Elza’s Blog

Young Arabs, A Glimpse of Hope

September 25, 2010 | Posted by Elza Maalouf in Featured, Uncategorized | Comments Off

While  the US was deeply engrossed in the controversial debate about the Mosque at Ground Zero, and the crazy lunatic who wanted to burn the Qu’ran, I escaped to the relative safety of the Middle East. This civil/uncivil dialogue about Islam can challenge the sanity of the most knowledgeable and articulate people I know. Don’t get me wrong, I have no illusions about the enormous task that the ‘moderates’ in this region are facing, yet when I speak to young Arabs I feel that I can “keep hope alive.”

I have just arrived to Kuwait on one of my routine trips to the Middle East. While waiting to board my plane at Dulles airport, I met a young Saudi man who wanted to engage with me about the value-systems of different cultures. He shared that King Abdullah, has been sending young people to get an education in the West, paying their tuition and affording them a comfortable life while studying. I asked if he thinks the king wants them to go back to Saudi Arabia and pay it back with a mandatory contract for couple of years. To my surprise, he thought that the number one reason they were sent to the West was to open their minds to embracing other cultures.

” Before ever setting  foot on American soil, I had a negative perspective on Americans. My views were cemented in my mind in part by  Hollywood’s portrayal of Arabs and Islam  and in part by the rhetoric of some of the Arab media.  When I came to Colorado to study at UC, Americans  embraced me like I was one of their own. Not just me, we were a group of young people from Libya, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi and Iraq. We were all sent on scholarships, and we were all embraced by Americans. I feel like this is a second home for me.” Mohammad, the young Saudi, said with a twinkle in his eye. “Our rivalry was centered more around our football teams, than on our nationalities.”

We talked about many other subjects that restored my faith in humanity and in our ability to live in harmony and thrive.  Too bad that such positive stories don’t make for a ratings bonanza for  Hollywood or the biased Arab media. I guess, in a sensationalized 24 hour news cycle, one has to step back and talk to ordinary people to be reminded of how much sanity prevails over hatred around the world on any given day.

Maureen Dowd Did It Again: In Bad Taste This Time

July 10, 2010 | Posted by Elza Maalouf in Featured | 1 Comment »

I enjoy reading Maureen Dowd’s intelligent satiric  op-ed columns, but not this time.  She traveled to Saudi Arabia to “test the Kingdom’s newly declared commitment to tourism,” and ended up posing in Abayas, the traditional women’s garb in Saudi Arabia for Vanity Fair. How original! Here’s a link for your perusal.

On the Joy Behar show, the two women laughed at the way women dress in the Kingdom and Maureen expressed her pity for the oppression these women experience and mentioned that they are barely able to work and be independent. The misinformed Ms. Dowd did not even bother to research the power that many business women have in that country, and the level of education that the majority of Saudi women have achieved since the 50s. They are doctors, lawyers, business women, mothers, professors, therapists and teachers. Lubna Olayan, a Saudi business woman is one of the most influential women in the world and great supporters of woman’s rights in the developing world.

That same Western ignorance was shared few years ago by Karen Hughes, George W. Bush’s envoy to the Middle East, when she ” expressed the hope here that Saudi women would be able to drive and fully participate in society” much as they do in her country, many challenged her.

“The general image of the Arab woman is that she isn’t happy,” one audience member said. “Well, we’re all pretty happy.” The room, full of students, faculty members and some professionals, resounded with applause.

The majority in West are quick to judge the Muslim world, for many reasons; some are justified because of the violence but most is not. One has to visit the Muslim world and try to have a genuine interest in researching and asking people about the slow but steady change that is happening there, to discover how many men and women are transforming their environments and communities the way their culture needs to be transformed, not the way the West wants to them to transform.

Few months ago I was on a business trip in Kuwait where two Saudi families stayed on same floor in my hotel. The women came all dressed in black and their faces were covered as well. I tried to avoid them, thinking they might judge me because I look too ‘Western’ especially when I am in my gym clothes every morning at 6 am. The last day they were getting ready to leave, their doors were open and two beautiful women , dressed in jeans came to shake my hand and apologize for the noise their children were making. They were sisters, one of them was the principal of a school in Riyadh and the sister was a Math teacher. We had the most enjoyable conversation that taught me a personal lesson. They informed me about the changes happening in their country under the leadership of King Abdullah, who is well loved by moderates in the Kingdom. They also promised to cook a vegetarian meal for me when I visit them in Saudi Arabia, and take me around to talk to Saudi women and hear from them how they are introducing change that suits their culture.

Western values emerged after centuries of blood shed and struggles. They fit the West. Middle Eastern values are now developing and emerging in a way that fits the memetic structures (Meme is a Unit of Culture)of that region, and the combination of tribal history with the avant-guard thinking of many educated leaders in business, politics and society in general. Such emergence might look more like India’s emergence rather then America’s emergence.

Let’s get Serious about Sarah Palin

February 21, 2010 | Posted by Elza Maalouf in Featured | 1 Comment »
Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

I was watching C-SPAN, the only news channel that actually reports events as they happen without the over-numbing commentary of Network reporters who insult my intelligence by telling me how I should think about policies and issues. The channel had a full hour dedicated to former Governor Sarah Palin’s book signing at the Joseph Beth Bookstore in Cincinnati. The book store was packed with people from all walks of life: working and middle-class folks, as well as many well-informed, articulate men and women. They were all there to see the author of Going Rogue, Palin’s best-selling book that has thus far sold around three million copies.

For some time I have been pondering the “Sarah Palin phenomenon,” trying to get my value-system and opinions out of the way to really see why so many people in this country love and support her. I sat there, watching her emerge from the second floor of the bookstore like a hero. With a big smile Ms. Palin announced to the cheering crowd: “Oh, we’re gonna have a blast! I appreciate your courage, and carrying the book…and going rogue like me because you care about the truth…”

People were asked for their comments following the book signing which gave me a clearer sense of her popularity. One woman said “Sarah is a lot like us, a working Mom who’s raising her children. She represents us. I like her.” Another woman enthused, “She’s a rock star, great girl, great mom!” Joe Demato a conservative New Yorker who moved to Cincinnati, noted that “She dedicated her book to the people. She does not dodge the questions…” A young college student named Rachel expressed her deep love and respect for Palin. This whole energetic ambiance was moving to the music of Bruce Springsteen’s song “The Rising”, playing in the background. Although the press from Canada and Germany were present, as were journalists representing a few US entertainment shows, they were not allowed to ask Palin any questions.

What does Sarah Palin represent to millions in this country? Why are so many of us so quick to dismiss her? Is it possible that she is a symptom of something that has been brewing in this country for many years and just now is beginning to manifest on the surface? I believe that Palin represents a new brand of feminism. She is giving voice to the ‘soccer mom’ archetype, which has been dismissed as limited and insignificant by many egalitarian feminists. She is pretty, hits the gym everyday, takes care of her family the best way she knows how, and she shoots moose because that’s what you do if you live in Alaska. Many women and men who feel intimidated by the intellectual sophistication of politicians and their abstract jargon, blame those same politicians for the political and economic impasse the country faces. They feel there are simple solutions to our problems and find solace and comfort in Sarah’s simplistic approach.

Yes, this is another kind of feminism. One that is expressed in the form of an independent, hard-working woman who is respected by her husband and her supporters. Many of us, particularly in liberal camps, have to remember that although we stand on the shoulders of 1960’s brand of feminism, the phenomenon of Sarah Palin still  represents the next stage of development for many women in this country, and an overwhelming majority of women in the developing world. How many women in Africa or Latin America aspire to be in her shoes—an autonomous professional woman, contributing to the household and being elected democratically to the highest seat in her state?

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

As a woman, the other issue of concern is that if Palin was a male politician, would we have vilified him this much? Or would we have simply dismissed him as another politician doing what politicians do. Apparently George W. Bush’s lack of intellectual depth was not a factor in his electability, as we elected him twice. Why aren’t we chuckling at her gaffs like we did with Bush? Does she represent traditional values that we have grown to despise because we have become career women and maybe did not ‘include’ the value system that our own mothers grew up in? Or is it just simply a case of subconscious masculine views of political leadership? Not too long ago, many liberals were quick to vilify Hillary Clinton, a woman with far more impressive credentials than many of her former male predecessors. So, are we witnessing the birth of a new feminism that’s creating friction at the highest levels of traditionally male-dominated politics, or is it the initial signs of a dying exclusive domain of masculine power?  Providing further evidence to such masculine dominance of political world views, a few days ago, at a town hall meeting in Saudi Arabia, a young male student asked Secretary Clinton with a big smirk on his face “How scared would you be if Sarah Palin was elected president of the US? Would you move to Canada?” This young man’s question typifies the nature of psychological projection males have about a profession that has traditionally been the stomping ground of men. A Saudi asking that question, really? After all we’re talking about Saudi Arabia where women do not have the right to vote and cannot be elected democratically to any political position.

The two major polarizing figures in the United States today are President Obama and Sarah Palin. Obama comes from his head and heart on most issues, while Palin comes from her heart and gut on all issues. They are both learning on the job, and can learn a lot from each other. Obama can try to be less rehearsed and more connected to the needs of people in middle America, and Palin can benefit tremendously from shorter, comprehensive sentences, a study of history and the Republican philosophy.

Let me make a disclaimer here: I do not support most of Palin’s policy suggestions or philosophy. If I agree with some of her views it is because she learned them from Libertarians. Yet, at this point, I am not sure if she can really make them her own. My concern is how to understand the people who are supporting her, and how to meet them where they are. How can we address their fears and their feelings of alienation by the intellectual elites? My gut feeling is that a female (Ross Perot-like) Republican who’s a wizard in telling Palin’s followers in language they understand how they can get their country back, will emerge to harness the momentum that Palin’s followers have created.

Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman

Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina

A couple of these Republican women are running for California’s governor’s office—Meg Whitman—and for the Senate—Carly Fiorina—and might be able to address the needs of many people in the country.

I would welcome your pragmatic comments on this subject. Please keep in mind that my concern is what works best for our country not for the two parties only.

“I dare you,” Nike, to Create Sustainable Habitats

January 6, 2010 | Posted by Elza Maalouf in Featured | Comments Off

When I say “Habitat,” I don’t mean physical housing, I mean the integral environment at all levels: physical, educational, health, civic, employment, laws, security, political systems, social and religious programs, and leadership.”

The Nike Foundation have created a heartfelt video, following their “I dare you” theme, that was sent to me by Women On The Edge of Evolution teleseries .

In this Girl Effect “I dare you” video, the Nike Foundation tries to summarize the reasons we should support girls’ education in the developing world, stating that educating a girl for seven years will help, among other things, as follows:

  • It will postpone her marriage by 4 years;
  • The population HIV rates go down;
  • When an educated girl earns income she will reinvest 90% of her income in her family, vs. the 35% that boys reinvest.

The video ends with this statement: “Yet 99.4% of International aid money does not go to her.”

Those statistics are eye opening, and are an invitation for us all to think where our donations and tax money  for aid are going.

My experience in the developing world has taught me that unless we create Sustainable Habitats for girls and boys no aid will go beyond the band-aid effect. Such effect could last months or years, until the cycle of poverty, wars and abuse starts again.

Education, although it is an essential factor in the emergence of any society and the liberation of girls, is not enough on its own. That’s why when designing for cultural development solutions in organizations and countries, it is of vital importance to design for a Whole System change, or a Habitat change. What I mean by whole system and habitat includes the following:

  • Scanning the Vital Signs in the culture: Geography, history, economy, political systems, religions, conflicts, wars, statistics on income, demographics, death rate etc….
  • Assessing the various Value-systems in said culture, mindsets, belief-systems …
  • Designing educational systems, healthcare systems, transportation, water systems, agricultural systems that fit the ‘lay of the land…” for example: in Afghanistan, how can we replace Opium crops that are very lucrative and supporting the Taliban by other less lucrative crops? One suggestion is to ask pharma companies to buy those crops for use in their manufacturing…
  • Designing the appropriate system of governance that fits the value-systems and lay of the land of the culture

Of course, this is a short list of the complex work that needs to be done. But unless we address the whole system, and use the aid money to create sustainable futures rather than most of it ending up indirectly in the pocket of corrupt politicians and business people in the developing world, we will keep repeating the same well meaning mistakes we have done before.

So, yes,  I dare you, Nike, to create Sustainable Habitats for Girls and Boys in the developing world…

Different Stages of Feminine Evolution

December 18, 2009 | Posted by Elza Maalouf in Featured | 1 Comment »

InannaThe emergence of the patriarchy in the Rig Veda’s and Sumerian texts was an evolutionary impulse and an answer to the chaotic feminine of nature. After chaos comes order and the cycle reverses when order becomes too rigid and unyielding.  There’s no conspiracy by the gods of mythology to suffocate the feminine in men and women, rather it is a natural impulse, a historic and cosmic ebb and flow that moves between birth, destruction and reconstruction of our universe.

Over thousands of years, the masculine in us became further separated from nature and the intuitive chaotic feminine, thus creating the dissonance needed for a new wise feminine to be born. Wall Street and the Military Industrial Complex were the latest saga of an order gone awry.

The pioneering feminist movement in the West took on more male qualities in order to find their voice in a male dominated society. From Suzan B. Anthony to Gloria Steinem the path was more of an existential struggle rather than a search for deeper sense of the feminine-self. Even the French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir took a second seat to allow Sartre to shine.

Today, we stand on the shoulders of these pioneering women and the men who supported the feminine throughout history, and we ask ourselves where do we go from here? What is the feminine and how is it emerging in different parts of the world?

My work in the West and in developing cultures gives me a privileged first hand perspective into the many faces of the feminine in the world. Rather than the stereotypical distinction between East and West, or developing countries and first world, I use the lenses of complexity and value-systems in culture to recognize the stages of emergence of women all over the world.

Few Examples of Stages of Evolution in Different Cultures:

Evolution for a Bangladeshi woman who received her first $12 microloan, bought a cell phone and charged her neighbors for calls, means affording and education for her daughters and ending the cycle of female illiteracy in the country.

Evolution for a Palestinian woman living in a refugee camp is having a job and generating enough money to be independent and educate her children.

For a young Saudi woman, evolution means becoming a professional woman and having a say in choosing a partner rather than being stuck in an arranged marriage.

Many organizations in Africa have programs that invite you to buy a goat for women in remote villages to help them give the right nutrition to their children and save enough money to afford an education.

Kuwaiti women who have been leading businesswomen, doctors and bankers for decades, progress for them took a huge leap forward when they gained their rights to vote and be elected to high political office.

In Chile my female colleagues tell me that evolution for them is to gain respect from men in the workplace and be treated as equal.

For female executives in Corporate America progress comes from shattering the glass ceiling that has been limiting the potential achievements of a feminine manifestation of a global corporate leadership.

Yet, evolution for many Western women is getting in touch with their emotions and having a deeper sense of self. Although, more and more women in the so-called developing world are now pursuing the same path of evolution especially when they were afforded the life conditions that allowed them to receive great education in their own countries and in Ivy League schools.

WHY the Different Stages? …Life Conditions

We all have potential for deeper complexity, high achievement an unlimited progress, however as demonstrated in the examples above, different cultures are emerging at different paces according to the intricacies of each society’s life conditions. That’s why it is imperative for Westerners not to impose their version of progress and development on other cultures in the world. Meeting people where they are and helping them move to where they need to be is key.

When I am asked to design solutions for a particular organization or culture, I look first for the Intelligences within the culture to inform my approach to a solution. This helps me step out of my own value-systems and design for the evolutionary needs of such culture.