The WILL Summit will return this year in a new digital format, with the ever-present goal of channeling the voices of female changemakers and celebrating the achievements of Arab women. The WILL Initiative was launched in 2019 and established by our publisher Nervora with the support of UN Women and the General Women’s Union to shine a light on women’s achievements in a bid to motivate many more changemakers. The event brings together established women, from entrepreneurs, athletes, artists, educators, to politicians in support of female-based social action.
The first WILL summit was held in November 2019 in Abu Dhabi, and the second edition of the empowering event will take place on May 19 at 2pm GST, in collaboration with Mastercard. How can you be part of it? By tuning in via Zoom, Facebook, and Twitter. The event will give space to some of the most inspiring Arab women that have pushed for a more female-inclusive world. Below, we highlight 10 such women worth following ahead of the WILL Summit 2022.
Yusra Mardini is a Syrian refugee and Olympic swimmer who, quite literally, swam for her life. As the civil war in Syria intensified, her survival became dependent on her ability to swim when she was forced to flee the country with her sister. Journeying across seas as a 17-year-old from Damascus to Berlin in 2015, Mardini and her sister Sarah almost drowned in the process. After making their way to Lebanon and then Turkey, they were arranged to be smuggled into Greece in an overcrowded dinghy that suffered an engine failure amidst the Aegean Sea. The sisters swam for three and a half hours to stop the boat from capsizing, ensuring the safety of everyone else on the dinghy, and managed to reach the German capital in September 2015. Since then, Mardini has become a member of the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team, which competed under the Olympic flag at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and in April 2017, Mardini was appointed a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, becoming the youngest ever to hold the position.
Her Excellency Hend Al Otaiba
Her Excellency Hend Al Otaiba is the UAE’s first female ambassador to France since her appointment in July 2021. Having obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in marketing, management, and communications, and another master’s degree in security studies from the UAE National Defense College, the Emirati ambassador to France adds to the ever-growing inclusivity of women in politics in the UAE.
Nisreen Shocair is the CEO Middle East of Yoox Net-a-Porter Group. She is also the President of Virgin Megastore MENA and a TV personality. For her accomplishments, Shocair has been listed as Arabian’s Business’ 100 most powerful Arab women as well as Forbes’ 100 most powerful Arab women. Arabian Business also listed her as the Female CEO of the year in 2011. Shocair is leading the regional arm of an online luxury fashion retailer launched in 2000 as the CEO of Yoox Net-a-Porter Group in the Middle East.
Susanne Mikhail Eldhagen
Susanne Mikhail Eldhagen is the regional director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) for the Arab States. In this capacity, the Egyptian Swedish regional director leads UN Women’s normative, program and coordination work in the Middle East and North Africa. She brings with her over 20 years of experience in development and humanitarian work in the region, including serving as the Head of Humanitarian Aid at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), covering over 25 countries, including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen.
Sarah Beydoun is a Lebanese designer, and the founder of Sarah’s Bag. For more than 20 years, Beydoun has been working with women in Lebanon’s villages to create her handbags. Beydoun designs the bags before the inmates and women who have completed serving their sentences create them by employing artisan-trained techniques. Since the August 4 Beirut port explosion, Beydoun’s store, which is set in a 1930s townhouse in Beirut’s Tabaris district, has also opened its online shop.
Her Excellency Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi
Her Excellency Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi is an Emirati politician and businesswoman holding the position of the Minister of Culture and Youth for the UAE since October 2017. In her current role, she is responsible for promoting the local culture at international levels and supporting emerging creative communities through national initiatives and policies. In addition to this, Al Kaabi’s list of titles stretches far and wide, yet all are rooted in her passionate commitment to the UAE’s growth whether it be in the arts, media, or sports.
Founder of the first all-women law firm in Saudi Arabia, Sofana Dahlan is an accomplished lawyer specializing in the commercial, cultural, and creative sectors, and a legal consultant in protecting human rights and dispute settlements. When she graduated in 2000, women were not allowed to practice law, and her certificate was not equated. Instead, she went on to get a degree in Islamic Studies for her certificate to be equated. She then obtained an MBA degree in business administration and an executive diploma in Global Leadership and Public Policy. Thirteen years after her graduation, she was finally authorized to practice law. She led flourishing initiatives, like Tashkeil, which aims at sponsoring, motivating, and supporting creative entrepreneurs; Kayan Spaces, a creative coworking space; and The Saudi National Creative Initiative (SNCI), which transfers knowledge from global creatives to local ones.
HRH Princess Basma bint Majid bin Abdul-Aziz AlSaud
President of the Riyadh-based Art of Heritage, HRH Princess Basma bint Majid bin Abdul-Aziz AlSaud has worked with the organization since her presidency in 2009. One of the key projects undertaken with her leadership is the retelling of the story of Saudi traditional dress, while empowering female artisans. The organization also manages Yadawy and employs around 20 women with special needs to produce a line of pottery. A date to remember is the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, as Art of Heritage was honored to dress the female members of the Saudi delegation who marched into the stadium in traditional thobes.
Cairo-based Tunisian actor Hend Sabri has long stressed on the importance of empowering Arab women and their rights with her work and activism. Sabri made her acting debut at the age of 14 in the critically acclaimed Tunisian production The Silences of the Palace (Samt al Qosoor) by director Moufida Tlatli in 1994, which was screened as part of that year’s Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight. It has also subsequently been listed as one of the Dubai international film festival’s 100 most important Arab films. Following this, she starred in several Tunisian productions until she drew the attention of director Inas El- Degheidy, who introduced her to Egyptian cinema with A Teenager’s Diary (Muzakirat Murahiqua) in 2002. In a short time, she became one of the most prominent Tunisian actors in Egypt and the Arab world. She was listed as Arabian Business’ 100 most powerful Arab women in 2013.
Céline Semaan, Lebanese-Canadian designer, writer, and activist founded her label The Slow Factory back in 2012, with the goal of using fashion design to increase awareness of global human rights issues – most notably, the refugee crisis. This is something she has a strong personal connection with since she and her family fled to Canada from Lebanon as refugees in the 1980s.