By Hanan Alnufaie
MAHA AL-OTAIBI seems like any other student at Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University. But when the 20-year-old finance major goes home, she starts working on her latest invention: a hearing aid that is lighter, smaller and waterproof.
Starting when she was just 17, Maha’s inventions haven’t gone unnoticed – she received a patent for her hearing aid from the Saudi Patent Office (SPO), won 2nd place at the Emirates Award for the Arabian Gulf Youth that came with $19,000 in prize money and won the support of the UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan who is also the chairman of the Emirates Foundation, the organizer of the event.
Currently working with Emirates Foundation to make her inventions into products people can benefit from, Maha started with a modest goal: Help her deaf brother Faisal who struggled to cope with his hearing impairment.
“I saw him suffering from deafness; the large size of the hearing device and the weight it exerted on his ears hurt him when he went to school and caused him embarrassment in front of his friends. He thought of himself as less than others and weaker even though he was extremely smart. I desperately wanted to help him but in my own way,” she recalled.
“I did not want any deaf person to suffer from insecurity, to feel less or get embarrassed because they have to use hearing aids. All I wanted was to help them keep their dignity and avoid social embarrassment,” she added.
Interested in developing social services, innovation and the spirit of entrepreneurship in the Kingdom, Maha is also the founder of “I Hear You”, which seeks to develop hearing aids and devices for all types of hearing loss.
From the moment she started working on her invention, Maha continued to improve and add different characteristics to her hearing aid. “I already reached the final edition of my invention but the new characteristics will be added to the latest collection of hearing devices,” she said.
When asked what the secret behind her success is, Maha cited hard work and dedication.
“I did my best, pushed myself every step and I was honest. I believe this combo guarantees success, which does not come your way over night. It takes time, effort and patience but in the end, it will come. We need to commit to contributing to our communities and find a way to help those who need help in our own way,” she said.
In addition to her patent and 2nd place prize at the Emirates Award for the Arabian Gulf Youth, Maha won 6th place at the 2014 Creativity Olympics at King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba) and a silver medal in the ITEX competition in Kuala Lumpur in 2014.
The Kingdom’s Ministry of Education called her the “Unique Student” in recognition of efforts and Fatima Bint Mubarak Al-Ketbi, considered the mother of the UAE, gave her the title of “the Creative Female Arab Youth”. She was also on the list of 40 unique Arab women in 2014.