. While it seemed like taking a step back from my intended career in marketing, this was a unique chance to build something from the ground up. It was actually a great experience that allowed me to dabble in everything from strategy, communications, designing, event management and more. It was an unforgettable time of my work life that taught me a lot of valuable lessons that I will carry with me forever.
My move back to marketing came after a coffee with our then CEO – a session he had regularly to chat with team members, where it came to his attention that I had a background in marketing. As I was feeling ready for a new challenge, I took the chance and joined one of the most dynamic brand teams in the Maldives. It’s been close to five years since then – five very eventful, exciting and incredibly fun years. There is always something new and fresh to work on, so there are never two days that are the same. While it’s not always an easy job, genuinely loving the work that we do at Ooredoo & seeing first-hand the positive impact we have had on people’s lives helps power through the harder days and motivates me to do even better.
In this era of digitalisation, how is Ooredoo Maldives changing the face of connectivity and technology in the Maldives, and how do you get customers to select Ooredoo Maldives as their “go-to” brand?
It’s certainly a revolutionary time for the digital world. Globally, Ooredoo’s mutual vision across its markets is to enrich lives through the power of digital. I think we’ve stayed true to this vision since our first day in the Maldives – continuing to lead the shift in technology and connecting the people here to new opportunities for social and economic development. One of our biggest priorities is to provide equal access to the benefits of digital, which I believe has touched a lot of communities.
This year has further fuelled our sense of responsibility towards digital empowerment, with the role of internet services in our daily lives growing tenfold due to the pandemic. While Ooredoo’s mobile and broadband services are available nationwide, we also remain mindful that there are gaps in inclusive access to the internet and digital resources. Programs such as the Digital Literacy Program are aimed at contributing to close the gender and age based digital divide, and promotes inclusive digital growth that leaves no one behind.
I think it’s this commitment as a partner in their digital transformation journey over the past fifteen years, that have earned us the trust and support of customers. Across islands, the answer to why people choose Ooredoo stands clear; the best internet experience; our commitment to innovation & the close relationship we have with communities.
What is your vision for the Ooredoo Maldives brand, and how do you ensure it stands out in the Maldives’ marketplace?
I feel very lucky to be one of the local caretakers for the Ooredoo brand, one of the top 50 global telecommunications brands with a brand value worth over USD 3.5 billion. Driven by our successful global rebranding programme, continued investment in high-speed networks and iconic advertising campaigns featuring global brand ambassador Leo Messi and other local stars, Ooredoo’s total brand value has grown significantly over the years, bringing it closer to becoming one of the best-recognised communications brands in the world today.
Our strategy is the same in the Maldives, to build trust in our brand by providing our customers and communities with life enriching digital solutions that help people to achieve more. Because of the dynamic nature of the telecom industry, it is essential to ensure that our brand remains visible and reaches all corners of the nation. Similar to our outlook in providing innovative products and services, we equally prioritise innovation in our brand building activities, looking for fun new ways to connect with our customers.
While that does make our lives a bit more hectic, it also has given our team the opportunity to be one of the most active brand teams in the market working on a large number of campaigns and events every year – which is a whole lot of fun. We also work closely with local partners with whom we share mutual values with, to reach the right audiences in a manner that is relevant, relatable and compelling.
Earlier this year, Ooredoo Maldives was recognised among the Best Places to Work in the Maldives. How has your company set the benchmark in order to be recognised as such?
I was once asked an interesting question, about why Ooredoo’s employees are so loyal to the brand. For me the answer is simple, it’s because every single employee at Ooredoo feels a strong sense of ownership towards the brand. And this does not happen on its own. Ooredoo Maldives has one of the strongest Employee Engagement programs in place, not just within the market, but at par with global top brands. One that is driven by strong HR practices & the collective feedback from every single member of the Ooredoo Maldives family, which is evaluated on an annual basis.
We have a very distinct culture at work. One that clearly conveys the understanding that each individual member has an irreplaceable role in our success story, and we are all equal partners in driving the company to new heights. For instance, one of my favourite things about Ooredoo Maldives is that anyone from the team can knock on the CEO’s door at any time, without a prior appointment. Granted, the queue is very long sometimes, but it also makes for a great waiting spot with excellent company.
To sum it up, I soon realised that drive that I had initially admired from the interviewees for the corporate video was not unique to them. It’s something that is taught from day one to every member of the team and encouraged throughout – to challenge ourselves to do more and achieve more. Even when winning, our competition is with ourselves, and this is the driving force behind Ooredoo Maldives’ successes in this ever-changing market.
Although the country has seen some progress regarding women in the workforce, leadership roles for women in the Maldives has always had a rocky history. Please tell us some of the challenges you have had to face, and how did you overcome them?
It is sad that there are still many challenges for women in leadership roles, especially when we know the huge gains behind a balanced workforce. Diversity within the workplace is no longer viewed a social issue alone, but also an economic one. A balanced workforce, especially at higher levels also has a proven impact on boosting profitability.
Despite the number of challenges, we still face as working women, I believe it’s important to remember the immense hard work and sacrifice from our predecessors which has allowed us to be here today. This has always driven me to try face such challenges head on, knowing that it will not simply benefit me, but hopefully will have an impact on the young girls of the future.
What is the philosophy behind Ooredoo brand’s focus on women’s empowerment? And what other CSR initiatives are you involved in?
Gender Equality is one the five Sustainable Development Goals which we have prioritised in our community engagement efforts. As a digital service provider, we know the unprecedented positive impact of internet access in empowering women. Our work with GSMA’s Connected Women is aimed at reducing the gender based digital divide, with programs such as the Digital Literacy Program for the elderly.
Our Cyber Safety programs are aimed at creating a safe space for young people, of which young girls are disproportionately at risk for harassment and bullying, to ensure that they feel safe online and thus can truly benefit from the internet.
Globally, we observe a concerning gender disparity when it comes to participation in the digital sector. This poses serious risks – both economically and in ensuring that the digital future equally caters to the needs of the entire population. We closely work with local and global partners to equip young girls and women to be part of the digital future, by teaching them digital skills and linking them to role models with whose encouragement a career in ICT no longer seems so unrelatable.
This year has been challenging for businesses globally. What steps has Ooredoo Maldives been taking on its road to recovery?
This year has certainly been full of challenges, some of which we are still working to overcome. As a community focused company, our biggest priority was to support communities and businesses across Maldives to navigate through the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, and subsequently, life in the new normal.
We continued to invest in strengthening our networks to cater to the increasing communication needs of people and delivering products and services that support and empower the digital lifestyles of our customers. I could not be prouder of the Ooredoo Maldives team, who have shone through in difficult circumstances to ensure that our service levels did not waver throughout this crisis.
At the heart of the pandemic, our entire team was working from home, excluding the members of the SOC team who were in lockdown at office. We moved our contact centres to homes across Maldives, where customer care staff had the difficult job of catering to customer concerns from their sitting rooms, bedrooms & kitchens. Teams were working around the clock to facilitate free data for customers, providing urgent solutions to emergency response teams, medical teams and more. Product teams worked hard to address immediate and future needs that arose due to the pandemic, facilitating solutions for online learning, working from home, online shopping for essentials and making sure that customers stayed connected with loved ones, even from afar. Our goal was to enable our customers and provide solutions to ease their hardships, and we will continue to do the same as we move forward.
What opportunities are available at Ooredoo Maldives for the youth of society in terms of training and employment?
I think Ooredoo is a great place to work at, especially for young people. It’s a great environment to start your career at where you are encouraged to think out of the box and achieve the extraordinary. The shift from academic life to a professional life is often apprehensive for many. Ooredoo provides young professionals with the opportunity to learn, gives them exciting challenges to overcome and makes sure it’s a fun experience throughout.
We also have one of the best talent development programs for employees, incorporating on the field experience and formalised trainings from local and global experts. Youth can also partake in our Educational Assistance Scheme which provides higher education opportunities while on the job, and was recently recognised by UNICEF as one of the best initiatives for youth development in South Asia region.
What advice do you have for prospective industry colleagues who hope to fill similar roles in the industry?
Don’t be afraid to take on things that seem challenging. I think a lot of young people are afraid that they may be overcommitting to things that they have not done before. But if it’s something you believe you can do and you have the drive to pursue till the end, go for it. Even those with years of experience are continuously learning, so there is nothing wrong with being unsure of something. Power through and make it work. Often, the true success stories are results of many cycles of failing and learning. Learning how to fail well is an important part of succeeding.
Last, but not least, what’s next for Ooredoo Maldives?
There is a lot to look forward for in 2021. The world is heading towards a revolutionary new era and Ooredoo aims to be at the helm of this transformation in the Maldives. This year has accelerated our shift to digital and it’s not about to slow down any time soon. While we cannot give away too much details, there is definitely a lot of excitement in store for our customers!
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