Until she resigned to focus completely on her North Pole expedition, Elham Al-Qasimi was an investment manager at the Impetus Trust. She conducted due diligence on charities and social enterprises to identify those with the most distinctive delivery models and build a case for investment committee approval.
Elham was born in July 1982 in Dubai, UAE. She earned a degree in Business and Marketing at the American University in Dubai in 2004, and then moved to London to study at the London School of Economics for an MSc in Management of NGOs. On graduating with a Distinction for her thesis, Elham took an internship at the Overseas Development Institute, a leading think tank for international development.
Elham then began work at J P Morgan in January 2006. After completing a two-month corporate finance training programme in New York, Elham was placed in the Global Diversified Industrials Team based in London, working on merger and acquisitions transactions in industries such as building materials, chemicals, metals and mining, and infrastructure.
After three years, Elham left J P Morgan and joined the Impetus Trust as an investment manager. Impetus is a venture philanthropy fund, which means they apply the principles of venture capital to investing for philanthropic purposes. As an investment manager it was
Elham's job to conduct due diligence on charities and social enterprises and identify those with the most distinctive delivery models and build a case for investment committee approval. Elham stayed with Impetus for around a year but she has recently resigned in order to focus completely on her North Pole expedition.
In order to build her physical and mental endurance for the expedition, Elham worked with Lomax Bespoke Fitness, Nutrition and Wellbeing to develop a high-performance training programme designed to optimise strength and power whilst enhancing agility and speed.
The training plan is flexible in order to include all the fundamental components of fitness, nutrition and well-being, taking into account the practicalities of a 5-day work week, the idiosyncrasies of seasonal weather (specifically, ensuring cold climate conditions) and personal health issues.
exciting! Tell us a bit about the expedition.
It's two weeks long and starts from Borneo, a Russian ice station that
floats between 88 and 89 degrees latitude. I set off on April 10 and a guide
and I will set off on cross-country skis pulling pulks [small toboggans] of
equipment weighing up to 40kg. The trek is unassisted and unsupported, meaning
we'll have to carry all the required supplies for the entire expedition with
no motorised equipment to propel us forward. We'll typically ski for an
average of eight hours a day, with a 10-minute break every two hours to snack.
We'll cook our own meals, pitch our tent and generally live with little to
no environmental footprint. During the expedition I will face risks such as
thin ice, open water, polar bears, frostbite, hypothermia and injury.
work in finance. What made you decide to branch out and do something so
The desire to stand on top of the world; to stand at the place where no
compass points north and witness a part of nature that very few before me have
and even fewer after me will. The polar ice continues to melt at an alarming
rate, making such a trek increasingly impossible. This expedition will be a
test of personal discipline, patience, drive, mental resilience and ability to
follow through, which are all important for both my career and personal life.
going well, you'll soon be the first Arab woman to set foot on the North
Pole. How does that feel?
Very humbling. When I started planning the expedition I wasn't fully aware
of the magnitude, I just thought I was undertaking a physical challenge that
some may find interesting and some may not. So to be here today and have the
opportunity to send a message to Arab women is humbling. I would stress that I
did not reach this point by focusing on external challenges, but rather by
focusing on my internal challenges.
It has been a liberating experience for me and I'm not done yet.
physically demanding will the trip be?
To me, this goal is just shy of impossible. It will involve juggling several
challenges at once: the cold, the wind, the weight of my pulk, the lack of
dexterity and camping challenges such as cold sleep, limited food selection
and so on.
will you deal with the cold?
I expect to face temperatures of around -30ĄC, so I'll use a layering
system which ensures I have more layers when static, but also that I'm able
to effectively use the heat my body generates while on the move. Ironically,
one of the biggest challenges while skiing is to avoid overheating. This is
because if you sweat and your base layer gets moist it will turn into an ice
sheet when you stop for a break, and your circulation and hence body heat
us about your training leading up to the expedition.
My trainers prepared four stages of training in the six months prior to my
departure: the foundation phase, the power/speed training phase, the endurance
training phase (to ensure I withstand exercise for eight hours a day) and the
functional endurance and acclimatisation phase. I'm currently in the last
phase and I am going to the park for long journeys of pulling tyres as well as
doing strength training. Four trainers are supervising my training: an
experienced triathlete, a mountaineer, a strength coach and a top 10 European
extreme skier. Between them they have competed, broken records and faced
failures, and so generally understand what it does to the psyche of a human to
be so driven by a physical goal. Vital to my comprehension of the task at hand
was a five-day polar training camp in Minnesota, and in March I had six days
of glacier trekking in La Plagne in the Alps, which was supervised by two of
ice in the North Pole is constantly shifting. How do you mitigate this?
Weather conditions will dictate in which direction the ice I stand on will
move. This means while I ski north the ice may be slowly drifting south,
southeast or southwest. Therefore I may end up skiing a total of 15km to
actually progress 12km closer to the pole. The ice moves slowly, therefore it's not a risk, but as ice moves it causes changes in the landscape of the
terrain being crossed, such as the creation of ice ridges (sometimes as big as
villas) and open leads (exposed arctic ocean).
Yes, but the ice is calling me. It will be twilight in the North Pole right
now, and already two expeditioners I know of have set off on their respective
expeditions. I feel nothing but exhilaration and excitement to be there soon
too. It's a funny, butterfly-in-your-stomach kind of nervous.
trip sounds pretty lonely - do you like your own company?
I think most would agree we don't spend nearly enough time with ourselves
with our modern lifestyles. Spending more time with myself was one explicit
objective of undertaking this expedition.
will you miss?
My family. A warm bed. A shower. My hairbrush. My best friend.
the first thing you'll do when you get home?
I'll have bear hugs with my family - no pun intended!
See www.elhamalqasimi.com to
track Elham's progress.