Lubna Olayan, CEO, Olayan Financing\n\nAs the CEO of the Riyadh-based Olayan Financing Company, Lubna Olayan is one of Saudi Arabia’s most prolific businesswomen.\nThe group, which was founded by her father in 1947, is one of the kingdom’s most successful conglomerates with operations spanning distribution, manufacturing, services and investments, across the Middle East. The firm is also one of the largest investors in the Saudi and regional stock markets.\nOne of Olayan’s most defining moments was speaking at the Jeddah Economic Forum in 2004 and becoming the first woman to speak at a mixed conference in Saudi Arabia. During her speech Olayan called for a country in which “any Saudi citizen, irrespective of gender who is serious about finding employment, can find a job in the field for which he or she is best qualified, leading to a thriving middle class and in which all Saudi citizens, residents or visitors to the country feel safe and can live in an atmosphere where mutual respect and tolerance exist among all, regardless of their social class, religion or gender.”\nOlayan sits on the board of trustees of the Arab Thought Foundation - a Beirut-based think tank focusing on issues facing the Arab world - and is a member of the board of Al Fanar, which supports grassroots organisations in the Arab world. Last year, she picked up an honorary law degree from Trinity College, Dublin, the citation for which described her as “a role model for women in the Middle East”.
Princess Ameerah Al Taweel, Vice Chair, Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation\n\nThe wife of HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, Princess Ameerah is now one of the world’s most recognised philanthropists through her work at her husband’s foundation. She supports a wide range of humanitarian interests both in Saudi Arabia and across the world.\nPrincess Ameerah has opened an orphanage in Burkina Faso, and spearheaded humanitarian trips to Pakistan and Somalia. In a speech to the Clinton Global Initiative last year, Princess Ameerah said: “People take their voices to the streets when they are not heard by their governments. If we want stability in the region, we must build institutions of civil society so people can channel their demands through these institutions. If we want prosperity in the region we must invest in young people through encouraging enterprise.” She is a member of the board of trustees at the Doha-based Silatech organisation, and formally opened the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for Islamic Studies at Cambridge University in the UK, alongside Prince Philip. Princess Ameerah received the Humantarian Award on behalf of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation at the Arabian Business Achievement Awards in 2010.
Hayat Sindi, Medical Researcher\n\nHayat Sindi’s astonishing medical career started with a lie; worried that her family would not let her study abroad, she told her father that she had already been accepted into a prestigious university in the UK.\nWhen she landed in London as a teenager in 1991, she had no university place, no money, and didn’t speak English. Hard work and determination got her a place at King’s College, Cambridge. In 2001, she won a PhD in biotechnology from the top university and has been credited with the invention of MARS (Magnetic Acoustic Resonance Sensor), which combines the effects of light and sound for use in biotechnology. After a stint as a visiting scholar at Harvard, she co-founded Diagnostics for All, an organisation developing a disease-diagnosing paper that changes colours when dabbed with the bodily fluids of someone who is ill. Sindi is also a fellow at PopTech, a US-based non-profit organisation that offers fellowships to scientists promoting innovation. Last year, she launched the Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity, a Middle East focused foundation that will help scientists create business plans and find investors for their ideas.
Lama Al Sulaiman, Deputy Chairwoman, Jeddah Chamber for Commerce & Industry\n\nLama Sulaiman was elected deputy chairwoman of the Jeddah Chamber for Commerce & Industry in December 2009, becoming the first female to hold such a post in Saudi history.\nHer appointment was even more remarkable given that just a week before standing for election, the businesswoman was told she had beaten breast cancer. The mother of four is well aware of the delicacies of being a Saudi woman in her position, telling Bloomberg: “You have to proceed carefully. You have to respect others,” adding that few clerics object to her working with men due to her husband’s authorisation. That said, she is a keen supporter of more women holding prominent positions in the kingdom. “With King Abdullah, we are changing so that women can have far more opportunities,” she told the newswire. Al Sulaiman studied biochemistry at King Abdulaziz University before embarking on her doctorate in nutrition from King’s College London. She is also a board member of the Jeddah-based Rolaco Trading & Contracting and a member of the Young Arab Leaders.
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Former Executive Director, UN Population Fund\n\nThoraya Ahmed Obaid became the first Saudi national to head a UN agency when she took over as executive director of the UN Population Fund and under-secretary of the United Nations in 2000. Obaid also served as chair of the committee on Management of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination. In March 2011, she announced her plans to publish three books; one in defence of Muslims, with the other two focusing on women’s issues.
Nahed Taher, CEO, Gulf Investment Bank\n\nSaudi-born Dr Nahed Taher is the only woman in the Gulf to head up a bank. Gulf One Investment bank, which she co-founded in 2005 with US$1.4m in capital, has financed the construction of several key projects in the region including the airport terminals that serve pilgrims visiting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Taher has broken the glass ceiling on more than one occasion. She turned down a high powered job with the International Monetary Fund to return home, eager “to do something for my own country” before being hired as the first woman by the National Commercial Bank.\nTaher is also a strong advocate for a greater role for women in the kingdom, although she has also criticised some members of her gender for not working hard enough.\n“Women should work harder to make their economy better, especially now when you have high unemployment and high poverty in such a rich country,” Taher told Bloomberg in 2011.\n“They should be part of the solution. If you ask some women if they want to work, you’d be surprised. They don’t want to. Men need to open doors, but things have to start from the woman herself.”
Muna AbuSulayman, Secretary General, Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation\n\nNot only is Muna AbuSulayman at the helm of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, but she is also one of HRH Prince Alwaleed’s most trusted advisors, and the co-host of one of MBC TV’s most popular social programmes. Charged with spending up to $100m a year on good causes, she has also spoken and written about issues related to society, such as women rights and community development. In 2004, she was named a Young Leader by the World Economic Forum.
Hiba Jamal, TV Presenter, MBC \n\nOne of the highlights of Hiba Jamal’s career so far is likely to be her interview with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January last year. Jamal, along with her co-presenters, recorded a special episode of the Arabic ladies talk show Kalam Nawaem, which is broadcast on the MBC-1 satellite channel. The special edition of the show focused on women in politics, the world before and after 9/11, the Middle East peace process and cross-cultural dialogue. Jamal holds a BA in English literature from King Abdulaziz University.