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October 26, 2015 2015 Outstanding Women in Business

2015 Outstanding Women In Business: Naureen Meraj, NTT Data

Matt Volpini Naureen Meraj Senior Global Director NTT Data

Naureen Meraj is senior global director in the Shrewsbury office for Japanese information-technology firm NTT Data, starting her career just four years ago after a decade as a homemaker and quickly launching one of the first gamification practices in the IT industry.

“She has a big generosity of spirit and kindness,” said Diya Agha, senior principal consultant at NTT. “She is not only excelling at what she does in the workplace, but she is also a very present and available mother of her three children.”

Meraj joined NTT – a $16-billion, 75,000-employee global firm – in 2011 and instituted its gamification practices to become one of the most recognized in the industry, with awards and recognition from The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review and Forbes. Gamification is the practice of applying typical elements of game-playing – such as point scoring and competition – to activities such as marketing to encourage greater participation. Meraj's success with gamification led her to her current role, where she helps Fortune 2000 companies transform into digital businesses.

“I have never seen her frustrated or rude, even in the face of a lot of pressures,” Agha said.

Leveraging her thought leadership and expertise in learning and gamification, Meraj founded the nonprofit iGAME (Institute for Game Accelerated Multidisciplinary Education). This is the first organization to focus on increasing innovation and adoption of educational games in public schools. Prompted by her global travel, Meraj and her 10-year-old daughter started Beads for Hope for Oxfam’s Project Girls’ Education Matters – a nonprofit geared towards building schools for girls in developing countries.

Naureen Meraj lives in Shrewsbury with her three children, Shazeb, 16; Arman, 12; and Anaiya, 10.

Who is your most influential role model?

The Late Princess Diana has been a major influence in my life, both while alive and even after her death. The fact that she was a princess is not why I am so inspired by her. She had her strengths and her weaknesses; she was not perfect nor did she ever claim to be. She had her struggles, often faced extreme obstacles and adversity, yet remained kind and humble and kept her head held high.

There are many parallels between her life and mine: family pressures to behave in a certain way, lack of support and censure for many of her initiatives from her immediate circle, and her ability to succeed in spite of these barriers. Also while she was meticulous about following through on her many professional obligations, she always made time for her children and gave them the security that they were her highest priority.

What has helped you achieve success in your career?

I realized early on that no matter what organization you are in, what trend you are pioneering or what problem you are solving – at the end of the day it's all about the people. If you can collaborate with, engage and ultimately inspire those around you, then any task at hand becomes not just doable but an outstanding success!

Secondly I am a strong believer in the power of innovation. Just because things were previously done in a certain way is no reason not to take a creative, fresh and sometimes unorthodox approach to making it better.

Finally, never underestimate the power of a mentor in accelerating your career. This only works if you're willing to accept good advice and follow through on it.

What's your primary motivation?

I love a challenge. I love it even more when everyone around me tells me that I shouldn't take it on either because it's too big or, being a woman, it's not the “proper” thing to do. Throughout my life I have too often been told what I cannot do or even attempt, so I figured that I had two choices: Either I can give in and believe just that, or I can challenge the naysayers, prove them wrong and leave behind a legacy.

How do you give back to the community?

While NTT DATA has always been a strong advocate of corporate social responsibility, one of the areas for which I have been a champion is education. It is a unifying cause that affects the lives of every employee. I have been fortunate that several of my colleagues have gotten involved in iGAME, the educational gaming nonprofit I started. I led some of the early efforts to get NTT DATA to support Peace First, a Massachusetts-headquartered nonprofit that focuses on reducing bullying and violence in schools. Peace First is now one of the key beneficiaries of NTT DATA's global CSR initiatives.

How do you deal with stress?

I often find that focusing on my creative side helps me ease the pressure of my high-stress job. The most natural way for me to unload is to write about it. Ever since I was a child, I have used the expressive power of writing poetry to meditate, de-stress and rejuvenate my spirit. Much like reading a good book and becoming immersed in the story, when I write I transport myself from the manic pace of the corporate world to the meditative solitude of a more tranquil existence.

How have you tried to balance your career and your personal life?

First, I have an “email-free weekend” rule. Another challenge of working in a global company is the copious amounts of travel required to meet clients and colleagues. This can be especially stressful on my three growing children. To ease the burden, I try to include them in my travel that overlaps with their vacation time.

Work-life balance is a constant struggle especially for working mothers like myself. I have realized that I need to be vigilant in constantly reminding myself that if I don't take care of me, then I cannot take care of my family or my work.

Meet the rest of the 2015 Outstanding Women in Business

Roberta Brien, vice president of projects, Worcester Business Development Corp.

Linda Cavaioli, executive director, YWCA of Central Massachusetts

Susan Gunnell, executive vice president & COO, Southbridge Savings Bank

Susan Lawrence, co-owner, Pepper's Fine Catering

Joyce A. Murphy, executive vice chancellor and chief executive, Commonwealth Medicine


2015 Outstanding Women In Business: Naureen Meraj, NTT Data

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