Engineering has taken Sara Badiei all over the world. Her story is a compelling one
February 20, 2020 - People & Culture
Since 2001, the number of female engineers entering the global workplace has doubled. The gap between the numbers of female and male engineers in technology is slowly narrowing, but not quickly enough.
Many activities such as the the Global STEM initiative are supporting girls and women to enter the worlds of science, technology, engineering and maths. These initiatives are superb, but there’s nothing like a great story from a successful female engineer to really excite potential engineers of the future.
Finger Food Advanced Technology group recently welcomed Sara Badiei to the organisation. If her stories don’t inspire you, not much will!
Sara has a personal goal of getting more women and minorities excited about engineering, and believes that women need more positive role models – male or female. Sara has experience working for a diverse group organisations including the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders and the World Bank in countries including Afghanistan and Gaza. And, you guessed it, she’s an engineer, with a Master’s in Electrical Engineering!
Engineering Opens Doors
“Engineering is a wonderful career option that opens endless doors. Studying engineering taught me how to break down complex problems and tackle them step by step in a logical and systematic way. In university it wasn’t about the courses we were taking – it was about figuring out how to ‘figure it out’ again and again. Being repeatedly challenged, pushed to work under pressure, take risks and produce results builds character and confidence.
Working under pressure seems to be a theme across Sara’s career – We asked her to tell us about her first overseas posting, in central Africa!
“It was 2011 and I was in charge of the Supply Chain department for Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Chad. My team handled sourcing, ordering, warehousing, and dispatching of all medical and logistical supplies for our projects throughout the country. In my briefing, my boss said, “you have seven people reporting to you, the working language is French, and we run in emergency mode all the time … Good luck!”
Quite the welcome, for Sara. She continues, “Fast forward a month later, I stood at the whiteboard going through the morning briefing with my team when the Medical Coordinator rushed in: “There’s a Meningitis outbreak in the South. We’ll need to vaccinate 100,000 kids in the next week. Figure it out.”
Talk about an engineer being thrown into the deep end of emergency medical response. That was just the start. Every day presented tremendous challenges for Sara and her team to solve.
“My team and I worked non-stop to put systems in place to respond to emergencies we faced daily. We had to answer questions like: How do we send supplies by truck when only 2% of roads are paved in Chad? How do we keep vaccines cold when the electricity supply is intermittent and summer temperatures reach 50 degrees Celsius? How do we land cargo planes in rebel-held territory? How do we prevent theft of MSF’s narcotics supply which go for top dollar on the local black market?”
Challenges for female Engineers
Solving these big problems was Sara’s team’s job, and luckily, her forte; but other external factors were set to limit her productivity.
“I earned their respect by knowing the projects inside and out, working harder than anyone on the team.Sara Badiei
“As a female engineer, one of the challenges for me was that all my staff were men who were older than me. In a predominantly patriarchal society, they weren’t used to having a female manager and some had worked for MSF longer than I had been alive. I earned their respect by knowing the projects inside and out, working harder than anyone on the team, and having a sense of humour. In stressful emergency situations your sense of humour can be the most powerful tool you have.”
Sara continues, “By the end of my nine month posting, we created an efficient supply chain operation that shipped over 40 tons of material to project sites on a monthly basis. This covered the needs of two full service hospitals, four cholera treatment centres, two malnutrition centres and four vaccination campaigns benefiting almost half a million people.”
Sara found her work in Chad incredibly rewarding and meaningful. The ability to use her skills to make a difference in people’s lives made her feel empowered. This was the beginning of a long and exciting road for Sara.
“Over the next seven years I worked for MSF, the Red Cross and the World Bank on projects in Afghanistan, Gaza, Yemen, The Republic of Congo, the Philippines and Jordan. I led medical expeditions, designed water and waste-water treatment facilities, oversaw solar energy programs, coordinated critical infrastructure repairs in war zones, advised senior government officials on infrastructure investment strategies, and so much more.
Sara’s background in electrical engineering certainly gave her a deep understanding of how to develop workable solutions across a range of allied technologies and systems. Prior to her foray into Chad, Sara had worked for five years in the relative comfort of the US and Canada in the energy sector.
I always wanted to use my skills to help others. As a former Afghan refugee, humanitarian aid and international development meant a lot to me.Sara Badiei
From Afghanistan to Port Coquitlam
“I always wanted to use my skills to help others. As a former Afghan refugee; humanitarian aid and international development meant a lot to me, but I thought dedicating oneself to this area of work was reserved for doctors and nurses. Little did I know, the ideal field program manager was a resilient and resourceful problem solver, capable of jumping in, learning fast, figuring things out and pushing full steam ahead. Engineers are a perfect fit.”
Sara’s path to a successful career was an arduous one, full of hard work and self- belief. So was being an engineer Sara’s dream from an early age?
“No, I never dreamed about being an engineer, because I didn’t know what a career as an engineer entailed, and I didn’t have any role models who were engineers. Like most immigrant families, education was incredibly important to my parents, but engineering as a career option for me wasn’t on their radar. To this day, I’m the only engineer in my close or extended family. ”
Fast forward 4 years, and Sara has embarked on another exciting phase in her career. Clearly, her learning and worldly experience impacts how she operates.
“Today, I thrive best in situations where I can work with a team of smart colleagues to tackle complex problems that have the potential for global reach. That’s what drove me to work at Finger Food Advanced Technology Group. “
“There’s an excitement that comes from not knowing what tomorrow brings and having to tackle problems I have no answers to , but must figure out. Every day when I go to work, I get a glimpse of how technology will shape our future and at Finger Food ATG I get to be part of the team building those technologies. Often I dream about what the world will look like when my two-year-old daughter grows up.”.
So, does Sara want her two year old to become a world famous engineer, or follow in her mother’s footsteps and jump into an array of diverse problems that need to be solved on our planet?
“The most important thing to me, as a mother, is that she grows up to be a good person. But I also want her to have the skills to tackle any challenges life throws her way, with confidence. I think engineering or computer science could give her that solid foundation to get her started on the right track. The world has a lot of challenging problems to solve and being a part of the solution has been incredibly exciting for me. Hopefully, one day, it will be for her too – and who knows – maybe we can do it together!”
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