Alumna promotes social change through education
She is an international education and entrepreneurship consultant, a leadership coach and a motivational speaker. She is a researcher, an author, a mother, and a sister. At the core, though, Taghreed M. Al-Saraj, B.F.A. ’99, M.S.E.D. ’01, is an eternal student, a lover of learning who uses education to make a social impact.
Al-Saraj encourages people to constantly learn and grow, adding that adaptability and flexibility are key to being successful in a fast-evolving workplace. “A lot of people,” she says, “when they graduate, they think ‘I’m done with university, that’s it for me.’ But life doesn’t end. It continues on, and you go from one phase of your life to another, and each time you have to learn new tricks of the trade.”
Al-Saraj grew up in Washington, D.C., the daughter of a Saudi diplomat and the eldest of four. She obtained a bachelor’s and master’s from the University of Miami before moving to London to complete a Ph.D at the UCL Institute of Education. She then worked as a research fellow and vice-chair of the Post-Doc Entrepreneurship Program at UC Berkeley, becoming the first Saudi woman to hold the two positions.
She recently returned to Saudi Arabia and now works as a consultant, helping to design training and development programs to fight youth unemployment. She also focuses on entrepreneurship, educating young people about what it means to be an entrepreneur and providing the tools and soft skills they need to create their own businesses. In addition, she is the co-founder of Upskillable, a company that uses a special algorithm to match candidates with jobs and shorten the selection process.
Her research and knowledge of education have led her to give talks all over the world – from Saudi Arabia to France and even to Japan – and to publish articles in various journals. She is often writing, teaching or trying to find new ways to guide others. After teaching English and noticing that her students were struggling, she embarked on a journey to learn Turkish and understand the challenges they faced. In a book called The Anxious Language Learner: A Saudi Woman’s Story, she documents her experience while outlining tools to become better learners.
Al-Saraj also works, on a voluntary basis, to help women get into leadership roles, hoping that great female leaders will inspire others. “I became a certified leadership coach,” she says, “because I wanted to know what motivates people and I want to push that button for them, to help them grow into their new field.”
She was recently awarded the Social Impact Award from the UK Embassy in Riyadh. The award recognizes UK alumni who have made “an exceptional contribution and commitment to creating positive social change and improving the lives of others.”
The double alumna believes that learning happens everywhere – both in and out of the classroom. “We always go through lessons learned in life,” she says. “Outside, life is a university and it teaches us. Everything that you pass through in your life, the ups and downs, you learn from them, and then you build on it, and you make it better.”
“If you stop learning,” she adds, “that means you’re dead.”