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Noor Shamma: The Emirati Artrepreneur Mailing Happiness Around The World

By honing her diverse passions and career goals, Noor Shamma’s combination of business, art, and philanthropy has made her what she likes to call an “artrepreneur.” After graduating from The American University of Sharjah with a BSc in Design Management, Noor worked for both Abu Dhabi’s private sector and government agencies to develop her experience with branding, PR and communications. From working with Mubadala to the Municipality of Abu Dhabi City, and later the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, Noor possesses phenomenal skills that have helped her climb the ladder of the corporate world. Earlier this year, Noor became the founder of the Postcard Initiative, a journey to restore the gift of sight by making postcards no longer a thing of the past.

Currently, Noor is the Head of Communications and Public Affairs at the Paris-Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi. But aside from all her successes in the corporate world, Noor was able to publicly express that she is first and foremost an “artist and humanitarian at heart” when she launched her Postcard Initiative in early 2015.

At the beginning of this year, I decided to send a postcard a week around the world. The whole point was to send 50 postcards because it was the third week of January, 2015. I posted on my Instagram page, ‘If you want to receive a postcard, just send me your postal address,’ so a lot of people replied. By mid-February I had 70 addresses from around the world, and that’s more than a postcard a week.

Initially, Noor was worried that the idea wouldn’t circulate and grow as fast as she wanted it to, particularly because of peoples’ dependence on social media and digital communication nowadays. However, she decided to use social media to her advantage by posting pictures of herself on Instagram slipping postcards into Empost mailboxes. She was pleasantly surprised that photos caught enough attention for strangers to associate her with handwritten letters and mail.

The coolest part was the reactions I was getting from people. To be honest, I thought that I’d be lucky if I ended up with 50 addresses because no one delivers hand-written mail anymore. Everyone is one their phones. When you call someone, they reply with, ‘How about you text me?’ People rarely converse with each other like they used to. This is why I was so surprised when people sent me private messages of random mailboxes saying that the mailboxes reminded them of me. That’s when I realized the importance of brand recognition. People were basically starting to relate me to postcards and postboxes.

A major milestone the Postcard Initiative accomplished so far was its recognition by the Noor Dubai Foundation. The NDF is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization whose mission is to eliminate blindness around the world. The foundation contacted Noor, hoping she would be interested in participating in an Art 4 Sight, an annual event sponsored by NDF where artists donate their artwork to be auctioned off for charity.

When I donated one of my paintings, that was the first time I really got to know more about NDF’s work. I realized one small change can make huge differences, mostly because the blindness of one person in a developing country affects the surrounding community much more since they are more likely to depend on one another. So when you give one person their sight back, you’re giving them a second chance, and it betters the overall community.

After participating in events hosted by NDF, Noor felt that the foundation would be a great fit for her Postcard Initiative. She offered to continue contributing to their cause by contacting local and international artists who were willing to make donations and to have their work displayed as images on Noor’s postcards. Currently, Noor sells a pack of 21 postcards for 200 AED, with all the money going to charity or back into production.

Instead of buying my own postcards, I thought I would reach out to the community in a better way if I networked with other artists.

Noor also has plans to expand her Postcard Initiative. Her next move, which she has already begun in several schools and nurseries, is her Design-Your-Own-Postcard workshop series. Noor came across this idea when she realized that reaching out to kids would benefit the cause she is passionate about. The postcards are designed in a way that one side has information on the initiative, while the other is plain white. Each is sold for 25 AED, and for every postcard purchased, one child in a developing country gets a pair of glasses. Noor’s goal is to encourage those who purchase and customize these postcards, whether children or not, to send them to patients in eye camps through the Noor Dubai Foundation.

When asked about her advice for young adults with startup ideas, Noor was eager to share a few tips from her own experience.

When I was studying at the American University of Sharjah, I majored in Design Management, so my whole career was in branding, marketing and PR. But at the same time, art was always my side thing. My advice would be not to force all of your interests to be part of one subject. You need to step out of your comfort zone to figure out what you enjoy more instead of just doing what you’re comfortable with. You don’t always need a strict plan; you just need an idea. That idea can lead to other pathways.

Photo Credit: Mona Al Marzooqi / The National