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Famous Saudi Women: 12 Powerful Role Models Who Inspire Women Everywhere

Beyond the boardroom, a host of powerful icons from Saudi Arabia are redefining what it means to be a woman. There are few better ways to understand Saudi women’s contributions to the Kingdom than through the lens of the top female entrepreneurs and inspirational Saudi women everyone is looking up to around the globe. Consider this your reminder to reach for the stars—literally.

Famous Saudi women

Photo: Lesha Lich; Axiom Space; Instagram.com

Saudi women in business who will inspire you to shatter the glass ceiling at work
Aseel Al Hamad

 

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The year is June 2018, and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are about to witness a historical change. The first headline streams in, “Saudi Arabia driving ban on women to be lifted.” At that moment, Aseel Al Hamad knew exactly what she had to do. Despite holding a degree in interior design engineering from Prince Sultan University, she always found herself fascinated by the world of cars. The love soon blossomed into motorsports and she became a familiar face at racing events. Today, she holds the honor of being the first female board member of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation.

What we can learn from her: Work hard, dream big

Despite the roadblocks in her way—pun unintended—Al Hamad’s story is a reminder that dreams do come true. I have many ideas that I would love to convert into reality for the love of my country and the sake of the new, young generation who deserve to dream big and achieve their goals. The new generation deserves to dream and continue to develop their achievements,” she shares

Noha Al Yousef

 

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On an impressive mahogany office table, there are several equestrian motifs laid out that might catch the eye of a passer-by. But the first thing you’ll see is a shiny ten-inch plaque that reads: Noha Al Yousef, CEO of Ithraa Group. Within the space of these inches lies the depth of her accomplishment: becoming the youngest Saudi CEO of a group of companies in the Kingdom.

What we can learn from her: Glass ceilings are meant to be broken

To help more women follow her path in business, Al Yousef has played an active decision-making role at the Ministry of Labor. Her mission is simple: open the world’s eyes to the role that women can play as essential human capital in the Kingdom. “Make your dreams come true, and initiate to provide the best, whatever the circumstances are. Work hard to make your achievements,” she says

Emon Shakoor

Venture capitalist Emon Shakoor is stumped. Everyday, she sees thousands of start-ups being launched by driven, motivated Saudi women. So where is the female-focused accelerator to help them grow? The quest for answers would lead her to start Blossom, an accelerator to fast-track start-ups by Saudi female entrepreneurs. 

What we can learn from her: Never stop learning

Being counted among the most successful female entrepreneurs in the Kingdom is just the day job. In her downtime, Shakoor likes to dabble in leisurely arts, like neuroscience research. Her best advice to anybody looking to be counted among the most famous Saudi women? “Invest in your mind because no one can take that away from you,” she shares with a smile. 

Women leaders in Saudi Arabia who are reshaping the future

HRH Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud

 

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Ask anybody to list the most famous Saudi women and HRH Princess Reema will be the first name you’ll hear. Her life story is a checklist of every possible first for powerful Saudi women. Saudi Arabia’s first female ambassador to the US? First Saudi female member of the International Olympic Committee? First woman to lead a multi-sports federation in the Kingdom? HRH Princess Reema has done it all, and more.

What we can learn from her: Progress is not a straight line

Today, she is counted among the women that inspire us to reimagine what female leadership should look like. As one of the most famous Saudi Arabian women, she has played an integral role in hiring more women and offering childcare services for young mothers at Harvey Nichols in Riyadh. While progress cannot happen overnight, she is proud to be taking steps in the right direction. “Women have equal pay, which is not a true statement in many places in the rest of the world. For us, we have equal pay today,” she declares

HRH Princess Lamia Bint Majid Al Saud 

 

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Not all superheros wear capes. Some wear headscarves and an implacable smile as they work on breaking down gender barriers. Today, the title of Secretary General of AlWaleed Philanthropies is not just another designation on HRH Princess Lamia‘s impressive portfolio. In her role, she has encouraged the training of women ride-share drivers and furthering employment opportunities for female law graduates. 

What we can learn from her: Use your position to empower others

Needless to say, HRH Princess Lamia is a royal unlike any others. In 2010, she published a novel, Children and Blood, that took an unflinching look at honor killings. Fast-forward to a decade later, and she could be found inaugurating the Islamic art department at the Louvre to encourage more positive representations of Islam in media. “I’m not the typical HRH. This title was my grandfather’s [King Saud bin Abdulaziz AlSaud] and we inherited it. But I want to do something for myself. What impact can I make in this world?” she muses

HRH Noura bint Faisal Al Saud

HRH Noura bint Faisal Al Saud famous Saudi women

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There is no denying the impact that Saudi Arabia’s first Fashion Week had on the kingdom’s cultural landscape. And the credit rests on the shoulders of HRH Noura bint Faisal Al Saud. Her role as a pioneer in the fashion industry dates back to her time in the Ministry of Culture where she focused on nurturing local fashion talent in Saudi Arabia.

What we can learn from her: Success is measured by the impact you can create

Having grown up surrounded by female role models in the Saudi royal family, HRH Princess Noura is unsurprisingly on her way to becoming a modern-day icon. “Success is measured by how you sustain it, grow it and how to communicate the story, sharing the objectives and goals,” she believes

HRH Princess Nourah Al Faisal 

HRH Princess Nourah Al Faisal Famous Saudi women

HRH Princess Nourah Al Faisal

Any discussion on famous Saudi women can never conclude with the name HRH Princess Nourah Al Faisal. Having grown up in Riyadh, London and Paris, fashion has had an indelible impact on her life. When she founded Nuun Jewels, she knew that she wanted you to share this legacy with timeless creations fit for royals—pardon the pun. Today, her creations are inspired by the centuries-old tales of Saudi Arabia’s culture and heritage that she grew up with, like the ‘Doroob’ jewelry line that will instantly whisk you away to the geographical terrain just outside Riyadh.

What we can learn from her: Be authentic, be yourself

Fashion is not frivolous for HRH Princess Noura whose own satorial sense extends beyond just donning trendy styles. “In my experience, Arab women have always had a strong sense of self identity, and they have many ways in which they express that. Like all women, fashion is one of the many tools they use to do so,” she affirms.

Famous Saudi female athletes and role models who will inspire you to break the boundaries

Raha Moharrak

 

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As a child, everybody told Raha Moharrak that she couldn’t achieve her dreams of scaling the mountains of the world. Which, of course, meant that she made up her mind to do exactly that. The Saudi mountaineer now counts herself as the first—“and hopefully not the last!”—woman to scale Mount Everest and the seven summits. 

What we can learn from her: Don’t let stereotypes limit you

The honor of being among the top female Saudi mountaineers is nice. But for Moharrak, they are just that—the icing on the cake. “All the recognition, all the accolades, are a nice bonus, but all I really wanted was to keep that promise I made to the little girl that I once was,” she says. 

Mishaal Ashemimry

 

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As a six-year-old Mishaal Ashemimry gazed up at the night sky in the Unayzah Desert, she knew what she had found her calling in life. The great cosmos beckoned her and she was only too happy to answer its call as the first female aerospace engineer in the GCC. Today, she also holds the distinction of being the first Saudi woman to work with NASA. 

What we can learn from her: If you are lucky enough to have a dream, don’t stop there

Making it in the male-dominated space sector is not a task for everybody. But then again, Ashemimry is not just anybody. To become one of the most famous Saudi women, she had to work thrice as hard to get recognized. But she welcomes the challenge. “Eventually when women  dominate most fields, we can make the men work four times as hard,” she quips.

Rayyanah Barnawi

Millions visit Masjid Al Haram each year, but astronaut Rayannah Barnawi has a view unlike any other: observing the Grand Mosque of Makkah from space. As part of the Axiom 2 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), she made history as the first Saudi woman to go into space. 

What we can learn from her: The sky is not the limit, it is just the beginning

The responsibility doesn’t rest on her shoulders lightly. As she sets foot in the International Space Station, Barnawi realises that her journey represents the ambitions of the Arab world. “To the people around the world: The future is very bright. And I’d like you to dream big, believe in yourself, and believe in the future of humanity,” she shared

Saudi Arabia’s feminist artists you’ll want to know more about

Lulwah Al Homoud

 

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You could be browsing through artworks at Sotheby’s auction house or you could be walking through the concrete hallways of Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art in South Korea. But it is unlikely you’d leave without hearing the name Lulwah Al Homoud. What makes her among the most famous Saudi women? As the first female Saudi student to get her master’s degree from Central Saint Martins University of Arts, she has been putting it to good use with patronage from around the globe. Unsurprisingly, her highly coveted works have also found an audience in the office of HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

What we can learn from her: Be the change you wish to see in the world

Over the course of her career in the world of art, Al Homoud is no stranger to the inaccurate portrayal of women in Western media. Her definition of strength, unsurprisingly, looks a little different. “My message to women is that strength isn’t equivalent to sacrificing our femininity and beauty as Arab ladies. Female artists are their nations’ fortunes, so invest in yourselves,” she advises

Manal Al Dowayan

“What jobs suit my nature as a woman?” This question played over and over in the mind of contemporary artist Manal Al Dowayan on a loop. The answer would come one day when she stumbled upon a photography studio in her office building. From there, she would go on to develop her much-lauded black-and-white portrait series, ‘I Am…’ Each portrait represents a Saudi Arabian woman who is contributing to society with her career. 

What we can learn from her: Use your gifts to bring the community together 

In the two decades of her career, Al Dowayan has been focused on ensuring that she always the community in whichever art piece she is working on. “Creating art is as much of a solo experience as it is one that brings people together,” she observes

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