On Monday 12 March, The American University in Cairo (AUC) hosted Lubna S. Olayan, CEO and deputy chairperson of Olayan Financing Company, to present the Nadia Younes Memorial lecture at Moataz Al-Alfi Hall at the university's New Cairo campus.
Olayan became the first woman to join the board of a publicly-listed Saudi company when elected to the board of Saudi Hollandi Bank (now Alawwal Bank) in 2004, where she currently serves as vice chair.
She also chairs the UK-based Alfanar, the first venture philanthropy organization working exclusively in the Arab world.
Her lecture, titled A Vision for the Rising Arab Generation, tackled the main challenges that face today's Arab youth, the opportunities that lie ahead of them, and the action that needs to be taken.
The lecture is part of the Nadia Younes Memorial Fund, named for the Egyptian United Nations official who was killed in the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August, 2003 while serving as chief of staff UN secretary general to Iraq.
Paying tribute to Younes, Olayan said, “She combined a great intellect and a passion for our region, a passion that I truly share. I am also struck by her keen interest in many other challenged regions around the world.”
Present at the lecture were Ibrahim El-Moallem, the chairman and founder the world’s leading Arabic publishing house, former Foreign Minister and former Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa, among many others.
In welcoming Olayan and honouring the memory of Younes, AUC President Francis J. Ricciardone remarked how Younes’s commitment to serving the global community stands as an example to inspire the upcoming young leaders.
Olayan was also welcomed by Younes' family and by student Omar Zaki, recipient of the Nadia Younes Award for Public and Humanitarian Service.
“It is also a privilege for me to be here at AUC, a true center of excellence,” said Olayan. “AUC’s role is important not only in Egypt but throughout the Arab world.”
She also addressed many challenges that have faced the Arab countries, like the negative effects of colonization, high unemployment rates and high economic inequality. “We can spend hours debating how we got here,” she said, but “what is now needed is action.”
Olayan shared lessons she has learned as businesswoman in regards to finding ways to best utilize the region's resources.
She pointed to Singapore as an example of a country that suffered from colonization, poverty, limited natural resources and high population growth, yet still managed to develop into a major player in the global economy.
Some Gulf countries adopted a similar model, she noted, diversifying their economy, boosting research and development and targeting education, in particluar Dubai under Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashed and Saudi Arabia under its ongoing reforms.
“For my part I remain optimistic,” she concluded. "We can educate our youth and prepare them for the job market and at the same time educate them to value a society where mutual respect and tolerance exist amongst all citizens, residents and visitors, regardless of social class, religion or gender.”
Lubna Olayan addressing the audience at the AUC Moataz Al Alfi Hall (Photo: courtesy of the AUC Office of Communications)
Lubna Olayan honoured by Nadia Younes Family members and Francis J (Photo: courtesy of the AUC Office of Communications)