Saudi Aramco's Huda Ghoson Says Parental Support Is Key to Success


By Siraj Wahab

Published in Arab News on Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Most parents hope their children will do better and go further than they did. It is a human response. Hoping and doing, however, can be two different things. Those parents who actively encourage their children’s curiosity and thirst for knowledge give their offspring an edge their contemporaries do not enjoy. For daughters, such support can be the difference between fulfilling their dreams and settling into a mundane life, with the haunting question of what could have been forever hanging over them.

For Huda Ghoson, director of human resources policies and planning at oil giant Saudi Aramco, it was her mother’s determination that made the difference. “My parents, whose education was limited to elementary school, realized that the most important thing in life — that would guarantee a prosperous and successful future — was a good education,” Ghoson says. “My mother was a very active woman around charitable societies in Riyadh, and well known for extending her time and resources to help the needy. She was a very strong woman and determined that we all get a good education, especially the girls. She wanted us to be independent, confident and responsible for our choices in life.”

Born in Iraq to Saudi parents, Ghoson spent her childhood in Kuwait before the family moved back to Riyadh in 1970. She said her mother’s early commitment to her continues to shape her career. “My mother was very influential in my decision to work for Saudi Aramco,” she says. “In fact, I do not think I would have been where I am today if it was not for my mother. Upon my graduation from King Saud University in 1980, my mother helped me explore the job market, which at that time provided very limited choices for women, for appropriate career opportunities that will nurture my aspiration and ambitions. She decided that the best work environment for me would be in Saudi Aramco. She was the one who encouraged me to join the company.”

It appears to have been wise advice as the company soon helped her continue her education. “In 1981, I began a career with Saudi Aramco,” she says. “In 1984, I took leave from work and traveled to the US to earn a master’s degree in business administration from the American University in Washington DC. I graduated in 1986 and returned to work for Saudi Aramco.”

She said the climate of the 1970s dissuaded her from her original career plans. “I wanted to study in an area related to engineering or sciences as my studies during my high school years were focused on math and science,” she says. “However, women did not have access to these fields of studies at the university level at that time, so I had to settle with English literature as I also enjoyed arts, poetry and writing. However, I had no idea what I would be doing with my degree after graduation, and there were limited opportunities for women in the job market.”

As a human resources professional, Ghoson has some interesting insights about the barriers obstructing working women. “One of the greatest obstacles facing women is prejudice, which is extremely difficult to tackle as it can be deeply ingrained in the workplace and organization culture,” she says.

“Although many companies nowadays want to enable more of their very capable women to succeed and get to the top, they do not recognize the micro-inequalities and the subtle forces of prejudice and so eradicate them. With the absence of leadership, conviction and visible action you just do not get traction.”

Another major obstacle, she says, is the “difficulty of tapping into informal networks, getting mentorship or an advocate.”

Ghoson sees that some women also face obstacles that stem from the culture they live in. “In traditional societies, women’s roles are often stereotyped. Family responsibilities are not shared and are assumed to be solely a female duty. Balancing work and family life poses a great challenge. Lack of family support is another reason why we do not see too many women in leadership positions,” she says.

She is confident that the Kingdom is on the right path both for reform and economic prosperity.

“I see Saudi Arabia as a robust and progressive country with a highly educated, modern and resilient society contributing to the global economy and the betterment of humankind. Saudi Arabia will play a major role in the economic and political stability of not only the region but the whole world. Saudi Arabia already plays a key role in supplying the world of much of the needed energy for economic prosperity and advancement,” she says. “The process of progress is slow, but it is sure, genuine and pragmatic. It is important to recognize that modern demands for instant solutions and results may not always be sensible and could antagonize traditional societies, and shatter their fragile economies. To ensure continuous progress and long-term impact, we should instead celebrate small steps and be sensitive to local culture and values.”

Ghoson thinks that governments should do more to level the playing field for women. “The fact that women do not always participate in the decision-making process to address gender issues and assure equal rights, responsibility and opportunity is a major barrier to women’s participation in the workplace,” she asserts. “Support should come from the top of the pyramid to make our economies and societies inclusive instead of exclusive.” For her the solution is obvious: “Women should have an equal role and participate in legislative and executive decisions related to the economy, society, education, and affairs of the state.”

But if change is to succeed, it requires more than government action, Ghoson says. All society has to be involved. It makes sense. “Societies that practice gender inequality tend to have a slow economic growth and larger population living in poverty. Women constitute half of the population. Ignoring them is like trying to run the race with one leg,” she says. From there stems part of her confidence. “We are witnessing an awakening in governments and business communities in the region. They realize that 50 percent of the skills, talents and potential of their populations have been ignored and neglected.”

Marginalizing women’s roles and power “is costing our young economies dearly”, she says. It is “incapacitating and inhibiting our ability to compete in a rapidly changing global environment.”

For her, the private and public sectors have “no choice” but to empower women and provide them with job opportunities and better choices if they want to reap the benefits of their contributions and productivity in the local markets. It is inevitable. “I see women playing major roles in the advancement of our societies, progress of our economies and the reform of our education systems,” she says.

Ghoson has some advice for young people, male as well as female, wondering which career path to take. “To succeed in a competitive world, young professionals need to establish order and discipline at the beginning of their career to help them focus on items of substance. They should take time to develop their technical knowledge and understand the business of their organizations,” she counsels. “They need to pursue continuous self-development and be willing to venture into new territories. They should take the time to observe before acting and not to be discouraged or disheartened by setbacks and failures. They should learn from past mistakes, and stick through the tough learning period. Sometimes the best teachers are the negative experiences.”

Khak-e-Taiba Trust Mushaira Boosts Popularity of Urdu in Saudi Arabia


By Siraj Wahab

Published in Arab News on Sunday, April 13, 2008

It was a night to remember for hundreds of Urdu lovers who packed the International Indian School auditorium in Jeddah on Thursday for a grand "mushaira" or poetry-reading session organized by the Khak-e-Taiba Trust.

In attendance at the well-organized event were some of the best names in Urdu poetry from India such as Waseem Barelwi, Azhar Inayati, Taher Faraz, Raees Ansari, Jalil Nizami, Asrar Jamae and Johar Kanpuri. They provided the audience with a veritable feast of couplets that are sure to remain in their hearts and on their lips for some time to come.

In their beautifully crafted lines, the visiting poets talked not only of love, which is what Urdu poetry essentially is all about, but also of war, of pathos and poverty, of cultural decadence and the pangs of separation, of riots and politics and even of the so-called clash between East and West. The poets omitted nothing of concern to an average Indian and Pakistani expatriate in the audience for whom life away from home is a constant struggle and an everyday challenge.

Many eyes, therefore, went moist when one particular poet, Taher Faraz, took the audience on an emotional journey recalling all the good memories associated with one's mother or "maayi" as he called her. In his lines, Faraz tried successfully to convey how she would wait in freezing cold for her son to return home in the middle of the night, and how on other occasions she would scold him one moment and envelop him in the warmth of her bosom the next and how she would treat him to sweets wrapped neatly for him in the folds of her "sari".

It was seasoned poet Azhar Inayati who took the "mushaira" to a new level with many exquisite couplets. The ones that particularly found great favor among the audience were:

Ye Aur Baat Ke Andhi Hamare Bas Me Nahi

Magar Charaag Jalana To Ikhtiyar Me Hai

Khudkushi Ke Liye Thoda Sa Ye Kaafi Hai Magar

Zinda Rehne Ko Bahot Zehr Piya Jaata Hai

Is Aadmi Ne Bahot Qehqahen Lagaye Hain

Ye Aadmi Jo Larazta Hai Muskurate Huwe

Isi Liye Ke Kahin Unka Qad Na Ghat Jaaye

Salaam Ko Bhi Wo Darte Hain Haat Uthate Huwe

Huwa Ujala To Hum Unke Naam Bhool Gaye

Jo Bujh Gaye Hain Charagon Ki Lau Badhate Huwe.

Inayati then launched into a ghazal dealing with the traditional values of the East and how they are under attack today:

Jab Tak Safaid Andhi Ke Jhonke Chale Na The

Tehzeeb Ke Darakht Bhi Itne Gire Na The

Pehle Bhi Log Milte The Lekin Ta'aluqaat

Angdayi Ki Tarah To Kabhi Toot-Te Na The;

Unke Ke Bhi Apne Khwab The Apni Zarooraten

Haumsaaye Ka Magar Wo Gala Kaat-Te Na The

Pakke Gharon Ne Neend Bhi Aankhon Ki Chheen Li

Kacche Gharon Mein Raat Ko Hum Jaag-Te Na The

Rehte The Daastanon Ke Maahol Me Magar

Kya Log The Ke Jhoot Kabhi Bolte Na The

Inayati was fantastic, but Taher Faraz was the hero of the night. He kept the audience spellbound with his beautiful poetry rendered in a style suggestively reminiscent of the legendary exponent of classical ghazal, Khumar Barabankvi.

Baandh Rakha Hai Zehn Mein Jo Khayal

Usme Tarmeem Kyun Nahi Karte

Besabab Uljhanon Me Rehte Ho

Mujh Ko Tasleem Kyun Nahi Karte

And then,

Zindagi Ka Lamha Lamha Motabar Kar Dijiye

Aap Apne Gham Ko Mera Humsafar Kar Dijiye

Aap Bhi Makhmoor Hain Main Bhi Thakan Se Choor Hoon

Aisa Kije Mera Qissa Mukhtasar Kar Dijiye

Zindagi Ke Khushk Sehra Mein Bahar Aa Jayegi

Apne Ashkon Se Mere Kandhe Ko Tar Kar Dijiye

Raees Ansari, who conducted the mushaira, tackled some interesting issues in his couplets. For instance:

Dar-o-Deewar Sukhan Karne Lage Hain Humse

Ab Tere Shehr Se Hijrat Bhi Nahi Kar Sakte

Itne Majboor Hain Is Ahd Ke Budhe Maan Baap

Apne Bachchon Ko Nasihat Bhi Nahi Kar Sakte

And,

Neza Nahi Badla, Koyee Khanjar Nahi Badla

Qaatil To Badalte Rahe, Ye Sar Nahi Badla

Pehle Ki Tarah Aaj Bhi Ghar Jalte Hain Mere

Sarkar Badalne Se Bhi Manzar Nahi Badla

Mumkin Hai Kabhi Dhoondne Aa Jaaye Wo Mujhko

Maine Isee Ummeed Pe Ye Ghar Nahi Badla

Johar Kanpuri tried in his own way to explain how Islam had nothing to do with those who mistreat women.

Uska Islam Se Rishta To Nahin Ho Sakta

Jisne Aurat Pe Sitam Dha Ke Qayamat Ki Hai

Chauda Sau Saal Ki Taareekh Utha Kar Dekho

Humne Jango Me Bhi Aurat Ki Hifazat Ki Hai

Asrar Jamae provided welcome relief with his lighter lines. There were howls of laughter when he said:

Begum Ne Ek Din Kaha Naukar Ko Badtameez

Usne Diya Jawab Ke Kamtar Nahi Hun Main

Madam, Zara Tameez Se Batein Kiya Karen

Naukar Hoon Aapka, Koyee Shauhar Nahi Hoon Main

Qatar-based Jalil Nizami's two couplets found particular favor with the audience:

Mah-e-Nao Dekhne Tum Chhat Pe Na Jana Hargiz

Shehr Me Eid Ki Tareekh Badal Jayegi

And,

Itna Saj Dhaj Ke Ayadat Ko Na Aaya Kije

Warna Kuch Soch Ke Ye Jaan Nikal Jaayegi

The first couplet is very popular but not many knew that it was by Jalil Nizami.

All good things have to come to an end and this "mushaira" too did after five hours with no break. But not before the president of the mushaira, Waseem Barelwi, recited choicest couplets in his inimitable style:

Laga Ke Dekh Le Jo Bhi Hisaab Aata Ho

Mujhe Ghata Ke Wo Ginti Men Reh Nahi Sakta

And,

Main Chahta Bhi Yahi Tha Wo Bewafa Nikle

Use Samajhne Ka Koyee To Silsila Nikle

Earlier, Indian Consul General Ausaf Sayeed, who was the chief guest, congratulated the Khak-e-Taiba Trust for the excellent "mushaira" and announced that the Indian Consulate would organize a World Urdu Conference in the first week of June. He called Urdu a language of love.

The poets were introduced to the audience by Aleem Khan Falki. Afsar Faheem, the trust president, and Shameem Kausar, its chief patron, thanked the community for all the help it extended in supporting the caravan of Urdu in Saudi Arabia. Sheikh Ahmad Al-Hamrani came in for special praise for his support to the event.

Fadlullah Wilmot — Upholding Islam’s Finest Traditions



By Siraj Wahab

Published in Arab News on Saturday, May 24, 2008

H. Fadlullah Wilmot oversees the charity and relief efforts in Southeast Asia for the British-based Muslim Aid organization. British born and Australian raised and educated, Wilmot converted to Islam as a student at the University of Tasmania. He later joined Australia’s Volunteers Abroad program and taught English in Aceh, Indonesia, where he met his wife, with whom he resides in Malaysia. Wilmot now serves as Muslim Aid’s director for Indonesia and will be taking over its Bangladesh office this summer.

He said since taking a position with Muslim Aid in 2005 in the aftermath of the deadly tsunami, he has found an organization that lives up to the best traditions of Islam. “The mission of Muslim Aid has always been to serve humanity; to deal with emergencies,” Wilmot told Arab News during a recent visit to Jeddah.

“We can only try to educate people in order to minimize the effects of earthquakes, the effects of tsunamis — you can’t stop them from happening. Muslim Aid is also working to deal with the root causes of poverty; the idea is to enable people to lead a decent life; to get out of poverty. We have a two-pronged strategy — dealing with emergencies and then dealing with poverty. The aim is to help people become self-sufficient. Our vision is a world of peace, compassion and justice where all people achieve fulfillment and is committed to alleviating poverty regardless of religion, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, gender or age.”

At a time when some charitable organizations have come under scrutiny for their activities, Wilmot says this organization is strictly above board. “Muslim Aid is a registered charity under British Charity Commission, and we are responsible to follow all the laws and regulations of Britain,” Wilmot said. “We are audited by international auditors. Everything about Muslim Aid activity is transparent, open and clear.”

Wilmot credits the success of the organization to the founding British Muslims who were unwilling to watch tragedies unfold without getting involved. “Muslim Aid was established in 1986 by 23 leading Muslim organizations in the UK,” he said. “Its first chairman was Yusuf Islam (better known as pop singer Cat Stevens). It was founded during the Ethiopian famine. At the time, Muslims felt that we as Muslims living in the West have a duty to the whole of humanity — Muslim or non-Muslim. When these terrible images of people dying of hunger in Ethiopia emerged, these Muslims thought we have a duty to help them even if they are not Muslim.”

It was a duty Wilmot himself embraced after the tsunami wreaked havoc around the coasts of the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. “I joined Muslim Aid in 2005, three to four months after the tsunami,” he said. “I was based in Malaysia teaching management basically. Since I knew Acehnese and since I knew the people in Indonesia and Aceh, when the tsunami occurred, the guys at Muslim Aid asked me to help out. Initially, it was on a part-time basis.

However, the enormity of the problem was such that I started working full time for Muslim Aid as the country director for Indonesia. People only know about the tsunami because it got huge coverage and because there was a huge loss of human life; not many people remember the earthquake of 2006 in Yogyakarta. It was enormous — not in terms of the loss of the human life — because of the massive destruction that it left in its wake. In Aceh, there were about a quarter of a million people who died and about 150,000 homes destroyed. In the Yogyakarta earthquake, only about 6,000 people died, but 300,000 houses were destroyed. Because Java is far more densely populated than Aceh, more people were made homeless.

Muslim Aid was at the scene immediately. We along with other international institutions did, and are still doing, massive rehabilitation work in Yogyakarta. Then there were very bad floods in Jakarta, and houses were flooded for two-three weeks. Then there were earthquakes in March last year and later on in November on the west coast of Sumatra, and we assisted there as well. We are helping people to get a decent livelihood, helping them in capacity building.”

To those ends, Wilmot said Muslim Aid takes part in even larger international relief and poverty-eradication initiatives with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “We are working together to build up the capacity of civil society organizations with United Nations Development Program (UNDP),” Wilmot said. “We are working together with many organizations. We are working with the Asian Development Bank to build houses in Aceh. We are working with the World Bank in order to help Aceh with a flood-mitigation project. We also are working with UNICEF to drill wells for tsunami-affected communities, and we are working with the European Commission of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In Bangladesh, we just received funding for cyclone relief work.”

Wilmot said all Muslims should take pride in Muslim Aid and urged Muslims to play a role in supporting it. “Muslims in Britain have established a world-class development and emergency relief organization, and I think they should be proud of that achievement,” he said. “Our core donors are basically the Muslims of Britain, and the majority of the donors make small donations. We should support it and encourage it in whatever way we can. Look at the work we are doing. Visit our website www.muslimaid.org.”

Wilmot credits Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the Qur’an for his personal commitment to make a difference.

“I found that here was something logical; that did not have any internal contradictions, that is not in conflict with knowledge; it asks you to think and wants you to ponder over the verses,” Wilmot said of the Qur’an before speaking of the man who inspired him most — the Prophet. “Here is a person of love and compassion, and deep humanity who cared for the whole of humanity — not just his followers who were Muslims.”

— Fadlullah Wilmot can be reached at Hfadlullah@gmail.com.