From my desk to yours: Ahmed Hassan from the Maldives
Posted: 30 May 2020
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are sharing the experiences of Australia Awards alumni and scholars while they navigate a new normal.
Whether working or studying from home, schooling children while also juggling professional duties, or providing frontline COVID-19 support, these scholars and alumni open up about their struggles, silver linings and dreams for the future.
The reflections below come from alumnus Ahmed Hassan in the Maldives. Through an Australia Awards Scholarship, Ahmed completed a Master of Project Management from the University of Sydney in 2018.
Can you tell us about your current role, what you are up to and how you are contributing to your country’s development?
“I’m currently working from home full-time as a Project Coordinator in one of the leading built-environment consultancy firms in the Maldives. Some of the key projects I am part of include construction of residential buildings in Malé and a 12-storey office building on the island of Hulhumalé. I am also involved as a consultant in the Ministry of Education’s 99 school building projects in southern parts of the Maldives. These projects present challenges that require innovative solutions with unique perspectives on individual projects. In addition to my full-time role, I am a part-time lecturer for project management modules at two private colleges for diploma and postgraduate students. To further share my knowledge and experience, I also facilitate project management training workshops for industry professionals.”
How did your Australia Awards Scholarship help you get to this point in your career?
“I was nervous about my decision to pursue project management as a postgraduate qualification. However, during my time in Australia, I realised the importance of managing projects and that I wanted to take this up as a professional career. Within six months of completing my Australia Awards Scholarship, I decided to leave my then-employer to pursue a project management-focused career, which has proven to be one of the best decisions of my life. During the last semester of my course, I developed a keen interest in teaching. Having a qualification from one of the leading universities in Australia and globally has been a major factor in the education providers in the Maldives accepting me for teaching roles.”
How are you finding the ‘working from home’ experience?
“The firm I work for was one of the first private companies in the Maldives to make the decision to switch to working from home due to COVID-19. When I started working from home, I found it quite challenging. Before the crisis, the majority of the team members on the projects I deal with were co-located. With everyone working from their own homes, communicating across all team members and managing collaboration became a daunting task for me initially, so I had to come up with ways to overcome these challenges. The biggest problem I faced when the lockdown started was keeping myself motivated and active. I often found myself lying in bed and feeling unproductive. To address this, I started to research how to stay motivated while working from home. The key message that came out from all my research was to get into a routine, so that was exactly what I did. I set specific times for breaks, scheduled regular conference calls and organised my day into time-specific tasks.”
“The biggest problem I faced when the lockdown started was keeping myself motivated and active. To address this, I started to research how to stay motivated while working from home… The key message that came out from all my research was to get into a routine, so that was exactly what I did.”
What are you doing (outside of your work) to look after yourself and keep your mind active?
“I am keeping in touch with friends over Zoom calls. Although it saddens me that I cannot physically meet up with my friends, I am making sure I am regularly in touch with them as I think it is important to provide each other with moral and emotional support during this crisis.
“I also play for the Maldives national cricket team; before the lockdown, I used to train with my squad six times a week outside of my office hours. Since training has stopped, I now have a lot of time to spare. Although I feel I may have put on some extra weight during the past couple of weeks, I am working hard to keep myself fit so I can proudly represent the Maldives when the crisis settles and when cricket is back in the frame. Additionally, I found the opportunity to spend more quality time with my family than before. I also decided that this would be a good time to finish off those books I had put off reading for a while. One good thing to come out of this crisis is the number of high-ranked education providers making their short courses available online for free. I have enrolled in a couple of online courses to help with my professional and personal development.”
“I decided that this is the best time to bolster my professional qualifications… I have enrolled in a couple of online courses to help with my professional and personal development.”
Is there anything new you are hoping to learn while you are required to stay at home?
“Despite my best efforts to stay busy at home with different tasks, it can become mentally exhausting at times. To try something new, I decided to join my wife in a 30-day yoga challenge. Being an athlete myself, I expected that yoga would not be an issue for me physically, but I was proven wrong on the very first day! Yoga is a whole new ballgame. It has helped me stay calm and focused on my daily tasks. I also decided that this would be a good time to join my wife’s gardening project on our home terrace. I can’t wait to taste our home-grown cucumber, tomato and garlic!”
Do you have any tips to offer fellow alumni on working remotely and living well during these uncertain times?
“One thing I have learnt is that your colleagues, friends, and family members are in the same boat as you are in these uncertain times. They must be figuring out the same things you are. I initially got into a bad habit of watching the news for long hours, which I realised was mentally draining. After the first couple of days, I knew it was not helping me and I decided to watch the news only for special bulletins such as press briefings and government announcements.
“As a project team leader, I tend to have a hands-on approach at work. Before the crisis, I would discuss issues with my colleagues near their workstations, visit project sites on a regular basis and have the best ideas during the casual conversations near the watercooler. To overcome the lack of face-to-face interactions with my colleagues, I keep in touch with them during work hours formally through emails and conference calls and informally through texts and phone calls. What I have found is that clear communication is key to getting things done during this crisis.”
What is something you hope to achieve either professionally or personally when the COVID-19 crisis subsides?
“COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the Maldives economy. Unfortunately, a number of workers in the Maldives have lost their jobs. I decided that this is the best time to bolster my professional qualifications, so I signed up for a Project Management course well-acknowledged within the project management certification industry, delivered by the Project Management Institute. This is a new challenge for me, which I plan to complete by the time the crisis settles in the Maldives and hopefully around the globe. The crisis has also affected the livelihoods of many households in the Maldives. It has been absolutely devastating to learn that a lot of our people are struggling to pay their rent and utilities and can hardly afford their daily meals. What I want to learn through these difficult times is to appreciate life more than I did before and to be grateful for the life my parents and family gave me.”
“One thing I have learnt is that your colleagues, friends, and family members are in the same boat as you are in these uncertain times… What I want to learn through these difficult times is to appreciate life more than I did before.”