#RaiseYourHand: Khalaf Ben Abdallah from Al Montada

#RaiseYourHand: Khalaf Ben Abdallah from Al Montada

The Soukie Speaks’ #RaiseYourHand series celebrates young people in the MENA region who are actively and passionately promoting social, economic and cultural inclusion in their communities. This week, Khalaf Ben Abdallah from Tunisia, tells me how his organization, Al Montada, is helping re-shape higher education in Tunisia.

1) Tell me a little about yourself, your family, your educational background and professional experience.

I am a 20 year-old medical student and I have over four years of experience in Tunisian and international civil society. I am very passionate about education, youth inclusion and social entrepreneurship and I have successfully co-founded various social startup projects in Tunis, and its internal khalaf-ben-abdallah-head-shotregions, which have allowed more than 200 high school students to acquire critical thinking and entrepreneurial skills. Not only did these project focus on empowering students by helping them acquire important life skills, they also focused on social problems, such as nepotism and elitism and ways to overcome them.

In addition to my work with Al Montada, which I will talk about later, I have also succeeded in reserving a spot in the Tunisian parliament as a civil society representative in the Committee of Youth, Culture, Education and Scientific Research to lobby for new policies in the new reform project and I am currently working on establishing a Policy Incubation Lab in Tunisian universities to make policy making more inclusive, visionary and data-driven. I was also recently selected among the top 20 Ashoka Changemakers in the MENA, Europe and Turkey and had the great pleasure to be a part of the Tunisian Delegation that met with Helen Clark, the UNDP Administrator, to discuss how to promote socio-economic inclusion and the implementation of SDGs in Tunisia.

2) When did you become socially active and what is the name of your organization?

At the age of 15, I was one of the many young Tunisians who took to the streets of El Kasbah asking for a new constitution. During the unrest of the Arab Spring, I would lay in my bed and think about other ways that I could change my country. Despite the the threats of indiscriminate tear gas, police repression and violence, I sat in solidarity with many others under a breezy tent in February 2011 to defend Tunisians’ rights to justice, inclusion and a better future.  

The Tunisian civil rights movement was one my biggest moments of growth, because it made me realize the power of unity to overcome corruption and injustice. It also taught me the steep price of exclusion and disconnection. From that experience, I realized that we, as a country, needed to invest more in youth and follow an inclusive strategy to achieve prosperity. This decision led me to join forces with other passionate Tunisians in the Al Montada organization, which aims to empower a generation of youth by rethinking higher education in Tunisia.


Currently, I am a Project Manager and Partnerships Coordinator at Al Montada, which means forum in Arabic. I lead the Forum Project, which aims to increase students’ inclusion in the reform process by bringing together different stakeholders in our society, including students, professors, deputies from the parliament, university presidents, employers and civil society representatives, so we can achieve the objective of quality education together. Moreover, through Al Montada, I also contribute to driving research about the Tunisian higher education system with a special focus on the topics of academic curriculum, governance and administrative management.

3) What is unique about your organization?

Our organization is working on rethinking higher education in Tunisia by fostering, structuring and developing the discussion about reforms and we are using entrepreneurial thinking to make our organization as effective and agile as possible. The Al Montada approach is a three pronged approach based on:

  1. Research: to promote empathy and make informed and comprehensive contributions to the field of higher education.
  2. Discussion: to bring together different stakeholders and make the reform process more inclusive and data driven.
  3. Advocacy: to train advocates to lobby for education reforms, tangible projects and policies.

4) What are your organization’s short-term/long-term goals?

Not only do we aim to be an active communication platform for youth and passionate education advocates in Tunisia, we also aim to be an “engine” that powers the critical  discussions needed to realize the visionary concept of Tunisian higher education that our youth hope to see in the future.


5) What has your organization achieved so far?

So far, we have followed the lean startup method of “build, test and learn” and we’re working at a very fast pace. In less than one year we have

  • Directly impacted 1125 youth throughout Tunisia.
  • Conducted a national survey on the youth’s vision of education in Tunisia
  • Launched tone forum bringing together different stakeholders to discuss education reform.
  • Organized Cafe Talks bringing youth from different backgrounds together to discuss problems and brainstorm solutions.

Now, we’re developing a policy incubation program for youth with policy ideas. This program aims to stop the stagnation of this movement and to make legislation in higher education more visionary and data-driven. Ultimately, we believe that people who trust themselves and share their ideas become better citizens and more active partners in social development.al-montada-logo

6) How can people learn more about your activities? 

We invite everyone to visit our website and follow our Facebook page to keep up with our
latest updates!

Like what you see? Join the Soukie Speaks email list and follow my TwitterInstagram, Facebook accounts, so we can enlighten, support and empower the Arab leaders and entrepreneurs of the future together. 


Dubai’s Lean In Circle Helps Women Speak Up and Stand Out

Dubai’s Lean In Circle Helps Women Speak Up and Stand Out

Meet Hanane Benkhallouk and Amel Murphy. They are the co-founders of a pioneering female consultancy firm called Sustain Leadership, which is dedicated to helping private and public sector organizations improve their work culture and create more advancement opportunities for female employees in the UAE.

However, that’s not the only way that Murphy and Benkhallouk support the growth of women in the UAE. They are also passionate about helping women grow on a personal level, which is why they founded the first Lean In circle in the GCC. But before exploring what this movement is all about, let’s learn a little more about the Dubai circle’s co-founders.

Two journeys that begin in Africa

Hanane Benkhallouk was born and raised in Morocco and was greatly influenced by her entrepreneurial father, who always tried to play an active role in empowering community members from his village. After completing a bachelor’s degree from L’Institut Superieur image1de Commerce et Administration des Entreprises, a prestigious business school in Morocco, Benkhallouk moved to New York city to pursue an MBA in Finance and Marketing at the New York Institute of Technology. During her time in New York, she became very active in the field of human capital and entrepreneurship development and eventually moved to the UAE, where she worked for different organizations in marketing and brand development. Combining her passion and education, Benkhallouk started working at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation in 2008, where she was in charge of innovation and entrepreneurship programs across the Arab world. A life experience that made entrepreneurship the next logical step in her personal and professional growth.

On the other hand, Amel Murphy, who is of Algerian descent, took a different path to social entrepreneurship. Growing up in different parts of Africa, Murphy was exposed to the ideas of community living and value creation with limited resources from an early age. So, throughout her life, she alwaysfullsizerender understood that collective wisdom was the “currency” that created change. After more than a decade working in various leadership roles in male-dominated workplaces, mainly in the energy sector, Murphy decided it was time for a change. With a bachelor’s degree in psychology from IE Business School in Spain and a master’s in Organizational Capability and Development from the University College of London, Murphy decided that she wanted to start using her knowledge to help empower individuals in organizations and organizations through individuals.

Eventually, Benkhallouk and Murphy’s paths crossed in Dubai, where they co-founded Sustain Leadership in 2013 and have worked passionately together ever since to empower global communities using their unique life experiences. In this interview, Benkhallouk shares the purpose of the Lean In movement, how it is unique and how women in Dubai can benefit from joining the GCC’s first Lean In circle.

1) What is the “Lean In” concept and why did you feel the need to create a chapter in Dubai?

The Lean In movement, inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book by the same name, is a not-for-profit organization and community platform that focuses on encouraging women to pursue their ambitions and achieve their dreams by changing the conversation from what they can’t do to what they can do. The Lean In movement supports women in 3 main ways.

Firstly, it provides members with an active and supportive community of women that share inspirational stories and profound teachable moments.

Secondly, it offers members an ever-growing library of free online lectures on topics including leadership and communication, which is produced in partnership with the Clayman Institute for Gender Studies at Stanford University and other well-known experts.

Thirdly, it encourages women to meet on a monthly basis in small groups, also known as circles, “to encourage and support each other in an atmosphere of confidentiality and trust.”

The Lean In Arabia chapter with its main circle, Lean In Without Falling Over, is the first Lean In circle in the GCC. Amel and I started the circle in October 2014 with six ladies, and now we have over 300 members, who are all eager to be active members in the community.

2) What makes the “Lean In” circle different from other female empowerment networks in Dubai?

For Amel and I, engaging community is what we do best and we have been involved in so many international community building exercises that we both felt the need to bring a different culture of empowerment to Dubai. We know that there are a lot of networking events here in the UAE. However, the prime focus of our Lean In circle isn’t networking.

For us, it’s all about creating a space for open and honest conversation that addresses the issues that women face on a daily basis. In the process of fulfilling personal and professional expectations, we have found that many women feel that they have only partially developed their personal abilities. Despite their significant external achievements.

“We wanted it to be a space of ‘being’ rather than doing”

When we first created this space, we weren’t sure how it would be perceived. However, what we did know was that we wanted a space where women could get together to explore, reflect and support one another. We wanted a space where women felt comfortable enough to explore their “professional and personal blind spots” so they could grow. Far away from any pressure or fear of competition.

How the Circle works

Lean In circles are run as a dialogue, where storytelling is at the heart of the exchange and the learning experience. We don’t run workshops or educational sessions as such, because we prefer to learn through conversation and exchange. Ultimately, the Lean In circle is all about listening. It’s about listening to what women are actually saying and hearing what women need when they speak.

4)How many members does the Dubai “Lean In” circle have and what does the profile look like? 

We currently have 333 members, and our membership is growing on a daily basis. Our participants come from all walks of life and backgrounds. They are board members, senior executives, entrepreneurs, fresh graduates and much, much more! We are grateful for this diversity, because it creates a rich dialogue and sparks conversations that are enriched by our participants’ different perspectives.

5)What can women who attend a “Lean In” session look forward to gaining?

The Dubai Lean In circle meets every third Tuesday of every month and our gatherings are usually based on a specific theme. Our conversations topics, which are suggested by our members, typically relate to common challenges that our female members face and want to learn about.

After meetings, the outcomes of the discussions are usually summarized and circulated by the moderators of the circle, so the attendees can continue to benefit from the knowledge and perspectives gained during our different sessions.

In past sessions, we have explored questions, such as can women have it all? What is success? And many other topics. By being in our circle, our members learn how to take the time to pause, reflect and listen to their own voice and needs.

Amel and I are proud to say that many of our circle members have told us that they feel more confident, because they feel that they can share their fears with other women in the Lean In circle. Over the past year, we have had the great privilege to witness the growth of this tight community and we hope that these women can always support each other.

6) Can you share a transformation story that occurred in one of the Lean In sessions that stands out in your mind?

On October 29th of this year, the TEDxDeiraWomen event held in Dubai was spearheaded by Image result for TEDx DEiraone of our members, who felt the need to “lean in” and challenge herself to put together an inspiring event. Not only did the Lean In circle help her increase her own level of self-
confidence, it also inspired her to create an event that would inspire others to grow and improve themselves.

I am very proud to say that our fearless TEDxDeiraWomen event organizer also motivated other members of the Dubai Lean In circle to join her cause. Thus, promoting a beautiful and self-perpetuating culture of empowerment that I hope she will continue to channel in her personal and professional life.

7) How can women join the Dubai “Lean In” circle and how can they help you support the growth of this network?

You can join the Lean In Without Falling Over circle at any time by visiting the Lean In website and requesting to join the circle.

8)How can readers learn more about your Lean In circle and what you do?

You can learn more about our Lean In circle by visiting this website and joining our group. sl-logoIf you are interested in learning more about the work that Amel and I do, you can visit our Sustain Leadertship website and check out our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. We look forward to sharing all the work that we do with organizations and individuals, as well as our community engagement and public events!

Like what you see? Join the Soukie Speaks email list and follow my TwitterInstagram, Facebook accounts, so we can enlighten, support and empower the Arab leaders and entrepreneurs of the future together. 

#RaiseYourHand: Reem Hantoush from Masaari

#RaiseYourHand: Reem Hantoush from Masaari

The Soukie Speaks’ #RaiseYourHand series celebrates young people in the MENA region who are actively and passionately promoting social, economic and cultural inclusion in their communities. This week, Reem Hantoush, from the UAE, shares how she, and her co-founders, are promoting educational-job market alignment in the UAE with the Masaari initiative.

Full disclosure: Reem and I are both members of a wonderful community initiative called E7 -Daughters of the UAE, which aims to inspire, train and connect young women in the UAE to create initiatives that benefit their communities. You can read more about the program and my experience as a member of the pilot class here!

1) What is the Masaari initiative and who is your target audience?

The Masaari initiative offers job shadowing opportunities for high school students in the UAE, where they can rotate in different companies and workplaces. So, they can discover what their passions and interests are at an early age and, eventually, what they want to major in at university.

2) Why did you choose the name Masaari?

In Arabic, Masaari means my path and the reason we chose this name is because we wanted to encourage students to choose their own path, instead of having somebody else choose it for them. We considered other names like Discover or Your Passion, but we felt that Masaari was more appropriate, because it really emphasized the message that this is your life, you need to choose what you need to be and you shouldn’t let anyone do it for you.

3) How many team members do you have and what are your educational backgrounds?

There are three of us in the Masaari team and we come from diverse educational backgrounds, but we are all passionate about education! Here’s a little more about us:



Reem Hantoush

As you already know, my name is Reem and I am an architect and urban designer by
profession and I currently work in the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council. I am passionate about education and I want to transform the local educational system by promoting creative and independent thinking, instead of rote learning.



Gahwar Ghazanfar

Gawhar is a third-year student at the University of Paris Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi and she is studying Economics and Management. Gawhar loves to learn and she is a determined to use her passion for learning to advocate for the right of education for all.




Mariam Bader

Mariam is an educator and therapist, who recently graduated from the Higher Colleges of Technology and is currently working at the New England Center for Children in Abu Dhabi. As a young and dynamic teacher, Mariam is looking forward to using her passion to develop and transform the educational system in the UAE.

4) How does the Masaari initiative work?

The whole aim of the Masaari initiative is to give young students the opportunity to job shadow. However, the whole program can be divided into 5 different stages.

Stage 1: The Career Exploration Workshop

The aim of this workshop is to help students better understand themselves and their interests. We recently conducted our first Career Exploration Workshop in November, where we invited high school students from Sharjah to come to the Sheraa Entrepreneurship Center to work with a career coach. We also hosted a panel discussion with different industry experts, where they talked about their career choices and how they ended up where they are today. It was really exciting for us to have the students listen to the different speakers, because it allowed them to hear about professional success from different perspectives.However, the ultimate objective of the panel was to tell students that it’s okay to not know which professional path they want to pursue, but to at least go out there and explore, which is what the Masaari initiative is giving them the opportunity to do.


Stage 2: Orientation Session

This will take place 1 week before the students start their job shadowing program. The aim of this session is to prepare students for the workplace and connect them with their mentors. During the session, we will distribute a job shadow handbook, which will be compiled by the Masaari team, for both mentors and students. The handbook will highlight various things including the difference between job shadowing and an internship, what mentors and students can expect from our program and some guidelines and tips to help students get the most out of their job shadowing experience. We will also give our mentors the opportunity to speak, so they can connect with their mentees before the program starts.

Stage 3: Job Shadow

Students who are selected for the Masaari initiative will be given the opportunity to job shadow in to 2-3 different companies for the duration of Masaari program.

Stage 4: Debriefing Session

Only students are invited to this session and it will be an informal meeting to hear how the students felt during the Masaari program and what they learned from their experience. The students will also do a short presentation on their experience, so the Masaari team can have documentation of their participation and the students can reflect and learn from their experience.

Stage 5: Graduation!

At the end of our pilot program in February 2017, we are going to host a Masaari Forum, or graduation ceremony, where we will be inviting the Ministry of Education, KHDA, teachers, mentors, parents and students who want to come. During this ceremony, we will give students and mentors an appreciation certificate and we will give students the chance to share their experiences with the audience and show their journey and how impactful it was. Then we will announce the opening of registration for the 2017 cycle of the Masaari program.

5) How many students will be participating in the Masaari pilot program?

Due to the small size of our team, and the fact that Mariam and I work full-time and Gawhar is a full-time student, we are starting with a small group of 7 students- both male and female- for our pilot year to see how everything goes. By next year, we aim to expand the team, so we can accept about 20 students to our program-insh’Allah.

6) When will the job shadowing for your pilot program begin and will you follow the same timeline for the 2017 cycle?

This year we are launching our program in the winter break from December 18-29. After the orientation session, each student will have two companies to rotate in, but next year it will be three companies. In 2017, we will launch the second edition of the Masaari program in the summer and we aim to have a larger group of students job shadowing for a longer period of time.

7) What was the biggest challenge that you faced as a team while you were developing the Masaari initiative?

When we started implementing our program, we realized that we had to change our strategy, which was a difficult decision to make. Initially, we planned to head to the Ministry of Education (MoE) to get their support and approval to go into the schools and share the Masaari mission. While the MoE was very happy with our initiative and efforts, we spent about 3 months trying to communicate with them to get the required approval. Since we were eager to start implementing our pilot program as soon as possible, we decided to change our strategy by inviting students from different schools to register for our program online. That was our biggest challenge and from it we learned that we have to be very flexible about our plans and timelines. We learned that when you set a plan you have to have plan A, Plan B and Plan C just in case, because you never know what will happen, especially when you are collaborating with big institutions in the public and private sector.

8) Do you have any advice for other young Emiratis and  residents in the UAE for how they can contribute to the growth and the well-being of the UAE community?

I think the most important thing is that you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and get active, because comfort is your worst enemy. You have to be ready to be pro-active and explore, so you can contribute to your community and yourself as an individual.

9) How can members of the wider UAE community support the Masaari initiative?


At the moment, we are looking for companies who are willing to host Masaari job shadowers. We are trying to find contacts within different organizations, so we can meet with them and get them excited about our initiative!

a) How can companies support the Masaari initiative?

If you are a company who is interested in working with the Masaari initiative, please send the follow information to info@masaari.ae:

  • Email Subject : Interested in Joining Masaari Job Shadow Database- [Company Name]
  • Contact details for point of contact
  • Company’s industry

b) How can students join the next Masaari cycle?

Students of all nationalities can apply to the 2017 cycle by sending the following information to info@masaari.ae

  • Email Subject : Interested in Joining Masaari Student Database
  • First name and last name
  • Contact number
  • Field of interest
  • Suggest companies that they would like to work in [optional]

 10) Is the Masaari project only based in Dubai?

While the students in our pilot are from both Sharjah and Dubai, in terms of work placement, they can work in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, if they provide their own transportation and accommodation. For example, we have some students who are going to be job shadowing in TwoFour54, because they have relatives in Abu Dhabi. So, they will be staying with their family for a week and providing their own transportation while they are job shadowing in Abu Dhabi.

11) How can readers learn more about you and your future activities?masaari-logo-design_4-02

We invite anybody who would like to keep up with our updates to visit our website and
follow our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts!

Like what you see? Join the Soukie Speaks email list and follow my TwitterInstagram, Facebook accounts, so we can enlighten, support and empower the Arab leaders and entrepreneurs of the future together. 


She’s Merecedes Inaugural Event in Abu Dhabi

She’s Merecedes Inaugural Event in Abu Dhabi

She’s Mercedes is a platform that honors the story of Bertha Benz, who was the “driving” force behind the Mercedes brand. Not only was she Karl Benz’s wife and the mother of his children, she was also his first investor. In addition to being the first person to validate his car concept, by undertaking the first long distance car ride. It was Bertha’s “drive” and courage that paved the way for her husband and the Mercedes-Benz success story and today she continues to inspire people through the She’s Mercedes movement.


It was an honor to be among one of the 30 women invited to the FIRST ever She’s Mercedes networking event in the region hosted on November 7th at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr Hotel in Abu Dhabi by Mercedes Benz and Emirates Motor Company. The aim of this exclusive networking event was to build an Inspirational Circle; a place where women could connect with one another other, share their business stories and inspire each other on their respective journeys to self-fulfillment.

The She’s Mercedes event was MCed by public speaker and digital influencer, Shereen Mitwalli, who guided us through the inspirational stories of Sara Al Madani, Sarah Abudawood and Mariam Yehia. Through the evening, these three UAE-based fashion designers shared with the female audience their failures, successes, stories, and most importantly, their hard-earned lessons on how to build a brand, finance a business and stand out in a saturated fashion ecosystem.

After sharing their stories and designs, each guest speaker sat in one of the three “Inspirational Circles” in the room and rotated, so they could continue sharing their professional and personal wisdom with all the guests in attendance. These mini-networking sessions were truly special to me, because they allowed all the women in the room, who were from all walks of life, to connect and learn from each other in a safe space.

Mariam Yehia speaking to our Inspiration Circle

Thank you Mercedes Benz and Emirates Motor Company for creating this platform to celebrate Bertha Benz’s tenacity and entrepreneurial vision and empower a new generation of women in the MENA region, like me, to be the “drivers” of success in the future. I look forward to attending many more events soon! Now, it’s time that you learned more about the She’s Mercedes guest speakers:

 Sara Al Madani ~ Founder of Rouge Couture

Emirati fashion designer Sara Al Madani is the definition of hardworking. Not only does she run her own innovative abaya fashion empire, Rouge Couture, she is also the youngestsara-al-madani
member of Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a partner in a restaurant, a brand ambassador for Beiersdorf and Natura Blisse and a mom! This American University of Sharjah graduate in Film Directing and Mass Communication is a dynamic woman and social influencer who is not afraid to speak her mind and is always willing to share her knowledge with her peers. Especially her fellow countrymen and women.

My favorite quote from the Abayanista herself:

If you have a “car accident” you don’t stop driving, so why should it be any different for a business?

The Abayista’s three pieces of advice for the audience

  1. Be kind to each other
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail
  3. Don’t look for empowerment look for inspiration. [Al Madani believes that women are already powerful, she just feels they need to work together and be inspired by each other’s successes]

Sara Abu Dawood~ Founder of Yataghan Jewellery  

Saudi designer Sara Abu Dawood is an inspiration for anyone who wants to fight to pursue their dreams. In fact, she called her jewellery brand Yataghan, which sara-abu-dawoodmeans sword in Turkish, because she feels it denotes fighting for what you believe in. As a GCC woman, she often feels that women from the region are marginalized and pressured to conform to a certain stereotype. But this is not true for this woman! Not only does Abu Dawood have a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Arizona State University, she also has a master’s degree in Business Administration and International Marketing from the American University of London and she is an internationally certified gemologist!

My favorite quote from the Sultana of Jewellery herself:

My biggest secret for success is that I never take being a part of people’s special moments [through my jewellery] for granted.

The Sultana of Jewellery’s three pieces of advice for the audience

  • Find inspiration that truly inspires you.
  • Find something that makes you want to get up in the morning and work passionately every day.
  • Know who you are and what your product will be.

Mariam Yehia ~ Founder of Mrs. Keepa

mariam-yehiaEgyptian-French fashion designer Mariam Yehia is a true global citizen. Raised in Egypt, she was educated in a French school and received a bachelor’s degree in Advertising, Marketing and PR from the American University of Cairo. She eventually moved to Dubai to work in digital marketing and brand development, where she headed prestigious projects, such as the Emaar Malls Group Project for several years. In 2015, Yehia decided to leave the corporate world and start her own fashion brand called Mrs Keepa, a nickname given to her by her husband’s friends, who referred to him as Keepa. Since he played the position of goal keeper in his football team.

My favorite quote from Mrs Keepa herself:

Don’t do something to make people happy, do something that you believe and don’t wait for an applause.

Mrs Keepa’s three pieces of advice for the audience

  • Be kind.
  • Don’t focus on your competition, because it will consume you.
  • Believe in yourself.

Like what you see? Join the Soukie Speaks email list and follow my TwitterInstagram, Facebook accounts, so we can enlighten, support and empower the Arab leaders and entrepreneurs of the future together. 

Book Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Book Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit, written by Charles Duhigg, is a fascinating book that discusses the various biological, psychological and social factors that influence the way that human beings form habits. In fact, the author even shows us how animals, specifically monkeys, The Power of Habit Book Cover.jpgform habits to give us a deeper understanding of how our own “auto-pilot” systems work.

Throughout the book, Duhigg clearly outlines how the “cue-routine-reward” process can be used to change individuals, teams, organizations and communities by harnessing the power of re-designing our “habit loops.”

With each chapter you read, you will begin to understand why you “do what you do” and why it’s hard for you to stop. A crucial step, if you are looking to change yourself for the better.

However, as I mentioned before, this book doesn’t only focus on individual habits, it also focuses on the role that each one of us plays in building habits on a societal level. Another important process we need to understand, if we want to encourage global populations to adopt more accepting, inclusive and eco-friendly ways of living.

The thing that I enjoyed the most about this book was the skillful use of illustrative stories. Where many self-help books might use “mystical” stories or larger-than-life examples to support their arguments, I felt that Duhigg did an excellent job of using popular and unknown people and incidents to highlight the central role that habits play in shaping our daily experience.

One thing’s for sure, this book will make you sit down and think about what “makes you tick” and how choices you are unconsciously making might be dictating the way you eat, the way you sleep, the way move, the way you talk, the way you relate to others etc. If you are looking for a book that will help you get your life or your organization back on track, then you should read The Power of Habit as soon as possible.

About the AuthorCharles Duhigg.png

Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer-winning reporter for The New York Times and the author of The Power of Habit and Smarter, Faster, Better. Originally from New Mexico, Duhigg received a B.A. in history from Yale and went on to get an MBA from Harvard Business School. Duhigg has appeared on various media programs including This American Life, N.P.R., The Newshour with Jim Lehrer and Frontline.

Most Memorable Quote

“… you can never truly extinguish bad habits. Rather to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.”

Like what you see? Join the Soukie Speaks email list and follow my TwitterInstagramFacebook accounts, so we can enlighten, support and empower the Arab leaders and entrepreneurs of the future together. 


How to Establish a Global Culture of Community Building

How to Establish a Global Culture of Community Building

Two weeks ago, I launched the #InMyBurkini Photo Series initiative, where I shared pictures of myself doing funny and mundane things in my Burkini for 5 days to promote inter-cultural dialogue and understanding.

[Pssst: did you miss the photo series? No worries! You can check out all the pictures right here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5]

When I announced the initiative, I didn’t really know what to expect, which is why I have been so overwhelmed by the response that I have received. Not only was I lucky enough to have friends in my personal and entrepreneurial circles sharing the #InMyBurkini message, I even had the honor of having a surprise feature in Emirates Woman by Emma 14963414_10154503383861839_1848392047_oHall. It was truly an exhilarating experience, especially since when I introduced my #InMyBurkini intiative I said:

“ I don’t know if this photo series will change anybody’s opinion of Muslims or Muslim women, or any minority for that matter. However I am determined to step out of the stereotype that is attached to my identity and be exactly who I am for myself, and others….”

After completing my initiative, I received a message from a dear university friend from the U.S.A, which only confirmed how important it is to be positive, vocal and open to dialogue with others, because it really can have a lasting effect on the people around you. The message read…

Lovely Lady,

I just saw someone spewing garbage and painting Muslims into the same category as extremists. And while it made me angry and upset I realized that for every comment like that I see, you probably see 5 more.

So, I wanted to give you a ray of sunshine and risk redundancy by telling you things you already know. I wanted to let you know how wonderful and special you are, how wise and reasonable every post is that I see from you. That you made a lasting impression on me the very first time we met 7 (!!!) years ago and have continued to do so ever since. Keep the faith in humanity that you seem to always be able to carry, even on the worst days. The world needs more people like you.

Your sister in Abraham ,

When I read this message from Kayla, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for being surrounded by people like her, who value me for who I am and strive to promote tolerant attitudes to make feel included wherever I am. But this is not the first time that Kayla has extended her hand to me and made me feel accepted. On September 11th 2011, the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, our university, the University of Delaware, hosted a candlelight vigil that I was hesitant to attend as a visibly American Muslim. Despite my hesitation, I went and Kayla, a speaker at the memorial, asked me to light a candle for the victims. A small action that turned my fear of exclusion into a powerful “moment of inclusion” that still resonates with me today.

[You can read my full account of the event here]

These moments, and many others, give me the courage and the drive to continue creating “moments of inclusion,” because I know from personal experience how powerful it can be for someone to create a safe space for you to be who you are. I know that there are many people out there who live in communities where xenophobia is on the rise, which is pushing them to isolate themselves. But we can’t allow “cultures of isolation” to become a part of the fabric of our societies, because we are stronger together then we are apart. So, the questions remains, how can each one of us proactively create “moments of inclusion,” like Kayla, to promote community building in our respective communities?

1) Host an Event or Activity

Whether you choose to host a public campaign like my #InMyBurkini Photo Series or you choose to host a culture night in the privacy of your home, make sure you try to regularly create “safe spaces” for different people to learn about and understand each other. Not only do “moments of inclusion” promote positive dialogue and co-existance, they also promote a sense of global citizenry, which will make community building a vital building block of our increasingly globalized world.

2) Participate in Inter-cultural Activities

If you are not hosting “moments of inclusion,” make sure you attend events or activities where you can experience a “cultural aha” moment. If you find an event to go to, make sure to take a friend or a colleague that you think would be interested in sharing your “cultural aha” moment, so you can help others experience the powerful impact that a “moment of inclusion” can have on an individual or a community. If you can’t attend an event or activity yourself, make sure to “share the love” by sharing it with your network via social media or email.

3) Share your “Moments of Inclusion”

Unfortunately, nowadays, it seems like any video or photo that portrays social injustice goes viral instantly. While it is important to be aware of these injustices, so we can change them, it is also equally as important to share acts of empowering solidarity. So, next time you experience a “moment of inclusion” share it with your community, if only to remind yourself, and others, that being stereotyped doesn’t justify stereotyping. We all play a role in perpetuating stereotypes and we can all play a role in dismantling them too.

I would like to take this opportunity again to thank all the people who supported the #InMyBurkini Photo Series and continue to help me create and participate in “moments of inclusion.” I look forward to hearing how you will promote cultures of community building in your communities.

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Book Review: Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East by Isobel Coleman

Book Review: Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East by Isobel Coleman

Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East, written by Isobel Coleman, is a riveting book that discusses how Muslim women across the world are using the increasingly popular notion of “Islamic Feminism” to empower their respective communities. Not only does Coleman explore the current situation of Muslim women in places like Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudia Arabia etc, she also goes back in time to explain the history of each country to help readers understand why the “social agency” of women has fluctuated over the past couple of decades in the developing world. As a reader who identifies with many of the strong women in this book, even I was paradise-beneath-her-feetunaware of some of the historical events and “social stereotypes” that exist in each country that Coleman discusses. I was also very humbled to learn about the multitude of courageous women out there, who are promoting female empowerment by reclaiming their Islamic narrative, while also trying to eradicate the influence of hundreds of years of un-Islamic cultural practices.

If you want to read a book that will challenge every stereotype you have about women in the MENA region and South Asia, then you should definitely get your hands on Paradise Beneath Her Feet. This book masterfully weaves multiple stories from different countries into a cohesive narrative that shares the trials that women, and their male supporters, face and how they are triumphing despite the odds. It shares the amazing stories of many Muslim “s-heroes” who are rarely given the spotlight, because they don’t fit into the narrative that people have created for the Muslim world. That being so, not every story that Coleman tells has a happy ending. There are several that end tragically, but they need to be told because these women’s efforts to fight for gender equality through an Islamic framework set a precedent. Their courage reminds us that actions can only “be in vain” if they aren’t shared and used to inspire others.

About the Author

Isobel Coleman is currently the U.S. Representative to the United Nations for UN Management and Reform. Prior to that, Coleman worked as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations for 14 years and was a management consultant with McKinsey & isobelcolemanCompany during the nineties. Her areas of expertise include the political economy of the Middle East, democratization, civil society, economic development, educational reform and gender issues and she has also authored and coauthored various other books, including Pathways to Freedom: Political and Economic Lessons from Democratic Transitions (Council on Foreign Relations, 2013), The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Security (Routledge Press, 2012), Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President (Brookings Institution Press, 2008), and Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security (Hoover Institution Press, 2006). Coleman holds a BA in public policy and East Asian studies from Princeton University and has a master degree and a PhD in international relations from Oxford University.

Most Memorable Quote

“Frequently I am asked by interested and concerned people around the world, “What can we do to help?” My first response is that help begins with understanding. Too often, I hear people despair about that the unequal treatment of women across the broader Middle East will never change because “that’s their culture.” But sweeping statements like this fail to appreciate that culture is not inmutable.”

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