Naby Mariyam’s career peaked in her twenties, so she got creative

Naby Mariyam’s career peaked in her twenties, so she got creative

Naby Mariyam

At 15, Naby Mariyam was at university. At 23, she arrived in Australia with a new baby. By her late twenties, her career in academia had peaked.

She’s now one of few women in Australia leading in the fin tech space and has navigated the still too male-dominated world of raising capital.

But as Naby tells the Women’s Agenda Podcast, creativity will be a key skill for anyone seeking to navigate careers and opportunities in the future of work – particularly where there will be so much automation.

And it’s this creative mindset that’s enabled Naby to transform herself into one of Australia’s leading entrepreneurs, moving from academica in to tech entrepreneurship.  

Initially, after deciding to leave academia, Naby explored the potential of a documentary on her home, The Maldives, which is under threat from climate change and unsustainable tourism, in addition to past natural disasters, such as the Indian Ocean Tsunami of late 2004, that took her birth island. Naby hoped to show the world the rich culture of The Maldives, rather than just the pristine tourist pics that you see.

But told she didn’t have a “commercial face” to create a documentary series, she searched for something new and decided to venture into tech entrepreneurship. She surrounded herself with people who’d done it before. She hustled. She went to London. She met a co founder and successfully launched a ride sharing platform for kids, rydhero in 2015.

And then later, following her own traumatic accident and a terrible claims experience, she set her sights on the insurance sector, and developed the idea for Coverhero, bootstrapping the insurtech business at first before taking on capital. Without rich parents to rely on – and as a single parent – she concedes that funding the business was difficult even before you consider how challenging it is to raise money as a woman.

The goal was to build an insurance platform that would provide a range of insurance products relevant to millennials, Gen Z and the self-employed, including entrepreneurs.  She particularly wanted to address the downside of “delusional optimism” many young people, as well as those living the hustle lifestyle, can have.

And she’s making it happen, having just launched the first product Hustle Cover, aiming to protect gig workers, entrepreneurs and the self-employed. It offers a short 14 day claims waiting period, whether it’s in relation to accident or sickness (so can cover someone who contracts COVID-19 for example). The industry standard is three months, and this is the first product of its kind that aims to intentionally support gig workers – the portion of the workforce that is growing but is still too often overlooked.

Diversity of thought essential

Now, Naby’s continuing to grow Coverhero, and is particularly focused on ensuring her team is built around diversity of thought, something she’s personally thought long and hard about as necessary in the insurance space.

“In the world of data science, the models you build have biases integrated. If you don’t have a diverse team building it, the biases in the world get engrained into the software,” she says.

“We have a responsibility, especially in the world of finance to ensure those biases don’t get built in. The way to do that is to have different perspectives and lenses in the team so you don’t have the group think built into it.”

Different perspectives happen when you have a diverse team, she says. And that comes from exploring people with different skills and talents: artists, psychologists, accountants, mathematicians. They all bring a different lense – which also includes your background, language, your past experiences and other things — which comes together to create amazing products. It’s a way to find the truth, to avoid the blind spots and to meet some of the current challenges of our complex world.

“If you’re alone with a torch you can only see one thing at a time. If you have multiple people with multiple angles, you can see a lot,” Naby says.  

But she reminds us, the world is extremely polarised right now. We can struggle to find the common ground, often because we’re shining torches in each other’s faces and can find ourselves blinded by the light.

She believes that we ultimately all share some core values like a need for love, security and a sense of belonging. The way we want it is slightly different, but these values are core to our humanity. “The way to come together is to acknowledge that the lenses we each have are different,” she says.

Naby also addressed the issue of burnout during the podcast, something she then took to a session Women’s Agenda ran last month on the subject. She shared how meditation has made a dramatic difference to her life, and outlined how burnout can particularly hit entrepreneurs hard. You lose motivation, inspiration, you lose the drive and eventually it can lead to depression. She says she was fortunate to identify these issues and take action accordingly, including at one point moving in with a friend while she got things back on track.

Creativity vital in the future of work  

As an entrepreneur and someone who has explored a varied career already in a short amount of time, Naby’s take on creativity is particularly telling.

When it comes to what to expect from the future of work, we’re often told to expect automation. So what kinds of roles and opportunities can exist around that?

Of course there will be a need for tech-based skills and engineering. But creativity — those elements that can’t be done by machines — will be vital.

“I believe the future of work is going to require thinkers and artists more than engineers. I see those two groups working very closely together to solve complex problems in the world or create things that move peoples hearts and minds.”

Naby adds that we need to remove the idea that the arts are for fun or merely for enjoyment. Art evokes emotion, and that’s essential.

“When you’re inspired, you take action. Without inspiration, you can’t take action.”

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