Sheikha Latifa Al Khalifa is transforming the way children learn and live in Bahrain and the wider GCC one incredible sacrifice at a time.
Can you talk us through your career?
I’m a two-time STEM certified professional and educator. Prior to co-founding Clever Play, I worked in Government for a few years, in Research and Security. I did my undergraduate degree in Melbourne, Australia with a double major in Politics and International Studies and a postgraduate degree in International Relations from the UK. All my life it seems I have been learning how to serve. Schooled by life experiences and educated in Global Politics and International Studies, I sought the big picture – global problems – aspiring to be an ambassador for my country [Bahrain] and found my special space in the company of children – transforming the way they learn and live, empowering them to serve the future with their best.
What inspired you to launch Clever Play?
My nephews, Ali and Mohammed. They were six and four at the time and we wanted a space for them to be able to explore their interests and discover their passions outside of the conventional classroom. A space that would celebrate their curiosity, spark their creativity and value hands-on learning by giving them the opportunity to try new things, build valuable skills, and take control of their own learning. We didn’t find what we were looking for, so we decided to start one!
Can you talk us through the initiatives on how you give back to the community?
As a socially-driven startup, giving back is very much in our DNA. We believe that companies can and should do more than just make money. They should also serve others in the process. We are a proud member of Pledge 1% – a network and movement of companies committed to making giving back a priority. My colleagues and I pledged one per cent of our time to volunteering opportunities. For example, I help young entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds gain skills and experience through mentorship. My colleagues are very much involved in their own communities and look for opportunities to give back and be of service. We also recently ran a Girls for Tech Camp to teach and train 1,000 young Bahraini girls between the ages of eight to 14 years coding and digital skills with the support of Zain Telecomm and the Supreme Council for Women. Additionally, in 2020, I was selected as one of only 100 Meaningful Business leaders worldwide for our efforts combining profit and purpose to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal #4 (Quality Education) by Meaningful Business in the UK.
You’ve achieved so much throughout your career – what are you most proud of?
I am most proud of what we were able to achieve for our biggest source of inspiration: children. To us, children are the most important people in the world. We know that when children are educated, encouraged and empowered, they have the power to change not only themselves but their communities and the world at large. Championing children is one of our core values at Clever Play and being in the business of empowering them through foundational STEAM skills early on is key to unlocking their promise and potential. Despite overwhelming evidence in support of early childhood education, high-quality, playful STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) programs have not yet been incorporated into early childhood education. We are slowly but surely changing that. I am proud of the progress we have made on that front, and for making STEAM accessible to over 14,000 children to date.
Who would you say your mentors are in life?
My sister and co-founder, Muneera, is my biggest mentor. She has allowed me to see the hope inside myself and provides me with direction, encourages me when I am down and pushes me when I need to be challenged. She has given me the tools I needed to navigate the challenges I was faced with at each stage of the business journey. She is a constant source of inspiration and support but also challenges me to grow in new and very uncomfortable ways. I continue to learn from her every single day. My gratitude for her contribution to my success personally and Clever Play’s business success is immeasurable!
What does it feel like being a woman in this region that is paving the way for others?
I am beyond thankful to have strong female role models in my family from my grandmother, to my mother and sisters. They taught me that “real success” is not defined my financial wealth, or status, but by becoming the person you have the potential to be and serving others in the process.
I am thankful for the brave, trailblazing women who went before me and inspire me to embrace ambition and push for more.
So often I get contacted by women who praise my journey- I’m so grateful to them for elevating me and giving me the confidence to continue. But I also want to say that to every woman who thinks they can’t do the same, I’m here to tell you that you can.
What are your hopes for women in the future?
I’ll quote T.E. Lawrence who said, “All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes and make it possible.”
My hope for women is to be dangerous dreamers of the day, who act on their dreams with open eyes and make it possible. My hope for them is not to break someone else’s ceiling, but their own!
How do you want to inspire others?
Through my personal story and everyday actions. I stumbled into entrepreneurship very reluctantly. I didn’t have a formal business or education background when I started. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done at that point in my life, and yet, I didn’t let that stop me. I started before I was ready, I surrounded myself with a great team, and I committed to embracing a white-belt mentality – learning as I went. I am living proof that you don’t need to go to college for business to start one. I want to inspire others not only to do more, but to be more.
What have been the biggest hurdles launching throughout your career?
As an entrepreneur, I’ve faced a lot of hurdles. The biggest ones are wrestling with bouts of doubt, uncertainty, instability and balance. I doubted myself and my capabilities at the start because I never saw myself as a “businessperson” and I didn’t have the formal qualifications or experience to fall back on. In fact, it took my co-founders and I almost two years to finally take the leap and launch Clever Play. At the start of our business, uncertainty was around every corner. It was definitely a roller coaster ride – and sometimes still is!
What have been the key milestones?
In our short business life so far, we have had plenty of milestones that we are proud of, namely: receiving local, regional and international recognition for our work, and also preparing Clever Play to be franchised across the GCC. This has been a milestone we were working towards ever since we started, and now we are happy to say, almost three years later, that we are ready to expand to the region! We are excited to offer our top-notch STEAM programs to pre-schools, schools and individual partners who believe in our mission and want to help us change the face of education in the region by making STEAM education a fundamental part of early childhood education!
This is ‘The Gratitude Issue’ – how do you practice gratitude in your life?
I keep a gratitude journal and write down three things I’m grateful for every morning. I also handwrite letters to individuals who have had an impact on me whom I’ve never properly thanked. I actively look for gratitude in any challenges I am experiencing and I try to do random acts of kindness as often as possible.