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Saudi woman uses ‘girl power’ to fight poverty 


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Nicolla Hewitt, Saudi Gazette Saturday, 13 February 2016


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.

This article was first published by the Saudi Gazette on February 13, 2016.
 


Nicolla Hewitt, 29/02/2016

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