Mar 1, 2018
Muna AbuSulayman, (Arabic: منى أبو سليمان; born 16 May 1973) is an Arab and Muslim media personality. She is also the former founding Secretary General of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, the philanthropic arm of HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal‘s Kingdom Holding Company and co-host of one of MBC TV’s most popular social programs, Kalam Nawaem (“Speech of the Soft”). In August 2013, Ms. AbuSulayman was announced as the Global Ambassador of Silatech.
As a public and media personality, she has spoken and written about issues related to society, women rights, community development, media, and building bridges of understanding between the East and West. In 2004, Ms. AbuSulayman was named a Young Leader by the World Economic Forum. In this capacity, she is often called upon to speak on issues related to challenges facing the youth around the world. In 2007, she became the first woman from Saudi Arabia to be appointed by the United Nations Development Program as a Goodwill Ambassador. As a goodwill ambassador she is often invited to promote certain humanitarian causes such as Tetanus Shot Campaign in 2011 for Yemen. In 2007, the Middle East Excellence Awards Institute presented Ms. AbuSulayman the Achievements in Regional and International Relations Award. In 2009, she was named one of the most influential Muslims in the world. A list of many of her awards appear at the end of the entry.
In a move that is an attempt to break the stereotypes of Saudi women, Ms. AbuSulayman is very active in reaching out to different audiences and appeared frequently in the news or as a panelist at the Davos World Economic Forum, Jeddah Economic Forum, C-100 of the World Economic Forum, Brookings Institution Conferences and many other venues. Furthermore, her speaking engagements have taken her all over the world, to the United States, England, Switzerland, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Africa where she tries to showcase the accomplishments of the Arab world, the changes that are occurring in the GCC and most especially in her own country Saudi Arabia while unraveling the stereotypes of a what it means to be a modern Muslim women or a modern Saudi woman.
Muna is an Advisory board member of the Muslim Women’s Fund (MWF) which aims to strengthen Muslim women, benefit families and communities. She is also a member of Soliya , an organization devoted to improving communications between East and West through university education. AbuSulayman also serves in the Advisory Board of Meedan, the premier content translation website service in the world for Arabic. Since 2004, Ms. AbuSulayman has also served as a volunteer director for the Friends of Saudi Arabia Association and remains a member of the Saudi Media Association. She has recently joined the Advisory Board of both Peaceful Families Project and Gem Schools.
Muna was born in Philadelphia in the US state of Pennsylvania to Dr. Abdul Hamid AbuSulayman who was attending the University of Pennsylvania for his Ph.D. dissertation in International Relations. Dr. Abdulhamid is a well-known Islamic thinker in Saudi Arabia and the Islamic world.
From elementary school through college and graduate schools, she lived between Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and the United States. “My two years in Kuala Lumpur were absolutely the most wonderful years of my life. I appreciated the rich culture where Indians, Chinese, and Malaysians all lived peacefully. Living abroad and experiencing different cultures helped me with different perspectives. I owe this to my family who gave me this opportunity to shape my personality.” said Muna in an interview with arabnews.com
Ms. AbuSulayman had a diverse college experience where she attended King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia, International Islamic University Malaysia and George Mason University. She graduated in 1993 from George Mason University and holds a B.A. and M.A. in English literature. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in Arab-American Literature from King Saud University.
Muna AbuSulayman has led a very cross-functional career where she worked in the media, fashion, education, PR, international and community development. A zigzag path that is very unusual, but which suits her personality and desire to understand how the world works.
In terms of her media career, she founded and co-hosted the MBC TV social program Kalam Nawaem which is considered to have a viewership of tens of millions and is one of the most watched social programs by Arabs worldwide. Her role in the station was as a presenter and she mainly focused on the social segment of the program in which she tried to convey the message to the viewer in the best way possible.
In the corporate world Ms. AbuSulayman started working in Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal’s Kingdom Holdings company. She served as the Executive manager of Strategic Studies and Research Initiatives. Prior to taking this post she had no experience in HR and administration and she had to learn everything in the first 6 months working for the company, but also gained personal experience while working together with Alwaleed. She does not deny The ‘Alwaleed Effect’ and says, smiling, “when I first joined, I asked His Royal Highness to provide me with some executive training as I had no business experience, so I was sent to take a few courses”; she then adds, “but I realized later that working with him was my real executive training”.
In 2006 she took on the task of building the Alwaleed bin Talal foundation, previously known as Kingdom Foundation. This foundation is the philanthropic arm of the Kingdom Holding company. In this capacity, she is developing and implementing the foundation’s mission, vision, and operations for strategic philanthropy and humanitarian assistance. She is responsible for the global philanthropic activities, projects, and donations that reach the globe. When asked about getting this job she said in an interview with Aljazeera English “I guess I did such a good job that he offered me the foundation”.
Since then, she has gone on to found several companies like Glowork.net; which specializes in female unemployment in the Arab world, as well as Muna World—a holding company that uses profits from her various business to help build educational institutes in high conflict areas.
MBC’s Kalam Nawaem
Muna co-hosted the Middle East Broadcasting Center‘s television show Kalam Nawaem from 2002 until 2007, and was replaced by Heba Gamal, a Saudi fashion designer. She was the first Saudi woman to appear on international television. Her mere appearance had a great sense of responsibility, if she failed, then many women who were waiting for her to break the glass ceiling would be set back. Managing cultural, social, and women’s expectations was a very difficult path to navigate given how conservative Saudi Arabia became post 9/11. There were many women especially from Saudi Arabia who saw her as a role model and an inspiration, not just for entering Media, but because as a Saudi, they felt she understood the nuances of their social problems and the taboo and thus was able to address them properly. Her appearance on TV, and her discussion of divorce, and her work in the Development and Education sectors, showed many young Arab women that there is no limit to what they can do, if they worked hard and tried. Perhaps, that was the biggest legacy of the show that was all about empowering women.
Describing the success and the changes the show brought to the Arab world, she tells the story of a child who was abused and how discussing this issue on the show led to the passing of a legislation that protected children’s rights.
Muna received few criticisms for being a public figure as some view that women should not appear in public, but the majority of people support what she is doing and have encouraged her. The scariest was receiving death threats following an episode that was critical of “orthodox” Muslim behaviour and she briefly considered getting security for her children’s safety.
Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation
Prior to the establishment of the AlWaleed Bin Talal Foundation, Muna worked for many years as an Executive manager of Strategic Studies and Research Initiatives in the Kingdom Holdings company of HRH Prince AlWaleed Bin Talal. She built the foundation from ground up and serves as the Secretary General and Executive Director. Her duties in the foundation range from administering the day-to-day activities to researching, managing the budget and laying down long-term goals for the foundation and the Prince’s vision. She mainly focused on four areas; promoting East/West dialogue, women empowerment, poverty alleviation, and disaster relief.
Many women considered that her change of work was due to pressure from conservatives, or social pressure, when in reality, according to Muna, it was more of a choice of how to spend one’s time. “It boils down to time management. If you have limited time, which raising two kids and navigating two travel heavy careers I did not have much of. And so, I had to make a decision. Do I want to talk about change, or do I want to create change?”
Islam and West dialogue
Muna described her work in this area in the Arab-U.S. policymakers conference by saying we work with Islam-West dialogue, which is one of the biggest areas. Four departments in the foundation and that’s to help build bridges between Islam and the West through academic institutions. It is to bring objective intellectual academic work to the arena, to bring common sense and logic to the discussion, as we have seen that these two were lacking in the last eight years. We also fund a lot of initiatives like this conference and the organization of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. We fund the rabbi’s and imam’s conferences, some leadership initiatives between Muslims and Western leaders so they can come to the table. Some of it is publicized, some not publicized.” 
Her work in this area is of a personal interest to her, she has a passion in bridging the gap between the Arab world and the Western world. Her work comprises mainly in giving talks in leading universities in America and Europe. She is interested in eliminating the misunderstanding that the West has of the Muslim world and vice versa. Ms. AbuSulayman gave a lecture at Yale University where she talked about the misconceptions that the west has about Islam.
“When you change women’s conditions and empower them, you change the whole family” said Muna in an article by arabianbusiness.com, she also said, Prince AlWaleed firmly believes that encouraging and supporting women and female initiatives is one of the most important ways to measure real tangible progress in any country. From this view stems her strong support for women empowerment in the world and especially in Saudi Arabia.
Talking about motherhood Muna said that the years mothers spend raising their children should be taken into consideration when they are applying for a job. Instead of starting as an intern or a novice employee, they should be starting as assistant managers with a certain salary. She justified this by saying that mothers gain a lot of experience raising children, they acquire skills like patience, multitasking and management, and these shouldn’t be neglected by employers and should be compensated financially.
In an interview with the Saudi Gazette Muna said, “I want girls to see that there is almost no limitation to where they can go. The most important thing they can do is to work to be content, happy, married and to have children.”.
She recently gave a talk at TEDxDeadsea which discussed her theory of how one has to change the system in order to enable women to have it all: To work, to have a family, and to be independent. Neither Traditional Islamic Models, which oppressed women through misinterpretation, nor Western Models, which did not deliver what women needed should be emulated in the system. Rather a new system needs to be developed that delivers a better life for everyone.
Clothing and fashion accessories line
Muna has her own fashion and accessories business. About her collection Muna says “I have created this collection to provide stylish, elegant and trendy clothing for my global customer base. My customers are confident women who have travelled the world and know what they like. In order to accommodate a wide range of tastes the clothes are created with a lot of attention to details and sizes so that they fit just right, and are not tight or see-through. For my core customers, the Muslim women, I am including different scarf options to complete the total look.”
She shares the custody of her two children with her former husband. She has a strong parenting style: in an interview with the Saudi Gazette she said in order to help her children learn to use their time effectively there is a no-TV rule at home during the weekdays.
Awards and recognition
- 2004, Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
- 2005, Saudi UN Goodwill Ambassador, UNDP.
- 2007, Middle East Businesswomen & Leaders Achievement Award for her Achievements in Regional and International Relations.
- 2009, Named one of 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World.
- 2009, Excellence Arab women award, by the Arab Woman Studies Center
- 2009, Yale World Fellow.
- 2010, Colin Morley Award.
- Muna AbuSulayman’s Facebook Page
- Muna AbuSulayman at Global Speakers Bureau
- An Interview with Muna AbuSulayman by asmalleorld.net
- A Conversation with Muna AbuSulayman by Saudi Gazette
- Aljazeera English One on One with Muna AbuSulayman
- An Interview with americanbedu.com
- Foundations for Change in the Arab World: A Woman’s Personal and Professional Perspective Ms. Muna AbuSulayman
- World Economic Forum, Panel Race for and Audience Media in the Middle East 2009
- Lecture and Interview at Yale University Department of Religious Studies
- Professor Urges More Translations to Arabic