We have been interviewing current students and alumni of Saïd Business School about their career successes and carving out a place for themselves in a world where workplace equality is still a long way off. This week, we speak to current Executive MBA candidate Amel Najjar, who is doing incredible work with her Children of War Foundation. We asked her why she went into non-profit work and whether she has ever encountered any gender-related career obstacles. Amel is particularly passionate about changing the dominant narrative around women in the workplace. And without further ado, over to Amel…
I think as women, we need to contribute to changing the narrative when it comes to interviewing, showcasing, defining and portraying women in the workplace, regardless if a woman is a CEO, founder, doctor, banker, and the countless other professions and/or role titles one may have. I’ve done many interviews since establishing Children of War Foundation, and what is the most common thread of interview questions are those of emotive reflection and questioning, which lead to gender-biased assumptions. I understand that audiences tend to be interested in the backstory of how or why someone does what they do or feel, but this needs to change if we really want to move on or at least lessen the current gender bias and assumptions.
It may also be that I have also changed since having the opportunity to pursue an MBA and nearly two years into the programme, I’ve also become more aware of the business side of my work, where charity work is not the same charity work I initially began with. Hence, I’ve gained more of an understanding of the scope of how non-for-profit business processes and conventional business models work, more specifically, the correlation and interdependency linked to economic and political stability is significant. We are at a time where methods of doing businesses are evolving, an intersection where both processes are imperative for growth and sustainability.
Was there a particular catalyst that led to you wanting to pursue charitable work and found Children of War?
There were multiple reasons that led me to pursue Children of War Foundation. In particular, I was fortunate to have an opportunity to help a 9-year-old Iraqi boy who needed lifesaving surgery. I took that opportunity to not only challenge myself in accomplishing something that was nearly impossible but to also do something meaningful for someone else. In 2010, 9-year-old Hashim, a victim of war, needed specialized lifesaving surgery and long-term rehabilitation, which was not available in his home country of Iraq. In short, with the help of health professionals, friends and family, I brought Hashim to Jordan, secured a medical visa, and transported him and his mother to Los Angeles. I had managed to partner with several organizations and secured Hashim’s extensive surgical care.
During this time, I was granted a 501(c)3 not-for-profit status and Children of War Foundation was born. This new-found passion for COWF at the time, was in a sense, an awakening that lead me to where I am now. My interest in international development and public policy also contributed to my decision in founding an international non-profit organization, specifically catering towards marginalized communities and individuals. I also think some of my earliest experiences as a child, having lived between Jordan and the U.S. has contributed to my current work, and I continue to build on that. The exposure of experience of having resided in both developed and developing regions has allowed for perspective, a perspective and understanding of some of the most pressing and controversial topics and issues of our time.
Have you encountered much gender bias when carrying out your work? How do you overcome such obstacles?
It’s important to recognize there is an underlying gender bias in the non-profit sector that continues to hold back many great non-profits from accomplishing more than they currently do, including Children of War Foundation. Traditionally, the non-profit sector was considered female-driven social work. In the past 60 years, movements and revolutionary activists in the likes of Rosa Parks, John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King had paved the way for progress in social injustices and causes. From civil, equality, anti-gay, animal, children and women’s rights, triggering an era of progress where a new kind of business began to create social change, change that relied heavily on redistribution, government and public giving capacity. In the early years of formal non-profit business, there was an unprecedented number of women who founded organizations for emotive reasons. Many of these founders were mothers of children who were marginalized, low income, and women who were empowered to do more as opportunities were granted.
Today, female founders and CEO’s represent 60% of non-profit organizations in the U.S. Non-profit business’ have come a long way in recent years, but then there remains an association of entitlement and purely giving. The stigma and association of non-profit work being nurturing and giving, almost submissive in nature, a gender bias that may be conscious or subconscious, remains today. This has been my experience, and at times, there’s already an assumption when meeting or approaching another business, whether discussions are being made with professionals in retail, technology, science, academia, and so on, a preconceived notion, a sort of anti-capitalist ideology, that in collaborating with non-profit business is only beneficial for the non-profit itself, essentially unilateral in benefits. The truth of the matter is that, this ideology and assumption is false, and that non-profit and for-profit businesses can work together in ways that are mutually beneficial. Most certainly there are flaws in the nonprofit sector and this is changing as education and access to information are becoming more available. Female leaders in non-profit, humanitarian and public sectors are more capable, I know this, because I am also contributing to changing the paradigm in conventional non-profit, where it’s not so much traditional social and giving work, but it’s a business that provides purposeful and vital economic stability and support that can be applied to all markets and industries.
What was your most unexpected and useful takeaway from your time at Oxford Saïd?
My time at Oxford so far has been life-changing, both in my personal and professional life. I think one of the most unexpected takeaways from Oxford Saïd, is that passion isn’t enough to be successful, expand and really become a dominant player in any profession or job. What I’ve learned is that it takes a lot more than just emotive reasons to succeed in today’s business world, regardless of gender, socioeconomic background, profession or business. I’m fortunate enough to say I am educated and have been given the power to become more global not only in a business capacity but also in a personal desire, I have become more connected and aware of the dynamic processes that occur for innovation, advancement and impact in many spheres, including trade, migration, technology, economic and communication integration. I don’t think my time at Oxford will end after graduation and hope to continue to build on being globally connected in business and socially.
Lastly, the business of non-profit doesn’t have to be a giveaway or purely charitable, as innovative ways of doing business can be beneficial and more business-like. In the past two years, I’ve spent some time in addition to my coursework, learning and applying frameworks from the programme in areas inclusive business practices, entailing subsidies, entitlement programs, welfare assistance, among so many other forms of economic protectionism. I recognize that these business practices do not have to be anti-capitalistic in notion. Business for the purpose of social benefits are becoming innovative and have the capability of engaging in profitable and competitive practices. There’s enough research and data now, globally, to show that the conventional non-profit model is not sustainable in today’s economies of scale, fortunately, the model is changing, and I am excited to be leading part of that change coming from Oxford Said.
What are the biggest hurdles facing global health at the moment and how are you tackling them?
Some of the biggest hurdles facing global health is that of lifestyle-related ailments, mostly in developing regions and unforeseen migration. There are countless contributing factors causing uncontrollable hazards in long-term health care. According to the W.H.O., diseases such as cancer and mental disorders are more common than malnutrition and infectious diseases. Although there is a lessening in infectious disease and malnutrition, ailments such as cancer and mental disorders are at the highest in numbers than ever before. In addition to rising incidences, the cost and time required to treat these types of ailments are also extraordinarily expensive to treat, if not caught early or prevented.
From my experience and having worked with displaced and marginalized communities for almost a decade now, I’ve been able to identify that the proliferation and discourse of our changing planet, including civil conflict, climate change, migration, economic depression, economic growth, technology advancement, political chaos, among so many other relevant unforeseen anomalies, have all contributed to global health challenges. One example is that of the controversial migration crisis that is occurring globally, creating a burden on current healthcare systems that are not set up to take on the excess in population shift and emergent medical needs. Such unpredicted hazards include catastrophic whether anomalies, resource, proxy power and political conflict leading to war, drought, where entire communities are depleted of resources and financial calamity, are just a few of the forces that have led to global health hurdles. Although there is a dire need for access to healthcare in some regions more than others, the good news is that we are also at a time where advanced IT, digital technology, communication, modernized transportation systems and globalization are paving the way to dissemination and sharing of information, making healthcare more accessible.
Amel Najjar is Executive Director and co-founder of the Children of War Foundation. She has overall responsibility for the oversight of development, partnership affiliates, candidate selection, brand identity, internal communications, recruitment of team members, media relations, medical mission management and international outreach. While advocating COWF’s mission, Amel empowers individuals, in Los Angeles and abroad, to help change the world by promoting peace, awareness and advocating for the medical needs of children. Amel is passionate about issues concerning children’s rights and displacement. She has studied, volunteered and traveled extensively to over seventy countries. She has also visited many refugee camps and isolated villages being a firsthand witness to the atrocious effects of poverty, war, civil conflict, displacement and the outcome on innocent children.
Learn more about her work with Children of War.Back to top of article