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CIVIL engineer Kawthar Aljufairi has won an international accolade for combining FinTech with traffic congestion as part of a concerted effort to help solve Bahrain’s rush hour blues.
She was inspired to act after being stuck once again in a traffic jam on the way to work as a transport planner at Mott MacDonald, a global engineering and development consultancy which has been active in Bahrain for more than 45 years, working on building, transport, water and in the power sectors.
Kawthar, 26, who specialises in traffic engineering and transport planning, took the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Emerging Engineers Award following a presentation at a judging session in London.
“It’s very satisfying for me to win such a prestigious award from one of the leading engineering institutions in the world and to have competed with many civil engineering professionals across different regions,” said the former graduate of Imperial College London.
Kawthar’s paper on ‘Evaluating the introduction of a virtual currency to improve traffic’ offers ingenious solutions to encourage drivers to share rides with a FinTech financial enticement.
She returned to the kingdom to apply her talent and skills after winning a coveted Crown Prince International Scholarship in 2009 to study in the UK and took the prize ahead of tough competition from other shortlisted global candidates - Wing Lam Chan from Hong Kong, Catriona Salvini from Scotland and Joseph Murrow from England.
Kawthar’s paper has won a medal that she will receive at a ceremony next year along with a cash prize. It highlights how the introduction of a virtual currency could improve traffic conditions in Bahrain.
She often travels from her home in the Northern Governate to her company’s offices in Seef district along the chock-a-block highways when she is not working out of regional offices in the Gulf.
“The idea came from my experience commuting to work and being stuck in traffic that triples the commute time,” she explained. “The majority of vehicles around me had low occupancy, usually just the driver, which is not an efficient use of the road capacity.
“The aim of the proposed virtual currency would be to reward positive travel behaviour, such us using public transport, car-pooling or commuting outside peak hours, by giving positive travel behaviour a more tangible value.
“I thought virtual currency would be a suitable solution because it’s not monitored by one entity and because it’s digital and does not require the physical infrastructure associated with a normal currency.
“Industries are flourishing online and forming a link between the retail and transport sectors so it could positively impact traffic and benefit retail outlets participating in the system.”
Kawthar has proposed that a virtual currency could be exchanged at local retail outlets offering discounts on goods and services.
“It can play a role at encouraging more people to change their behaviour for the benefit of society as a whole,” she explained.
ICE is the oldest and one of the most respected engineering institutions in the world with more than 91,000 members in more than 150 countries.
The competition is staged annually to promote outstanding communication of civil engineering ideas and research.
Through the efforts and enthusiasm of member Ben Cogswell, in 2017, Bahrain ICE Committee set up a regional district to encourage engineers in the kingdom to participate in the event.
John Barnes, an ICE representative for Bahrain, said: “This year, following similar success in Bahrain and Dubai, Kawthar took first place. This is an amazing achievement for her and all women involved in engineering in Bahrain.
“It is a great reflection of our tiny island and must also be extremely satisfying to Ben for his efforts in arranging this event over the past two years. The success should be celebrated accordingly.”
Kawthar joined ICE in her first year of university which proved beneficial. “It offers a civil engineering chartership route which is globally recognised and well received by engineering clients,” she said.
“I always gravitated towards science and mathematics subjects at school. The inspiration to study engineering came from the engineers that I knew before starting my degree.
“When I was studying and since I have graduated, I have been inspired by how collaborative the engineering world is and how engineers build on the contributions of each other to reach the tangible results that is usually visible to the wider community.
“I encourage all civil engineers to join the ICE, to be part of an excellent network of engineering professionals and to receive guidance to progress towards chartership in civil engineering.”
ICE students, graduates and trainee technician members are invited to submit a paper on civil engineering related topics in the format of research, a report or an essay.
Competition heats take place across ICE’s regions and the winning papers from each district are then short-listed by the international judging panel.
The final four are invited to present their work to a panel of judges and an audience at an international final at the impressive and imposing One Great George Street, London, the home of the headquarters of ICE, near Parliament Square.
The local winner steps forward to compete in the Middle East regional final in Dubai and Kawthar’s inspired entry helped sweep her through to the grand London challenge, following in the footsteps of fellow Bahrain entry Sumesh Shankar whose paper on Geopolymer Concrete for Structural Applications 12 months earlier also made it through to the London grand finale.