To coincide with the UAE National Day, former banker Nadia Al Shadhir (right) will ride through the seven emirates with 30 cyclists to raise funds for Al Manar Charity School. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Although many dream of changing the world, it is only few who have enough courage to walk the long and difficult path of making a real change.

Dubai resident Nadia Al Shadhir is one of those people and has witnessed what was once a simple idea turn into a global movement.

The British-Iraqi is the founder of a peaceful initiative called Walk for Iraq, which was born out of the 2003 invasion of the Arab nation. The idea is centred on sponsored walks to raise money for different charities in Iraq.

The first walk was held in the UK in 2007 and since then there have been eight 30km walks across 11 cities on three continents.

Walk for Iraq has so far raised more than $150,000 (Dh548,000). But it was Nadia's charitable spirit that saw her walk away from a successful career in investment banking to focus on giving back.


"When I moved to Dubai three years ago it was because of a job offer at Standard Chartered Bank," she said. "I'd been here for 18 months and decided with all my experience and an expanded network it was time to start working for a non-governmental organisation."

She is now private partnership manager at PlaNet Finance's Dubai office in Humanitarian City. PlaNet Finance is an international non-profit organisation with a mission to alleviate poverty through the development of microfinance.

However, Nadia's journey began in 2005 when she took a year's sabbatical to travel the world and get active in charity work.

"I took a sabbatical because I felt something wasn't quite right, I wasn't happy and I didn't know what I wanted to do," she said. "So I travelled the world and did a lot of charity work."

Born and raised in the UK along with her younger brother, she had never visited or lived in the Middle East. Nadia said, however, that her father had raised her as an Arab patriot.

"I've always been very active for the Palestinian and Iraqi causes and Lebanon," she said. "I'd always go to demonstrations and on February 15 at the massive London protest I was figuratively all guns blazing."


Nadia's travels saw her span the Arab world across Lebanon, Jordan and even the UAE for four months to volunteer at the Al Noor Centre for children with special needs.

Last year she cycled 400 kilometres across Italy to raise money as part of the Cycling 4 Gaza challenge. A concept similar to Walk for Iraq, Cycling 4 Gaza's mission is to raise funds for health care and education in Gaza.

With a nine year banking career spread across ABN Amro, UBS and Standard Chartered, Nadia made her move to PlaNet Finance. "I took a 50 per cent pay cut and my family and friends think I'm mad. I don't regret my decision at all. I love what I do and I know I'm making a difference," she said.

In her current position, Nadia is active in many charities, including Walk for Iraq, which is raising funds for its next event.

However, she also feels it time to give back to the UAE, which is why along with 30 people she will cycle across the seven emirates in a Gulf for Good initiative next week. She managed to raise Dh26,000 in a week for the Al Manar Charity School in Ajman.

"It celebrates my three years in Dubai and what's exciting is we will be coming back on national day holding the UAE flag."

Cycling across the seven emirates

On Monday, a group of 30 people will take up the challenge to cycle across the seven emirates in five days, covering just under 400 kilometres.

Starting in Al Ain, the route will take them through open roads, mountain trails, coastal roads and desert tracks. The cyclists will return to Dubai on December 2, which is National Day.

Sponsorship money and funds raised from this challenge will be donated to Al Manar Charity School in Ajman.

The event is an initiative of Gulf for Good, which is a non-profit organisation with the objective of alleviating child poverty by encouraging Gulf residents to challenge themselves in a fun way in order to help others.

For more information visit: www.gulf4good.org.