Twenty-two-year-old Maryam Al Thani and 26-year-old Aisha Al Naama have adventurous spirits.
The two of them were among the first Qatari women to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in 2014, cycle across Europe as part of the Global Biking Initiative in 2015 and just this month, run the Great Wall Marathon in China.
Now, the duo is launching a business that combines thrilling adventures with a sense purpose – and takes others along for the ride.
The new venture is called YallaX, the entrepreneurs told Doha News during a recent interview.
“There are other people in Doha that actually have the same passions,” Al Thani explained.
Yalla, an Arabic term calling for action, fit their goal of getting people going, Al Naama said, adding:
“X is the challenge, whatever it is.”
How it began
The seeds for the business were planted two years ago, when the two women met in a group traveling from Qatar to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and raise money for charity.
Once they returned from the trip, Al Thani and Al Naama said they knew they wanted to keep pursuing such adventures.
“I guess we saw a side of us that we didn’t know existed before. I think both of us had this drive and energy and wanted to do more,” Al Naama said.
“The only thing stopping us was not knowing how to,” Al Thani added.
Recognizing that other people in Qatar probably feel the same way, the two recently launched a website and have gotten a small team together to plan their next trip.
Soon, people will be able to sign up as customers to accompany them on an adventure abroad.
To keep the trips meaningful, the women said they plan to partner with charities to raise money while on their adventures.
During the China marathon for example, they signed on to help with Education Above All, an initiative founded by Qatar Foundation chairperson Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser.
YallaX plans to support a different charity each year, Al Thani said.
In the past, young Qatari women have faced criticism for traveling without their families on mixed-gender trips.
In 2014 for example, Vodafone-Qatar withdrew its sponsorship of a youth trip to the Amazon to build a school for impoverished children following a backlash on social media about female participants not wearing abayas or headscarves.
Given these types of reactions, Al Thani and Al Naami said they appreciate the support they have gotten from their family, especially their parents.
“It really helps that our parents are supportive. Cause at the end, if our parents are okay with it then there’s no reason why society shouldn’t be,” Al Thani said.
Nonetheless, the two said they try to keep their culture and religion in mind while on their adventures.
The greatest advantage, according to Al Thani, is that they get to pick their own adventure, which allows them to make sure no boundaries are crossed.
The women said they also try to keep their clothing modest and their actions humble as representatives of Qatar.
“I believe as long as you reflect a certain image of your country, people are willing to accept it and look at it as a positive thing,” Al Naama said.
Al Thani added, “You can’t wait for other people’s acceptance. If you really completely believe in this one thing, you should go for it.”
And despite encountering some resistance, the women said they believe Doha is changing.
“We think Doha’s ready for this,” Al Thani said. “It really is the perfect time. I think if we tried to do this even a few years ago, people weren’t ready to see it. They weren’t ready to see females traveling or doing things that are active.”
Though both Al Thani and Al Naama have satisfying day jobs, they said they do hope to take YallaX further.
In the future, the avid adventurers are planning to rub off on expats and locals in Qatar by giving them a chance to get out of their comfort zones through different sports and global experiences.
“A large part of it isn’t just the running, it’s also experiencing the different cultures,” Al Thani said. “Half of it was going to China and not really knowing anything and being a part of this group from all over the world.”
Al Naama mentioned one big issue was the fear of new adventures, which is something people from around the world go through.
“Some are actually afraid and they just need a push,” she said, adding, “It’s okay to be afraid, cause we’re all afraid.”
The most important thing is for people to realize they only need to achieve “their personal best” rather than be the best, Al Naama said. “It’s about the attempt.
“We want to inspire our generation and the younger generation to kind of get out of their bubble and get out of their comfort zone and push themselves to limits they didn’t know existed before.”