The humanitarian trailblazer: Jumana Abu-Hannoud, SOS Children's Villages

Lessons from Leaders: Jumana Abu-Hannoud is the regional managing director of SOS Children's Villages, a global federation working to protect and care for children without a strong family support system. With a career reflecting a lifelong commitment to humanitarian initiatives, she serves a programme that has helped more than 13 million children around the world
The humanitarian trailblazer: Jumana Abu-Hannoud, SOS Children's Villages
Abu-Hannoud has committed decades working in executive management, entrepreneurship, sustainability and charity
By Jola Chudy
Wed 07 Aug 2019 03:55 PM

“You shouldn’t claim fame from high-profile work, because if you do things simply to promote yourself or be liked then that becomes your purpose. And what I want to do is to change the lives of people.”

Despite the many accolades awarded to her, Jumana Abu-Hannoud exudes an empathetic, humble demeanour. Softly spoken, approachable and hugely empathetic, she is the embodiment of a leader who lifts up those she comes into contact with. Passionate about the causes she has dedicated her life to, she sparks with determination when she speaks about helping vulnerable children around the world.

“In the UAE, SOS Children’s Villages works alongside governmental and non-governmental organisations through training and capacity building. We are the largest organisation that provides alternative care for children and family-based care and we share their expertise with organisations here. We provide education and employment opportunities and upholding the rights of children first and foremost, so they can grow up with trust, care and support to be productive members of society. It’s a sustainable approach to making sure that children and future generations realise their potential. We follow them throughout their life– that is sustainable impact,” she explains.

SOS Children’s Villages recently celebrated 55 years in the Middle East; Abu-Hannoud has been with the organisation since 2017. With a career that spans decades at the highest levels of management, corporate affairs, government and private sector companies, it is Abu-Hannoud’s ceaseless commitment to helping others that elevates her achievements to the extraordinary.

“My career has been a journey that has seen transformative years, where I learned from experiences as well as mistakes. It has included changing trajectories and redefining myself,” she notes. “My experiences, such as working with inspirational humanitarians and international NGOs, have shaped my approach to issues. When it comes to sustainable giving and purpose, it is always about putting the cause and people first. My DNA has always been about non-profit work and positive social impact. Even when I worked in the corporate arena, I was always working on sustainable projects, health, education, social justice, empowerment. So I never really focussed on just a single bottom line, the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit together has always been the guiding principle for me, even since my volunteer days.”

Her first job, as a young student, was with an NGO and her communications background saw her gravitate towards accounts that focussed on health, children, education and sustainable models long before sustainability was the global buzzword it has become today.

Having worked for the UNHCR and International Humanitarian City, previous roles also included head of corporate affairs and sustainability, chief of staff, board member and founder or partner for several start-ups. In 2013, along with four others and a partner, she co-founded Reach, the first non-profit organisation to be established in DIFC. Reach helps professional women unlock their true potential through structured mentoring. She contributes her time to this alongside her role as managing director for the Gulf area office of SOS Children’s Villages International. To over-stretched business leaders who may balk at taking on additional charitable work, she is an example of how much can be achieved when passion and conviction are your driving forces.

Abu-Hannoud says: “There is a saying by our founder Hermann Gmeiner, who started the first SOS Children’s Village in Tyrol in 1949, that should be a mantra for anyone. He said: ‘Good things happen when people do more than they have to’.”

Gmeiner’s own experiences as a child whose mother died while he was still a young boy shaped his life’s work. Having witnessed the suffering of war orphans and homeless children, his unswerving conviction that children need a stable, secure home in which to grow became the foundation for SOS Children’s Villages. He established the organisation with just 40 dollars and remained an integral force within the organisation until his death in 1986, when 233 outposts of SOS Children’s Villages had been established in countries around the world.

“My own grandfather lost his mother in childbirth and was raised by a non-biological relative. He grew up to be an outstanding individual because he was cared for in childhood,” she adds. “SOS helps children in this way and during our history we have helped around 4 million children to have different futures and impacted 13 million people in 135 countries worldwide.”

It is estimated that 220 million of the world’s children grow up without adequate parental care; but if the cycle of vulnerability is targeted during formative years, the outcomes for these children are measurably better. Strong parental care creates a lasting generational effect, breaking the cycle of separation and abandonment.

“It’s such rewarding work; we provide a foundation for life, which is a family. You provide education. You break that vicious cycle,” says Abu-Hannoud, who credits leaders and mentors who have helped to shape her vision throughout her career. “You learn from the way other leaders give, and the best way is to give so people can live with dignity.

It’s important to be strategic in everything you do because that is truly sustainable thinking. Sustainable giving is empowering through education, through keeping children safe, through breaking the cycle of abandonment by empowering women, not only economically. Financial independence is very important as is having the confidence to make decisions, develop and achieve goals.

Whoever is considering giving needs to consider the bottom line is about people, the planet and then profit. The three together work very well and cannot work on their own. Breaking the cycles of poverty is not about creating reliance. It’s about creating self-reliance. And when you do that by giving for the sake of helping individuals in communities, and that create strength.”

True to Herman Gmeiner’s vision that all the children of the world are our children, Abu-Hannoud encourages leaders in the region to reach out to SOS Children’s Villages if they are looking to implement a long-term and sustainable CSR element in their business.

“The problems of the world are too big to solve alone. At SOS Children’s Villages, we build communities and partner with other companies to support our mission. In this way we are able to make long-lasting, sustainable changes that transform the lives of children and the society in which they grow up. I invite people to become part of that process.”

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