Muna Abusulayman

Muna Abusulayman

Saudi Arabia has had a negative image for a long time especially because of how it treats women. Because of this, many women leaders in business, media and in other social contexts have emerged as they try to present a better image of the kingdom to the western world. Many people outside the region are misinformed regarding the culture and lifestyle of the people. They often rely on the media to get the information they need. The media is usually biased on some of the issues since they only give one side of the issue. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and feeling sorry about the situation in their country, some women have taken the initiative to make their nation better. Muna Abusulayman is one of the women who intend on making a difference in the world, especially in her kingdom. At a young age she has accomplished so much and she is not about to stop.

Muna Abusulayman has been the presenter of a popular talk show on MBC for five years. This is a big accomplishment, especially since it is in a country where media freedom is limited, and women do not have a wide variety of career choices. The show dealt with many issues such as gender, economic, culture, education and social issues in the Islamic world. Through this, she was able to portray Saudi Arabia for what it really is, and for where it is going, and she removed the distorted and biased view about the kingdom. She advocated and continues to advocate for women’s rights and freedom. She was the executive manager of strategic studies and research initiatives at Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding Company before becoming the executive director of the HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Kingdom foundation. As a manager of strategic studies, she coordinated with institutions such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, C-100 in Sharm El Sheikh, American-Arab Discrimination Committee, United Nations and several academic institutions. Muna helped in developing the company’s mission and vision and set the operations for the philanthropic activities it would undertake. The foundation deals wit humanitarian issues such as global disaster relief and poverty alleviation. It is also concerned with women empowerment programs and it aims to bridge the gap between Islamic and western relations. She is also a lecturer at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia where she teaches American literature, a position she has held since 1997.

It is not surprising that she has taken on so many roles. Muna believes that there is nothing impossible and she encourages young girls not to give up hope noting that, “There is almost no limitation to where you can go… look at your life and learn from your own mistakes because nobody will tell you what they are” (The Saudi Gazette, 2011). She has lived with this principle and it is reflected in both her personal and professional life. Muna participates in many debates forums and she is invited to speak in many countries concerning diverse number of issues. These range from philanthropic issues to controversial issues on religion and the role of women. Muna has worked in various projects, which has made the society a better place. She has worked to alleviate poverty especially through the kingdom foundation. She has also worked in educational development and she is especially concerned with the quality of higher education in the Muslim world. Muna is a founding member of the new Middle East Gender Parity Group at the World Economic Forum. She is also a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council and a founding fellow of the Future Shapers Collaborative. She has served as a volunteer director for the Friends of Saudi Arabia Association and she is a member of the Saudi Media Association (SUSRIS 2008)

Muna has overcome many challenges to be where she is today. She is a divorced woman and single professional mother of two children and juggling between family and career has not been an easy thing to do. She has faced bias from the society because of her marital situation. Saudi Arabia is yet to fully liberate women although there have been great strides over the years. Women are not accorded the same status as men and this can sometimes limit what they can do. Sometimes, conservative women pose the greatest challenge to the women who are advocating for change. This is a big hindrance for those who are seeking and fighting for justice. When she was appointed as the executive director of the Alwaleed bin Talal foundation, she did not have any experience in business and she had to learn so that she could be able to carry out her work effectively. Muna knows the importance of education and learning and she decided to take courses that would help her in business. This was a hard thing to do because she had so many responsibilities and obligations.

Another challenge that Muna has had to face is maintaining her culture and religion in a diverse society. She lived in a region where there were multiple faiths and different cultures as a young girl but she still managed to hold on to the principles of Islamic teachings. It was important to her to maintain her religion and culture because it partly defined who she was as a woman. Her work at the foundation presents many challenges. Many places need help and deciding on whom to give grants and aids to is a challenge. The foundation does not deal with charities in Saudi Arabia only but in many regions around the world. There is a general misunderstanding in non-Muslim nations and most people are strict with people coming from Islamic nations. This is because of the terrorist activities that have been reported in several regions around the world. As one of the representatives of the foundation, Muna has to deal with such suspicions even when the foundation is on a humanitarian mission (SUSRIS 2008).

Her persistence, experience and knowledge have enabled her to reach great heights. She has achieved different honors, awards and recognitions from different institutions and organizations. Perhaps her greatest achievement came in 2005, when she was appointed as the goodwill ambassador by the United Nations Development Program. UNDP looks for individuals who have already made major accomplishments in life and in their societies and they appoint them as goodwill ambassadors, to highlight causes such as protection of human rights, women empowerment, environmental conservation and sustainability, eradicating poverty and making the planet a better place. She was the first woman from Saudi Arabia to receive such an appointment. Muna is also a recipient of the Achievement in Regional and International Award. She was given the award in 2007 by the Middle East Excellence Award. In 2007, she was named the Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. The award recognizes people who have made professional accomplishments, who are committed to the society and who have the potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world. Muna holds the 2010 Medinge Group Colin Award. The award recognizes individuals who have made positive contributions for the betterment of the society through socially responsible, sustainable and humanistic behavior (The Medinge Group, 2010).

Muna is a leader by all standards and her recognition by various institutions is testament to that. I consider her a leader because of the changes she has initiated in the society. Some of the changes she has initiated may seem trivial while others have influenced the society in a huge way. A transformational leader inspires and transforms people by his or her personal vision and passion. Although Muna respects her religion, she does not let it hold her down. Her fashion sense and acumen, especially when she was a media personality have changed the way Saudi women dress. Muna chose to wear colorful hijabs instead of veils when she was presenting her show. Women started copying her style of dressing and this enabled her to start her own clothing line. She was able to influence many women who felt trapped in the veil but they did not have any alternatives.

A leader is a person who has the capability of influencing others and initiating change. Leadership can be defined as “influencing people by providing purpose, direction and motivation while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization” (West & West, 2006). Leaders deal with change and for this to happen, they must show vision, motivate the people by persuading them and they must empower the people to accomplish what they have set. Her leadership qualities are also reflected in the home, and especially in the way she chooses to bring up her children. Leaders usually employ different leadership styles depending on the situation they are facing. Muna chooses to use a more democratic style of leadership in the home whereby she guides her children in the right direction but lets them make their own decisions (The Saudi Gazette, 2011).

A person’s future should not be limited by the obstacles that are in his or her path. Obstacles should just be a way of enabling a person to endure and gain strength. Muna’s life is a clear example of this. Muna is an exemplary leader and she has refused to let the obstacles of life get in the way. She has faced life with openness, choosing to put aside hindrances that will imprison her and prevent her from fulfilling her purpose in this life. She is a leader because she has been able to influence people in all spheres of life. She has initiated change through different projects and these changes have contributed to the betterment of her society. She has been recognized and appreciated for all her achievements. Muna does not use the knowledge and the power she has for selfish reasons but she has shared it with other people. She feels strongly about education and she believes that the only way the Arab world can develop is through increasing in knowledge and advancing in learning. This, she posits, is one of the ways through which women can achieve their dreams and change the course of their lives. Although the journey is long and she has a long way to go, she does not look like a woman who will give up soon.


Al-Jadda, S. (2011). Muna AbuSulayman: Successful businesswoman and role model. Retrieved from

SUSRIS (2008). Foundations for change in the Arab world. Retrieved from

The Medinge Group (2010). Muna Abu Sulayman awarded 2010 Colin Morley Award. Retrieved from

The Saudi Gazette (2011). In conversation with Muna Abu Sulayman. Retrieved from

West, M., & West, L. (2006). Leadership. New York, NY: Centuriantrust Publishing

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