Lama Younis

Lama Younis, who is one of the first female criminologists and forensic psychologists qualified in the GCC, is the founder of Hissah Enrichment Center as well as the Lama Campaign, a non-profit that works to create awareness about children’s rights and safety in the Middle East.

As a Saudi Arabia-trained psychologist, Younis has sought to understand her culture, society and bring awareness and support where they are most needed. In 2005 Lama Younis was among the first women to graduate with a degree in psychology from Saudi Arabia’s Effat University, the first private women university in the kingdom to offer this degree to undergraduates.

Now Lama Younis has an established wellness center in Dubai, where her work focuses on raising awareness about physical safety, emotional well-being and dispelling myths around seeking help.

What motivated you to establish Hissah Enrichment Center?

Lama Younis: I was always wondering why there is a taboo in the Middle East around the topic of well-being. Why do individuals worry about what others might think about them or how they might perceive them? That’s when I started studying my society in order to understand how can one help them and offer the right services for my clients.

I believe individuals from the older generation are very much stronger than today’s generation, they tolerate things more. My mother, and women from her generation, are not very open to seeking help when it comes to well-being, unlike my generation, where some women will read about it and others might actually seek help.

Today individuals are much open and you see a lot more psychology graduates because a lot of the universities in the Middle East have made it available for women and men.

Why did you choose psychology?

LY: I always knew I wanted to be in the medical field. So I applied to medical school and got the approval from my family in Saudi Arabia and the university to go the girls’ college here in the U.A.E. yet then I shifted to psychology because I wanted to understand myself better. When you know yourself, you’re able to help others. My aim was always to find peace within. When you’re happy, you naturally make others happy around you.

Can you tell me more about the Lama Campaign?

LY:The Lama Campaign is a not-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the protection and well-being of children and youth through education and awareness. The organization is fully licensed in the U.K. with the goal of educating children and adults on child abuse in all its forms through prevention programs, public awareness, training and advocacy worldwide. The organization aspires to forge, guide and support a commitment by families, communities and nations to prevent child abuse so as to ensure that every child grows up in a secure and healthy environment.

 What about cases of domestic violence or marital rape – it must be difficult to operate in an environment with few legal protections?

LY: There is always difficulty in finding evidence in domestic cases in our region. In cases when women are raped by their husbands, it’s very difficult to prove. Marital rape is not recognized, no. People get away with it. I face difficulties in cases of rape and abuse because I need a guardian’s permission to take action (in Saudi Arabia), and we have has cases in the past where the guardians are the actual offenders. Not even a policeman can come in between family at times in Saudi Arabia. I also have difficulties finding proper evidence, because some family members cover up others’ mistakes, not wanting for society to look down at them for their wrongful behavior. Yet I still believe the (guardianship system) is the biggest obstacle I face.

Many do not distinguish between punishment, discipline and abuse. I believe many take discipline to another level that is clearly abusive behavior. I had a case once where a mother would actually rub fresh chili on her child’s body and make him stand under the son for any prayer he would miss, or any low grades at school, this is an issue with honor and shame. We are clearly a collectivist culture, where an individual’s behavior will represent the whole family.

Another challenge we face is the definition of emotional abuse, many are not very aware of it as this awful act is carried out in some kind of discipline form ‘its viewed as a lesson or some kind of push for children to correct the unwanted behavior, they actually do not realize the scars that are left behind for life’.

What other obstacles do you face when practicing in Saudi Arabia?

LY: When I just graduated, I was the first woman to graduate with a forensic psychology degree in the Gulf Cooperation Council. But in Saudi Arabia, they refused to issue credentials to me to practice and work in the government, I was only allowed to do so in private sector.

How does it impact your work now?

LY: It doesn’t affect me. The way I practice is that I focus on the lack of knowledge and information. I focus on behavioral training and consultation. After three years of our center, we proved this hypothesis about the need for education and awareness. The clients come to me seeking answers rather then declaring they need help right away. We are the first door they open.

Many avoid the truth behind their issues, believing living in silence is much better, when they actually lack a peace of mind. I only pray for legal protections to be implemented, for awareness and education to be a part of the government movement to see long-term change.

What is the best biggest obstacle you’re facing right now?

LY: In the beginning I was frustrated, but after four years I found my way through. My business goals shifted. My focus shifted from adults to children, students, and younger generation after two years of opening the business. Younger generation is more open to knowledge. It’s nice to see them stand up for what they believe in. They are willing to implement positive change in their lives and society.

So there is a shift happening. What do you think needs to happen next, from the legal perspective and wider society to confront these issues?

LY: Education and awareness are my main goals. I have helped in many cases with children’s rights and other cases due to the lack of knowledge and clarity in the system. If we can have things clarified and information out in the public, then I believe many victims will come out to speak. The lack of knowledge keeps many in the dark and in silence. That is why I am on a mission to empower, to guide and to educate because that is the best way to move forward.

Our Aims at The Lama Campaign is to educate people across a range of sectors to increase knowledge, child protection training programs for professionals working with children and community education through seminars and so much more.

Originally Published on Ella

Leila Al-Qobbi: Saudi Arabia's First Blind Female Lawyer


Leila al-Qobbi, who at times was denied career opportunities for disability, has now become Saudi Arabia’s first blind female lawyer.

The 24-year-old overcame challenges to become the first blind lawyer among Saudi Arabia’s 102 female lawyers. 

Being a practicing lawyer with special abilities, Qobbi believes she’s not any different from her peers with sight. The challenge of not being able to see was never felt as a drawback, she said.

“I practise this profession like any other person,” she told Al Arabiya English. “My disability has never been a reason for defeat.”

Al-Qobbi pursued her studies at King Abdulaziz University after high school. She reads by listening or through braille, a tactile writing system for the blind.

“I read using Braille, audio books and write with Braille Sense, then download the file on a USB and connect it to the laptop for typing.”

She says there are a few challenges with practical training that Saudi society needs to overcome to help people like her with visual impairment to achieve their full potential.

Some of the equipment designed to help the visually impaired e read and type are too expensive, she says, adding that some of it may cost up to 25,000 Saudi riyals ($6,665).

In her case, she does not own the equipment and tries to borrow them.

“Hopefully, God will make it easy one day and I will have all the equipment I need.”

At times, al-Qobbi was denied training at several law firms “for being blind.”

“The society is still shocked at how a blind person can be a successful lawyer.”

She said she felt grateful towards the Saudi justice ministry and the firm that offered her training, giving her the opportunity to achieve her goal.

She was handed a financial lawsuit as her first case, unlike majority of Saudi female lawyers who usually plead in personal status lawsuits.

“I have too much faith in God that He will never fail me. I wasn’t expecting to get the practising lawyer’s license. I’m very optimistic now in pursuing my dreams.”

“I want every person with ambition to believe in themselves and never retreat.”

Saudi Arabia has 102 female lawyers. This year alone, the government has granted 39 women the licenses to practise law, the largest number the ministry has given in one year.

The country began granting licenses to women to practise law in 2012 but the decision was not implemented until June 2013, when lawyer Bayan Zahran received her license, becoming the first Saudi female lawyer.

Originally published on Alarabiya

Wafaa Abbar: The queen of luxury retail therapy

    After the success of the annual Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience in the fashion capital of the Middle East — Dubai — the unique and exciting event has traveled all the way to Jeddah, the fashion capital of Saudi Arabia. 
     Rubaiyat, Saudi Arabia’s go-to luxury destination, and Vogue Italia, the most influential Italian fashion magazine, have come together to provide an international platform for Saudi female fashion designers.
      Saudi designers were required to submit their portfolios on Vogue Italia’s website, after which it was reviewed and selected by a team of Vogue Italia, who chose the works of ten designers. The winner will get full sponsorship to present her collection in Milan.
     All the finalists will exhibit their work at the Rubaiyat department store in Jeddah and will have the opportunity to showcase and sell their collections at the Stars Avenue Mall.
     “It is tremendously rewarding to see Saudi women being given such an opportunity on the world stage. We, together with Vogue Italia, are delighted to help highlight some of the Arab world’s most talented and emerging designers,” said Wafaa Abbar, president of the Rubaiyat Group.
Franca Sozzani, Editor in Chief of Vogue Italia, commented: “This initiative builds on Vogue Italia’s deep commitment to promote new fashion talents, knowing how important it is to offer them relevant and concrete international platforms to present and advance their creativity.”
     In partnership with the National Home Health Care Foundation, the event will feature a unique opportunity to scout the best female talents, embracing their ambitions and promoting their work on an international platform whilst adding to this initiative a humanitarian dimension by supporting the National Home Health Care — an opportunity that combines efforts and talents for a good cause. 
     The funds raised, thanks to the organization of a women’s charity gala dinner, will be donated to the World Food Programme, which will encourage and support the empowerment of women living in underdeveloped areas of the world.
     Arab News met with Wafaa Abbar, president of the Rubaiyat Group, one of the first Saudi women to start a retail business in the Kingdom, to talk about her career, achievements and the collaboration with Vogue Italia.

1. For those who don’t know you, who is Wafaa Abbar? 

I am President of Rubaiyat Company and a main shareholder in the company, which I helped to co-found in Jeddah in 1980. 

2. Tell us about yourself, what got you interested in the retail business and how did your career path lead you to be the president of a leading luxury retail fashion store? 

I started my career in retail as manager of client accounts at the Abbar Company where I was responsible for purchasing. My interest in fashion wear led me to start with Rubaiyat where I worked as children’s and ladies manager. My responsibilities increased as the company grew bigger and eventually I became President of Rubaiyat. 

3- Tell us about the journey behind establishing Rubaiyat. 

It has been a long and very fulfilling journey during which I and my colleagues have worked steadily to consolidate the acquisition of the exclusive distribution rights in Saudi Arabia for some of the most prestigious brands including Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Kenzo, Lanvin, Ermenegildo Zegna and many others. Over the years we have continuously reinvested in expanding with outlets in prominent locations and today Rubaiyat is a kingdom-wide chain with branches in Jeddah, Riyadh, Alkhobar and Dhahran. 

4. How is a day in the life of the president of a leading luxury retail company? 

Let us describe it as challenging but always bringing something new to the table. We are in constant movement, just like fashion and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. time speeds by, between meetings and strategic decisions, reports and mainly a continuous eye on fashion and brands, the day ends with the certitude that 24 hours are never enough in the day. 

5. In 2014, Rubaiyat opened the first luxury fashion department store in Jeddah. Tell us more about the concept.

With the Rubaiyat Department Store, we are redefining luxury shopping experience in Jeddah not only by offering the widest range of leading brands, but also by offering an exclusive service provided by fashion advisers that have been trained to cater to our clients’ needs and wishes. 

6. How has the 30-year journey with Rubaiyat been? 

For more than 30 years, Rubaiyat has been pioneering the fashion industry in Saudi Arabia. 

7. How did you manage to keep your standards high and keep up with the fast changing market, given that new competitors have entered the Saudi luxury market? 

We have attained our leading position by focusing on the highest levels of quality and customer service, while innovation keeps us apace with the fast changing market. 

8. What is your vision of what Rubaiyat should look like in the future and how do you plan to get there? Can you paint that big picture for us? 

Rubaiyat has always been a versatile entity that sets the trends in fashion, creating unique models and concepts to satisfy its clientele. Our evolution for the last 36 years has always been the wise consequence of calculated decisions and well placed investments to build on the heritage whilst looking at the future with sharp eyes. With the new retail panorama changes and fashion evolution, Rubaiyat is leading the way by introducing new brands and creating unique concepts whilst always having in mind, the end consumer and his needs from a luxury company. These are principles we have always believed in and worked toward. Going the extra mile when it comes to any service or product is key for us to cater to our clients’ expectations. We build the future with faith and determination, focusing on enriching our client’s experience and pursuing our fashion journey alongside him. 

9. What do you feel are some of the best aspects of the retail industry today, and what not-so-great features you would like to see changed? 

At the high-end of the retail industry, where Rubaiyat is positioned, the best aspect is the very high level creativity, which keeps on delivering fresh new ideas while maintaining classical traditions and quality. What I would like to see changed is greater prevention of counterfeiting of the top brand names. 

10. It was recently announced that Rubaiyat is teaming up with Vogue Talents to spot and promote the best women designers in Saudi Arabia. Tell us more about this collaboration.

In partnership with the National Home Health Care Foundation, Rubaiyat is hosting the Vogue Italia Experience, which will take place in Jeddah on April 20-21 and in Riyadh on April 22-23. The event is dedicated to a global celebration of Arab women, their heritage and culture. It will offer extraordinary experiences to entertain, involve, promote and engage local women. 

11. What inspired this collaboration? And what is Rubaiyat’s vision toward it? Will this be an annual collaboration? 

Rubaiyat represents many of the most famous Italian fashion brands so it is natural that we team up with Vogue Italia to bring this event to Saudi Arabia. Our vision is to identify young Saudi designers, nurture their talents, and give them an opportunity to appear on the international stage. We would like to see it become an annual event and will evaluate the results to see if this is feasible. 

12. Why has Rubaiyat partnered with the National Home Health Care Foundation and how will it benefit the foundation? 

The National Home Health Care Foundation (NHHCF) is one of the finest and most worthy charitable organizations in the Kingdom. As an NGO it cannot receive donations from entities outside Saudi Arabia and is dependent on funds raised within the Kingdom, accordingly, all revenues generated by Rubaiyat from the event will be donated to the NHHCF. 

13. At the end of the day, what image and thoughts would you wish to come to consumers’ minds at the mention of the name Rubaiyat? 

Rubaiyat always aims to be known as the leading retailer of high fashion and luxury goods in the kingdom, through its commitment to innovation and the highest levels of quality, world-class presentation, and thoughtful and attentive customer service. 

Originally published on Arab News

Davos: One woman's attempt to change Saudi Arabia

A mere 18% of all delegates at the conference are female, and women under 30 are rarer still - especially if they are from Saudi Arabia.

But the 28-year-old is unusual for other reasons, too. 

She's a leading financial analyst at the world's biggest oil and gas company, Aramco, managing a multi-billion dollar budget, and she is one of the Forum's "Global Shapers" - a title awarded for her work in encouraging more young women to enter Saudi Arabia's male-dominated workforce.

What's more, she's currently in training for the Rio Olympics later this year. where she will be competing as part of the kingdom's first ever female fencing team.

By her own admission, she's an "outlier" in the country. 

Culture shock

Only one in five women of working age in Saudi Arabia is employed, according to the World Bank, and the collapse in the oil price has added further pressure, as many companies now cannot afford to nurture talent.

Rawan puts her success down to her "very progressive family".


My dad taught us independence since we were very young," she explains.

Two of her older sisters went through the traditional Saudi education system, but Rawan wasn't impressed with the results, wanting "something more". 

Luckily, she was one of the first to benefit from the late King Abdullah's scholarship programme, launched in 2005 to help young, ambitious Saudis study in the United States.

The University of Maine, where she studied finance, was a culture shock. 

Undergraduates quizzed her on why she didn't wear a hijab, whether women were really banned from driving in the Kingdom, and whether she would ever accept an arranged marriage. 

She also learnt to fence, and travelled widely within the US. 

But ultimately, home beckoned. "I missed my family, so I decided to come back to Saudi," she says, without a hint of regret."If you see the campus of Aramco, you wouldn't blame anyone for wanting to work there".

'It's so heartbreaking'

Through the Al-Khobar Global Shapers hub, which she founded, Rawan works with local schools (only girls' schools, she's not allowed in boys' schools) visiting classes and trying to inspire others to follow career paths such as her own.

"You can see it in their eyes; they want to be engineers, they want to be lawyers, but they lack the guidance, they lack the resources," she says.

"It's so heartbreaking."

But despite the obvious barriers for enterprising young girls in Saudi Arabia, such as the ban on women driving or on leaving the house unaccompanied, Rawan argues it's more what happens in homes that matters. 

"Unfortunately, a lot of girls, their career path is not only determined by who they think they want to be, but also the culture, their background.

"We try and push them, but it's how they push their parents, to get them to agree."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rawan is guarded in her criticism of the Saudi administration, nor would she be drawn on the debate about over-supply in the global oil market. 

She insists the government are "trying their best" to expose young people to role models like her, and to get more women into work.


One example she cites is the Nitaqat scheme - or "Saudization" as it's colloquially known - designed to encourage firms to employ fellow citizens, rather than foreigners.

"If you hire a Saudi male, you get a point into your programme," says Rawan, "but if you hire a female, you get two points".

She is also keen to point out that, at least at her workplace, women are given equal opportunities.

"The only difference is that we wear Abaya (black robes). I spoke to a couple of people who work at Exxon Mobil and Shell, and we do exactly the same thing!"

As for driving, Rawan is content to have a chauffeur, although she'd "prefer to have the option" to have her own car, and is convinced the regulations will be relaxed in the next few years.

She also says many of her contemporaries flout the law, and leaving the house unattended is commonplace. 

But you get the sense that Rawan plays down the harsher aspects of the kingdom, out of the belief that taking on the authorities would distract from the advances being made by women like her.

"I truly believe that change is happening," she says. 

For now, however, Rawan's immediate focus is on fencing. The next few months will bring several training sessions and tournaments, all while holding down a demanding full time job.

Is she confident of making it all the way at Rio 2016?

Rawan chuckles nervously - "Hopefully, Insha'Allah!"

Orginally Published on BCC News

Lujain Al-Ubaid Uses ‘Girl Power’ to Fight Poverty

The word “girlpower” has become a new part of everyday dialogue. Whether it is used by people sitting around chatting over coffee, or people who are posting interesting things on social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook, “Girlpower” has taken center stage to represent positive and progressive change by women. The word totally exemplifies the success of Lujain Al-Ubaid of Riyadh.

Lujain knew from an early age that she wanted to make a difference, and find the right way to do it. Now in her early 20s she is certainly achieving many of her goals, and has already been honored by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman for her various volunteering activities. She hass got some of the most famous educational institutions in the United States on her CV too, having attended programs at two Ivy League Schools – Harvard and Columbia. Now Lujain has had to make room for another well-known name for her CV – Acumen. Headquartered in New York, Acumen is widely looked at being one of the leading nonprofit organizations in the world dedicated to poverty alleviation.

Founded in 2001 by individual philanthropists in the United States, and two other famous foundations – Rockefeller Foundation and Cisco Systems Foundation, Acumen’s website says, “Our desire was to transform the world of philanthropy by looking at all human beings not as distant strangers, but as members of a single, global community where everyone had the opportunity to build a life of dignity.”

Acumen’s philosophy was music to the ears of Lujain Al-Ubaid, who first learned about the organization through their chapter in Riyadh. Speaking to Saudi Gazette she said, “I learned about its values and more about the social entrepreneurial sector and impact investing. It led me to discover more about social innovation and impact measurement and understanding what does it really take to build a social entrepreneurial sector in Saudi Arabia.”

With her background in finance, Lujain diversified her knowledge by participating in the Harvard Business School Women Executive Leadership Program, as well as Columbia Business School’s Executive Education Program for Non-profit Organizations. Along the way she also found time to co-found and become CEO of “Tasamy for Social Entrepreneurship,” who aims to pioneer in the social entrepreneurial sector in the region. With all this experience, Lujain quickly realized that to become the person she wanted to be on a professional and personal level, she wanted to apply to Acumen’s Global Fellow Program, a 12-month fellowship for individuals dedicated to changing the way the world tackles poverty.

Founded in 2006, the Global Fellow Program has received more than 5,000 applications from 110 countries and trained 97 Fellows from over 25 countries. With the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Foundation as one of the key sponsors of the program, Lujain found the application process itself, “an interesting learning curve for me personally. The answers to the questions were based on high self-awareness, being interconnected to what is happening in the world and having what it takes to do what is right not what is easy.” Acumen who states on their website, “The humility to see the world as it is, with the audacity to imagine the world as it could be,” has created a venture capital fund for the poor, supported by a global community of philanthropists willing to take a bet on a new approach.

It was those objectives that really inspired Lujain to expand her horizons. During her interview with Saudi Gazette she recalled, “I discovered that what I need personally was more than skills training. I realized the importance of self-awareness, understanding my purpose in life as a leader and realizing how I can maximize my capability to empower others to create positive change and impact. Also being interconnected with what is happening in the world, and where I stand from all it is truly important to know as a leader.”

Once accepted to the Global Fellows Program class of 2016, Lujain flew to the U.S. to begin an eight-week fellowship-training program at Acumen. Once there she was taught to understand the problems of poverty, explore solutions and understand the role to play to effect change. Recalling the two months of training Lujain said: “I was amazed by the culture in Acumen. It is built upon great values and a beautiful manifesto which I often use as a compass through ambiguity, which I recommend highly to read on their website. “Once she finished her Fellowship training, Lujain was sent to India – where poverty is rife and more than 50 percent of the population are under the age of 25.

She is currently working as Chief Strategy Officer in Ignis Careers in Hyderabad, India. It is a social enterprise dedicated to empowering students from underprivileged backgrounds, by helping them with life skills through teaching English. Speaking to the Saudi Gazette she said, “They often say ‘Lead by example,’ but what I hope for is not making an example. I am a big believer in the power of choices. I truly hope that I have the power to do what needs to be done and the wisdom to say what needs to be said in order to invest everything I know and all my energy to empower those who want to create positive change and impact.”

One of Lujain’s favorite memories of the Acumen fellowship were three days spent with Jacqueline Novorgatz, the founder and CEO of Acumen, discussing what was called “Good Society Readings.” They were reflecting on the lives, values and thoughts of great international leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Ibn Khaldoun. Lujain told the Saudi Gazette, “I often end up my days with a heavier heart than when I start them because I carry the words as a responsibility not as a privilege.” It would seem with Lujain Al-Ubaid, Saudi Arabia has another great leader in the making, and one who exemplifies the word “girlpower,” and the power of making a difference.

Originally published on AlArabiya

A Conversation With Effat University President Dr. Haifa Jamal Al-Lail

JEDDAH—While there are more opportunities for Saudi Arabian women to get university degrees than there used to be, women still face limitations, said Haifa Jamal Al-Lail, president of Effat University, a private institution for women.

Since 2008, Jamal Al-Lail has led Effat, the first university to offer engineering degrees to women in the oil-rich kingdom. She says Saudi women still don’t have access to a full range of disciplines.

But personally, Jamal Al-Lail has set an example for what can be achieved. She studied business administration at King Abdulaziz University, in Jeddah, before receiving her master’s degree and later, her Ph.D. in public policy at the University of Southern California.

“During my days there were limited fields for females and limited seats for studying abroad,” she said. “Legally and socially we couldn’t travel alone. To be enrolled in a scholarship program we were obliged to have a male guardian travel with us,” she said.

Al-Fanar Media sat down with Jamal Al-Lail in her office at Effat University.

What challenges do Saudi women face today in education?

Education fields have long been limited for Saudi women. It used to be harder in the old days when fields such as political science were not available for females. Now, it’s more open and there are more options but it is still not enough. The society still doesn’t accept a full opening of all fields to Saudi women.

The challenge of technology is also strong… Technological capabilities are becoming increasingly important to the education process and any deficit is a challenge. This deficit is generally one of our big challenges in Saudi, but more so to women because technology-related fields are limited for them and therefore [they have fewer] job opportunities. Women’s institutions face this problem because in many cases [they have] staff who don’t know how to operate and deal with high-tech devices and software.

Saudi universities are witnessing an increase in the number of Saudi instructors. What do you think about that?

In the private sector, the numbers are not increasing fast enough, unlike governmental universities where the growth is rapid. However, for us, in order to get into the global rankings we need to meet a quota for international students, international teachers and international programs. Universities need to internationalize to have diversity.

In Saudi Arabia, this is very hard to achieve as we face visa obstacles… We also face the challenge of “Saudization” as we are requested to hire more Saudis. We previously told the minster of labor and the minster of higher education that we need to change the “Saudization” quota from [where it stands at] 49 percent to a more reasonable quota… We can’t choose people only because they are Saudi. This created problems such as risking quality to achieve quantity, and accepting teachers who are only loosely linked to the required fields because we couldn’t find ones [to meet our] exact demand.

What task do you consider to be the most difficult? 

Recruitment of faculty. It is the biggest nightmare for private universities. Quality of education cannot be achieved through a copycat style. We need more diversity and creativity in higher education, so it’s not helpful when we are faced with rigid “Saudization” laws. Actually, right now, even govermental universities want to diversify their teaching staff in order to acquire international accreditation.

And despite this being our most difficult task, most of our time is spent on ensuring the quality of teaching. We put a lot of energy into ensuring good curriculums and we must always nag about this. Getting accredited is also one of our major tasks.

What is your take on the recent decision to merge the two education ministries—the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Education?

I believe that merging is good, but it needs a lot of work. We need to see a healthy ecosystem for education. It’s not helpful [for them] to work separately…

What do you think of the research environment in Saudi universities?

It’s picking up but no with clear direction yet other than [the goal of] getting international ranking. We still don’t have an environment conducive to research and plenty of conducted studies are not organic, not very relevant to our local needs. A good exception here is the new King Abdullah University of Science Technology.

What do you think of academic freedom on Saudi campuses?

Freedom of thought should be open to everyone but within a framework, a limit. Nowadays, freedom is available at the tips of your fingers. Everything is available to everyone. But freedom shouldn’t be equivalent to chaos. One can access all the information, so no. There is no limitation on freedom of thought, but the next step is how to express your new knowledge without violating the law, religion and the norms and customs of the society.

The student government and the Shura Council are both elected student bodies within our university. They were created to ensure that the voice of students is heard in decision-making. We need to not only hear their complaints but also their solutions. Student unions and courts may fit other cultures and countries, but here, this version fits us and our culture. To develop this we need to exchange experiences with other universities and it will be great if one day we get to see a Saudi national association for all student governments.

If you could change one thing in Saudi academic life what would it be?

The concept of student life… It should be a whole environment, a whole life, that develops the student’s personality, increases their volunteerism and contribution to society. Academic life is not only about classrooms, and a vibrant student life should be a huge part of the academic process.

What is your greatest ambition and greatest disappointment?

My greatest ambition is to serve the society and elevate our education until we reach the international level by truly adding value inside and outside. As for my disappointment, it’s that we can’t achieve our ambitions fast enough. They are reachable ambitions but the system and workflow, the processes and the bureaucracy are real obstacles. Even holding an event on your campus requires permission from the region’s governorate and an approval from the ministry. If you trust me in this position and gave me a license to operate, then let me work freely and I guarantee that there will be nothing against the system or the culture. There is a lack of flexibility and it is one of my greatest disappointments.

Originally Published on Al-Fanar Media 

Shahd Alshehail is Saudi Entrepreneur Who Spreads the Word and Gives Back

Entrepreneur, Shahd Al Shehail, a Saudi national who gave up her comfortable job in 2008 to pursue her own path, a social enterprise, Just. Using real time data to help brands and consumers connect with the who, where, and how clothes are made. Victor Besa for The Nationa

Entrepreneur, Shahd Al Shehail, a Saudi national who gave up her comfortable job in 2008 to pursue her own path, a social enterprise, Just. Using real time data to help brands and consumers connect with the who, where, and how clothes are made. Victor Besa for The Nationa

When most employees in the finance sector were desperately trying to hang on to their jobs in 2009, Shahd AlShehail handed in her notice.

She knew she didn’t want to work in the industry any more – but needed time to figure out her next career move.

Leaving a secure position in commercial finance with a large corporate in the United States, she returned to Saudi Arabia, where she is from, to consider her options.

“Growing up, I’d heard stories from my grandfather who was an entrepreneur and a self-made man, who has not only made a good business out of what he did but also was so connected to the community in so many different ways,” she says. “That was always at the back of my mind.”

Luckily, her family were supportive and she went on to help launch a fashion label in Saudi Arabia that employs and supports underprivileged women becoming, not for the last time, a social entrepreneur.

“I didn’t know what the term meant at the time. But for the first time I was able to combine my business skills with something I felt strongly about – community development and policy mediation and doing good for the world,” she says.

Ms AlShehail later returned to the US, where she had already completed an accounting degree, to do an MBA in entrepreneurship at Johns Hopkins, Maryland.

As part of her course she visited Rwanda, where she read a book called The Blue Sweater, a memoir written by Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder of Acumen, a non-profit organisation that raises funds to invest in ideas, companies and people who seek to end poverty.

“I got really excited about what she was doing. After graduation I joined Acumen. It’s an amazing experience but also very rigorous, very difficult to get into. They take 10 people annually from over 1,200,” she says. “I was the first female from the Arab world who made it.”

Ms AlShehail was sent to Bangalore, India, as part of her fellowship to work on one of the organisation’s projects, which provided affordable educational services to prepare children for further education or employment.

She made friends with another Acumen fellow, Natalie Grillon, who was based in northern Uganda working with a company helping cotton farmers rebuild their community and economy.

And it was when Ms AlShehail and Ms Grillon discussed their experiences that they developed the idea for Just, a social enterprise they set up together a little over a year ago.

“[Natalie] was talking to me about this beautiful story of impact that this company had made for these farmers. It is a story that gets lost in the supply chain. And I was sharing with her how I saw consumers getting really excited about knowing these stories and we were wondering why don’t we know these stories.”

Two months later there was an explosion at Rana Plaza, a clothes factory in Bangladesh which killed more than 1,100 people.

“These farmers’ beautiful cotton could have ended up in a place like Rana Plaza and we would have not known,” says Ms AlShehail. “So we set out on a path to go and research the industry and figure out what it is going to take for brands to use better suppliers, for suppliers to switch their practices or improve their practices and for consumers to demand more of this. And that’s how it came about.”

Just, as Ms AlShehail and Ms Grillon called their company, collects data to tell a brand what is happening in their supply chain – where materials come from and who makes them, for example – and the brand, can, in turn, share the information with its customers.

Suppliers upload information to an app and their employees fill out anonymous surveys reporting when they were paid, while community partners, either non-profits or workers’ unions, for example, provide on-the-ground reviews. Just then displays the data on a dashboard which lets brands track what is happening in their supply chains.

For now, the serial social entrepreneur is happy working on Just. But she has not ruled out returning to her roots mentoring upcoming entrepreneurs or possibly training young Saudi people.

“I really believe in the concept that real change happens in the accumulation of all the small choices we make every day and spreading that concept on through social enterprise,” says Ms AlShehail.

“So I will continue to be engaged in that.”

Originally published on The National 

Saudi healthcare Executive Goes Back to Her Roots

Ms. Summer Nasief is healthcare and life-sciences industry executive for IBM.

First working for IBM in 2001, she was performing in IBM America’s top 10 per cent two years ago when she surprised her colleagues by requesting a transfer to Saudi Arabia. After all, it’s not the country of choice for many businesswomen.

For Ms Nasief, working in Saudi meant a return to her roots; she’d grown up in Saudi Bedouin communities with her Saudi father, who built oil refineries, and her American mother. “All my education was in Arabic because my father insisted my upbringing be 100 per cent Saudi. So when at 15 my parents divorced and I moved to the US, I couldn’t read or write English.

“The healthcare industry that I now run for IBM is the biggest industry that money is being spent on today in Saudi Arabia, so IBM was taking a major risk by putting a female in. My selling point was ‘IBM believes in diversity, so why wouldn’t we send a woman to the most culturally complex place in the world?’”

IBM was ranked by the National Association for Female Executives in the US as one of the top 10 companies for females this year.

Ms Nasief persuaded the company she could create a Saudi healthcare industry for them, with an initial six-month budget and a headcount of three. She just had one prerequisite. As a single woman, Ms Nasief knew it would be difficult to live alone so she asked to have a base in Dubai, which she could return to at weekends.

“I cover the entire kingdom for IBM so during the week I’m constantly in and out of hotels,” she says “The swimming pools in the hotels are male-only. There are a small number of female gyms, but they’re very limited in terms of what they have. The advantage of Saudi hotels is it’s where people can sit and eat together, because that’s where most business people reside. So I stay at a hotel in Riyadh with massive grounds, and my friends come have dinner with me at the same hotel restaurant.”

A lack of mobility has hindered the progress of female businesswomen in Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from driving. It means Ms Nasief has to rely on drivers to get around.

But she is not the only Saudi female in the healthcare industry, as it’s a more culturally acceptable field for women to work in.

“When I first started going to meetings, I wore the abaya and the sheila to fit in. As I started feeling more comfortable, I would put my sheila around my shoulders. As I got to know my clients better, I learnt how to broker meetings between the ladies and the men. I bring my Saudi side to the meetings, and as a female I sit with the other females, but at the same time I also guide the males to do what I need them to do.

“I can’t have one-on-one meetings with male clients. So I bring a male colleague to the table with me, and use that male as almost like a puppet.”

Ms Nasief says there are limitations to her role. For a start, she says, she has to work harder than the men – a challenge she thrives on.

But she acknowledges that Saudi women deserve better opportunities in the workplace.

“The government is building women-only work hubs to give these women employment, and part of my job involves working with people who are building these industries for women. But they’re currently talking about creating entrepreneurship cells in two specific fields – cosmetology and fashion,” she explains.

Ms Nasief isn’t the only female striving to break down the employment divide; this year Somayya Jabarti was appointed as the first female editor of a Saudi newspaper. In 2013 Saudi registered its first female trainee lawyer, Arwa Al Hujaili, and its first female police officer, Ayat Bakhreeba. Such pioneers are inspiring the next generation of Saudi females.

“Girls here have told me I inspire them to follow,” adds Ms Nasief. “When I did my first speaking engagement, I realised how impactful what I was doing was. I got questions like ‘I want to do my master’s degree, but I don’t want to leave my family’. I told them family is important, but just because you’re getting an education, it doesn’t mean you’re leaving your family cell.

“I took my journey to Saudi Arabia to fulfil my needs and reconnect with my roots. But now I realise that it’s about more than just me.”

Published on The National by Jessica Hill

Making It Big With Razan Alazzouni

Razan Alazzouni has dressed Hollywood celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Emma Roberts, Ashley Tisdale, Giuliana Rancic, Anna Sophia Robb and Kelly Osbourne in treasures that are truly a depiction of her person. 

Yet, this Saudi designer is no simple homecoming celebrity. She plans to take Saudi Arabia’s plethora of style and sophistication to the international runway and beyond. 
However, this does not come easy. She continuously combats trying times of the emerging fashion industry in Saudi Arabia and says she will not succumb to strain but will follow her dreams. 
Alazzouni’s efforts to develop her talent took her a long way to execute her skills and live her passion. She learned sculpture, screen-printing and paper making and compiled it with her love for fashion during her college years at The School of Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. 

She derives most of her inspiration from women and natural poise. She uses the combination of chiffon and silk to lend the idea to feminism as being soft, ethereal beings to enhance their personalities. Her unique hand-beaded pieces reflect the meticulousness, layers and detail that go into creating each of Alazzouni’s signature flowers. The pieces maintain a sculptural and artistic integrity, giving her customers the edge over the others. Her contemporary designs are refined to be classically simple cut, glamorous and definitely sophisticated. 

Alazzouni told Arab News that her fashion concept was born in 2008 after she graduated from university. She says the purpose behind it is to create “a ready-to-wear fashion brand that is internationally acclaimed and based in Saudi Arabia.” 

Arab News spoke to the identity behind the prestigious brand and delved into the designer’s perspective.

Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Alazzouni studied at an all girls Arabic school called Dhahran Ahliyya in alkhobar. After graduating, she moved to Boston to attend art school, and four years later graduated from The School of The Museum of Fine Arts. “Here, I was able to experiment and learn different fields of art. Even though I concentrated on sculpture and paper making in university and ever since I was 11 years old, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I decided that that will be the field I will work in when I grow up.”

“My brand represents femininity, practicality and luxury. The women I see wearing Razan Alazzouni are fun, playful and unique.” She uses fabrics that are usually imported and hand beaded. Her fabrics’ main consistency reigns from pure silk fabrics with different textures such as chiffon, organza and satin. “My fashion house is in Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia where I have a team of sewers, beaders and embroiderers that work on turning my designs into reality.”
Alazzouni says she uses a variety of pieces in her collection. She designs, crafts and convenes pants and tops, jackets, skirts and evening gowns. You can find contemporary dressy pieces as well as more formal party wear. Her price range is kept between $300 and $2,600.

As a young Saudi fashion designer Alazzouni said she is well aware of the path she has chosen and talked about the hindrance in the pathway to sustain herself as a fashion designer. “I know where the path of my life is leading now although I like to think there will be many surprises ahead, and I am very excited to see what will come.”

She definitely thinks the career of a fashion designer in Saudi Arabia is relatively a new turf. “I am constantly facing obstacles that I need to overcome, as well as learn more about the community and work environment in Saudi Arabia.” 

She advises aspiring fashion artists to pursue their dreams. “Never doubt yourself and follow your dreams. You have one life to live, so live your own.” Alazzouni believes every instance is a learning opportunity. “Learn from everyone and everything around you. You will eventually find out how the things you learn will make you a better designer and person.” 

She feels the local market is always evolving; “Women in our region have their minds set on creating their own trends and making a place for them in the fashion scene. I admire their uniqueness.”

Alazzouni said she feels her greatest accomplishment as a designer in gaining international recognition. “I have dressed celebrities in Hollywood and photos of my work have been widely spread in magazines and on websites.”

“Everything around inspires me as well as the many art history books I read. I try my best to follow the art scene both nationally and internationally. I love to take inspiration from nature as well. Light and water are elements that constantly inspire my work.” 

Her clothing line owns the unique selling preposition of being manufactured in Saudi Arabia. “My designs are unique and my embroidery and beading is all done in-house based on patterns I have designed.” With a whimsical quality she adds eminence, glamour and a class of her own to every piece that is truly Razan Alazzouni.

Published on Arab News by Mariam Nihal

Saudi Women Professionals Act as Role Models for Future Generations

According to the latest report by UNESCO, the percentage of women graduating from university in Saudi Arabia is higher than in countries in the West.

 In the field of science, 40 percent of Saudi doctors are women and there is an increasing number of successful women who have acquired global recognition as scientists and researchers and have inspired many Saudi women at home. 

Dr. Khawla Al-Kurai

Consultant and principle clinical scientist and cancer researcher at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center (KFSHRC), is a distinguished doctor who has made contributions in the field of medical research. She is on the board of editors of BMC Genomic, a well-known journal in genetics. Dr. Al-Kurai is in charge of a project attempting to

Dr. Al-Kurai Receiving the King Abdulaziz Award of Excellence identify the genomic drivers in thyroid cancer, which will improve the clinical management of the disease. The international cancer genome consortium ICGC has announced that the new project is ahead of schedule in generating genomic data on more than 25,000 tumors for up to 50 types of cancer that are of clinical and societal importance across the globe. Dr. Al-Kurai has participated in many national and international conferences and has been instrumental in highlighting the new image of Saudi women doctors and scientists in her country and abroad. She has also received a national award from King Abdullah, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, for her academic achievements and scientific contributions. 

Professor Samira Islam

The head of the Drug Monitoring Unit at King Fahd Research Center has made significant contributions in drug safety by defining the Saudi profile for drug metabolism. She has held several academic leadership posts in Saudi Arabia as well as international diplomatic posts in the World Health Organization. She has also made significant contributions to the education of women in the Kingdom. UNESCO named Dr. Islam the most distinguished Arab Muslim scientist of the world in the year 2000. She has held academic leadership positions in Saudi Arabia and abroad. Dr. Islam has worked hard to develop the academic infrastructure to support women studying science in the Kingdom’s higher educational system.

Dr. Samia Al-Amoudi

Dr. Samia Al-Amoudi is an obstetrician, gynecologist assistant professor at King AbdulAziz University, and a breast cancer advocate as well as a breast cancer survivor. She has received several awards for her courage

and hard work for the betterment of society. The Arabian Business Magazine placed her among the top 100 people who had a significant impact on their societies and she was also listed as one of the most important Arab scientists. Dr. Al-Amoudi is well-known for her brave campaign to raise awareness about the prevalence of breast cancer in Saudi Arabia and for her bold initiative to speak about her own experience as a breast cancer survivor in order show support for other women who suffer in silence. Dr. Al-Amoudi recently established the Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Al-Amoudi Scientific Chair for Women’s Health Empowerment at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah to empower women and raise awareness about health rights and health issues in general. 

Dr. Maha Al-Muneef

Executive Director of the National Family Safety Program and councilor of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, is a child protectionist and child rights advocate. She is also a consultant on pediatric infectious diseases and has been involved in the national implementation of child protection services.

She is chairwoman of the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect Center at King Abdul Aziz Medical City, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and president-elect of the Arab Professional Network for the Prevention of Violence Against Children. She is also a consultant in the Shoura Council.

Dr. Al-Muneef has dedicated her career to the prevention of child abuse and to raising public awareness about the need to address this social problem and to train doctors to recognize the victims of abuse. She has also called for legal action against child molesters.

Dr. Al-Muneef started the national safety program in 1999 with her colleagues to address the abuse of women and children by husbands and fathers and was supported by the patronage of Princess Adila the daughter of King Abdullah. Dr. Al-Muneef has worked hard to educate women about their legal rights and she has offered legal and social assistance to victims unable to escape from abusive homes. She has also been instrumental in establishing centers to protect victims of abuse. She has campaigned in many parts of the Kingdom to raise awareness and has succeeded in organizing three significant symposiums in Jeddah, Madinah and Abha that were instrumental in enacting the country’s first laws criminalizing violence against women and children.

In order to address the biased attitude which is sometimes found within the judiciary, Dr. Al-Muneef has engaged judges, lawyers, police officers and activists to protect the rights of women and children and expose the unjust and un-Islamic criminal acts of abusive husbands and fathers. 

These Saudi women who have reached leadership positions and many others are role models for future generations. The success of these distinguished women has undoubtedly boosted the morale of those members of society who were once abused and marginalized. Women doctors, scientists and researchers are expected to contribute toward a socially, politically and economically progressive Saudi Arabia. 

Originally published on Saudi Gazette by Samar Fatany.

Saudi Arabia’s First Female Pilot Soars High

In November 2004, Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal made history by hired the first-ever woman pilot in the history of Saudi Arabia.

Captain Hanadi Zakariya Al-Hindi flies the private fleet of the billionaire investor. Hanadi Zakaria al-Hindi is the first Saudi woman to become a commercial airline pilot. She was born in Mecca in September 1978.

Commenting on the recruitment of Hindi as a pilot by his company, Prince Alwaleed said: “I see the hiring of this female pilot to work on Kingdom Holding’s fleet of private jets as a historic move for Saudi ladies. The move transcends the traditional role of Saudi women previously confined to working in the health, education and philanthropic sectors. I am in full support of Saudi ladies working in all fields.”

Alwaleed added: “The hiring of a female Saudi pilot is the first of its kind.”

In a 2004 telephone interview from Makkah after the formal announcement of Prince Alwaleed to hire her, Capt. Hanadi told Arab News: “Women are very capable of taking on any job previously monopolised by men.”

Her statement is substantiated by the fact that she went on to take a Commercial Pilot’s License and an Instrument Rating (CPL and IR) from the same school — the Mideast Aviation Academy in Jordan. She said: “I will receive the commercial license within a few months from now.”

She passed her final exams at the Middle East Academy for Commercial Aviation in Amman, Jordan on June 15, 2005.

She has a ten-year contract with Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding Company as a private pilot of his private jet, the Kingdom.

Originally published on Emirates 247

Saudi Woman Makes History by Reaching Everest Summit

  Source: Arabs on Top of the World

  Source: Arabs on Top of the World

Raha Moharrak, 25, not only became the first Saudi woman to attempt the climb but also the youngest Arab to make it to the top of Everest.

She is part of a four-person expedition that also includes the first Qatari man and the first Palestinian man attempting to reach the summit.

They are trying to raise $1m (£660,000) for education projects in Nepal.

Originally from Jeddah, Ms Moharrak is a university graduate currently based in Dubai.

I really don’t care about being the first,” she is quoted as saying. “So long as it inspires someone else to be second.

Coming from Saudi Arabia - a conservative Muslim country where women's rights are very restricted - she had to break a lot of barriers to achieve her goal, her climb team said.

A biography on the expedition website said convincing Ms Moharrak's family to agree to her climb "was as great a challenge as the mountain itself", though they fully support her now.

For more info on Raha's climb check out Arabs on Top of the World.

Originally published on BCC

How HRH Princess Banderi Pushed for Anti-Domestic Violence Advertisement

When Ogilvy approached the King Khalid Foundation, a charity that focuses on issues of advocacy and developing the country's non-profit sector, they weren't sure what type of reaction to expect.

"I think that there was always a real concern that, given the subject matter, it would never get through," says Abbott.

A major push came from Saudi princess HRH Banderi A.R. Al Faisal, the foundation's director.

Though the campaign has captured the public's attention,both within Saudi and abroad, where an English version has made the rounds online, Al Faisal says she doesn't see the ad as shocking.

"My media and PR team were a bit nervous going into this, saying, 'Are you sure you want to do this?'" she admits. "I didn't understand why. I don't understand what is so controversial. Who will say, 'Yes, it's ok for women to be beaten up'?"

Saudi women are legally reliant on the permission of their male guardians to travel freely, driving is still a socially contentious issue and there are no laws that protect victims of domestic abuse. According to Al Faisal, however, change is in the air.

"For several years, domestic abuse was sort of the elephant in the room. There was nowhere for a woman to go if she was abused because a system wasn't set up to handle that," she admits. Though the issue is still not completely out in the open, she notes the last few years has seen a rise in shelters that cater to female victims of violence.

Published on by Daisy Carrington.