The New You – Meet Laura Brennan

 In The New You

Coming to Qatar and making a career for yourself is not always easy and definitely not straight forward.In this book, we’re exploring the stories of inspiring women in Qatar who bravely created a new career of their own. We’ll hear from founders, writers, mothers, artists, designers, and more how they paved their way to their new me. Their stories will inspire other women and girls in Qatar that there are many different ways to create a successful career in Doha, either as an employee or entrepreneur. #thenewyou

In this episode guest meet Laura Brennan – an amazingly experienced journalist who completely changed her career setting up her own eco brand! She’s the proud owner of EcoSouk. Read further for Laura’s inspiring story.

What did you do before the new you?

I have been working as a journalist for 20 years. After my post grad course in journalism at City University in London, age 25, I went to Beijing to work for China Daily newspaper and CCTV9 – the English language TV news channel.

After three years living in China, I got my big break with Al Jazeera English when it was just starting up in 2006. I moved to Kuala Lumpur and was a producer, reporter and presenter for 5 years – working all throughout the Asia region.

When moving to Qatar, what were your career expectations?

I moved to Doha in 2010 to be a presenter in AJE studio headquarters. Moving to Qatar, I expected my career to continue in the same field. The Arab Spring was just kicking off and it was an exciting time to be a journalist in the region.

I met my husband in Qatar a couple of years after arriving. We started a family in 2013. Working shifts in 24-hour news is physically and emotionally very demanding.

I stuck with it through two pregnancies, two maternity leaves (each 6 months long, each 6 months too short) and through two periods of pumping at work between live shows and 3am starts, whilst struggling through the fog of sleep deprivation and guilt-ridden anxieties at leaving my new babies with someone else.

What made you decide to create the new you?

I wanted a gentler path. When my second baby was still small, I created EcoSouk with a dream of working from home, in a creative space, keeping my own hours and feeling utterly inspired to make a success out of something I truly believed in.

I have always been fanatical about the environment. I get it from my mum and I hope I have passed it on to my kids too. I hate plastic waste. Supermarket shopping with all the excess plastic packaging used to make me angry. Walking along the beach, picking up that plastic packaging made me sad. Reading statistics like “more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050” terrified me.

So I decided to try to do something about it. My first product was reusable mesh produce bags made from recycled plastic bottles. I designed and produced 600 sets, advertised them on Facebook and within days I was delivering them all over Qatar day and night.

EcoSouk soon became one of the most visible eco brands in Qatar and won an award for Best Sustainability Initiative in 2020. I was invited to talk at lots of schools and events, give workshops and join panel discussions. I broadened my product range which was stocked in outlets throughout Qatar. I attended as many markets as I could to keep up the face-to-face contact with customers and when Covid hit, moved into online sales platforms.

One of the most wonderful things about EcoSouk was that it connected me to a whole community of like-minded people in Qatar. I was also introduced to strong, independent women also forging their own paths in life. I am hugely grateful to Carolyn at Roots hair salon for introducing me to these women through her events and fairs. Carolyn is a true champion of women entrepreneurship and it is wonderful to be part of that network.

For two years, I built EcoSouk, worked at Al Jazeera and had a third baby. It was not quite the gentler path I’d set out to find! So, I eventually made the difficult decision to quit Al Jazeera, the job that had defined most of my adult life.

It was a leap of faith and has not always been easy, but it allowed me more control over the shape of my life and the life of my family. I think it’s also important to be able to show my children that they can take a risk to try something they love.

I still build EcoSouk although not at quite the same frenetic pace as in the beginning. I freelance at Al Jazeera and I have time with my family. I’m still working on getting the balance right and also factoring in time to pause in my day, but it will probably always be a bit of a juggle. Some days I’ll nail it, others I won’t. Accepting that is part of the new me.

What skills from your first career come in handy now? 

My experience as a journalist served me well. My communication skills came in handy when I was knocking on supermarket doors seeking to place my products.
Multitasking, organization skills and ability to work to tight deadlines helped me structure and use my time efficiently – something every working mother knows to be crucial.

My TV skills came in handy during public speaking events. I loved researching environmental news and developments and writing articles for my website. I also started writing eco fiction, which fulfilled another long-held ambition.

What’s your advice for women creating their own new version?

Start doing it today.

Start small or start big, it doesn’t matter. You’ve just got to start doing it and only then will you know if a) you actually want to do it and b) you can make a success of it.

There is a tendency to wait until something is perfect before putting it out there – a website / an article / a social media post / a new product. But this can be a trap that never lets you get started. Much better to put an imperfect product out there that can later be improved upon than no product at all.

Be prepared for hard work. You may create an Instagram post of yourself “working from home” at a lightly-cluttered desk, in front of an attractive mood board, holding a steaming mug of tea and with a cat on your lap, but everyone knows that’s not the reality! Running your own business can be stressful, boring and lonely. Add some young kids to the mix and it can be exhausting! So celebrate your successes and enjoy the days when everything works out. But also quickly forgive yourself and be kind to yourself when it all feels like it’s going wrong and becomes overwhelming. Changing careers is challenging, but it can bring an enormous sense of achievement and empowerment. It’s well worth it.

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