One of only four women in Jordan's 28-strong cabinet, Majd Shweikeh may have been brought into government by a tweet. A former CEO at telecoms companies Orange and Vtel, she took to social media to complain that there were less than half a dozen women on the board of trustees for Jordan's universities, out of more than a hundred. Soon after the ensuing Twitterstorm, she was asked to meet the Prime Minister, who promptly made her Minister of Information and Communications Technology.
Of course, Her Excellency had already served on various boards close to the government and the tweet may not have caused her appointment all on its own - but the story demonstrates the personal touch she is using to drive forward an ambitious plan for digital transformation in Jordan: both putting online dozens of services the government is already providing - such as traffic charges, professional licence renewals and criminal record checks - and steering a path towards an increasingly digital economy.
In a country that shares borders with Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria, Her Excellency talked to Apolitical about how to transform institutional culture by example, the ways in which technology can change society for the better and why she does mindfulness meditation every morning.
After your famous tweet, you were summoned to the Prime Minister's office. What did you think was going to happen?
What came to my mind was that I'd pushed the wrong button and would be told to watch what I'm saying. When I arrived, the prime minister asked me what I thought of the ICT sector. I said, 'Well, it used to be glory, but not any more because of several factors that led to the wrong decisions and over-taxation.' I explained why and he said, 'Would you tell me exactly the same thing if we gave you the opportunity to be in charge?'
I said, 'To be in charge as what?'
He said, 'As a minister.'
I asked if he was kidding me and he said, 'No, you have two hours, go change and we'll meet you at the royal court to do the oath.'
How have you found being inside government?
I'm really passionate about what I'm doing because I'm seeing a transformation and, I don't know, things happen for a reason. When I left the corporate life to do this, I became a certified professional coach, I did transformation, leadership programmes, looked at high-performance paradigms, as if preparing myself to be in this position.
Given all your work on leadership, how have you tried to change the ministry?
I use something called mindfulness meditation every morning. It really helps for staying focussed on what matters most, on injecting the right positivity into the environment, because I strongly believe in creating an environment by the way you talk and the way you act. It becomes contagious, honestly. I'm here to give, I give passionately, I give with love. I invest my time in the right way. It's about energy management, I'm investing my energy with the right people and the right things. I think this is the most important thing.
A lot of public sector work is about making alliances and understanding other people's agendas. Do you think that comes more easily to women?
I think it has something to do with being able to communicate, having this sense of what's going on, we're extremely sensitive to the environment around us. And we have the capability to tolerate pressure much more - that's what I'm seeing. I think we put in extra effort as well, to outshine others, in terms of preparation, in terms of business conduct.
How progressive on women's empowerment is Jordan compared to its neighbours?
Well, we're aware of our weakness. We still have this, shall we say, cultural barrier that the man is the bread-earner and the woman is at home. But this thing is changing. In the public sector, female participation is very good, but in the private sector, because of the pressure of long working hours, we have big room to improve.
But having this digital world happening, connectivity from home is a must, and economic participation can be from home. And this is what we're trying to change, to have professional licences for working at home, flexi-hours, and these things will be key elements to help women be more economically active. I see technology as a key enabler for empowerment.
How do you see the transformation to a digital economy more generally?
We see the IT sector as core if we would like transformation in the health sector, education, transport. For the digital economy,we need to stop looking at IT as an isolated industry, but as embedded in every other sector. I think it makes a lot of sense, if we'd like to see smart cities, if we'd like to see empowerment for women, more efficient government and higher quality of life for citizens.
And do you think that digital switch will change the way people work?
Of course. Because while we in government are working on the digital economy, we're working on entrepreneurial-mindedness. We need to stop looking for jobs in the traditional way and be very creative, use technology or social media to promote our own work. There are many opportunities outside the traditional way of working.