Receiving an honorary doctorate from a UK university this week, our CEO has dedicated the award to everyone who has supported Islamic Relief, now the world’s largest independent Muslim charity.
Addressing Aston University at a ceremony in which he received the award, Naser Haghamed recounted Islamic Relief’s growth – and his inspiring personal journey.
Naser Haghamed’s Aston University speech
First of all, it is a real honour to receive my honorary doctorate from Aston University. I want to extend my sincere thanks to the Vice Chancellor for this prestigious honour.
I was born in Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa, but became a refugee at the age of 13 without completing my elementary education.
During my teenage years I had to relocate to five different countries, move to different schools and learn various languages. The most challenging thing was having to quickly adapt to new cultures, time and again.
Unfortunately, my education was always interrupted, and then I had to start again.
The key thing is that I never gave up.
In 1985, three years after finally settled in the UK, I was accepted at the Queen Mary College, University of London, to study Computing and Maths.
But my joy did not last long. I soon learned that as an asylum seeker I was required to pay the full overseas student fees, which I certainly could not afford.
Still I never gave up…
Fast forward, 31 years later…(and with much gratitude)…
I was awarded an MBA with distinction from Aston University in 2016. In the same year I became the CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide, the largest independent Muslim charity in the world.
Here I would like to thank my family and Islamic Relief for extending their support to me.
When I started working for Islamic Relief at our international office in Birmingham, we had 15 staff and you had to wait your turn to use one of just a handful of computers.
Today I manage a budget of over £130 million with 31 offices across the globe, over 3,000 members of staff and perhaps double that number of volunteers.
More importantly, together we have touched the lives of over 120 million people in our 35-year history.
What I learnt from my challenging journey is that nothing is impossible. If there is a will, there is always a way.
Every one of us will have personal circumstances and sometimes external factors which may not be in our favour for a certain period in time, but determination will always pay off.
With the grace of God, all we need is patience, focus, dedication and a clear goal. The pace of change in today’s world can be bewildering, but the values that underpin success are one thing that does not change.
Aston Graduands, you will be soon be graduating from this prestigious university. But receiving your degree will not be enough for you to succeed in life.
Professor Schwab, the President and founder of the World Economic Forum, said: “In this day and age, for businesses to remain competitive they have to re-skill and upskill their workforces on a continuous basis”.
Some of you may not end up working for businesses or organisations that will provide you with the necessary personal development programmes for one reason or another.
It will be your personal responsibility to ensure that you re-skill and upskill yourself as you go along.
I also encourage you to keep in mind that equipping yourself with skills and qualifications alone will not guarantee you success unless you have the right attitude towards work and colleagues, based on the right core values.
I am a strong believer that one hand with the right attitude, no matter what, will always outperform two hands with the wrong attitude.
Vice Chancellor, I would like to end my speech by dedicating this Award to the thousands of people who have contributed to the development of Islamic Relief from its inception to-date.
To our founders, trustees, employees, volunteers, donors and so many other supporters.
A special mention to those who lost their lives and those who continue to risk their lives in order to ensure that much needed humanitarian aid is delivered on a timely basis to war-torn countries and hard to reach places around the world.
Thank you again and God bless.