Group photo at WE Empower
(L-R) Habiba Ali, Amanda Ellis, Cynthia Cherrey and Hadeel Mustafa Anabtawi

Go Girls! Everything Is Possible: An Interview With WE Empower Winner Hadeel Mustafa Anabtawi and ILA Board Member Joanne Barnes

By Megan Scribner

Megan ScribnerMegan Scribner is a program coordinator for the International Leadership Association. She has 30 year's experience as an editor and organizer and is the author of several books, including Leading From Within: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Lead. She is excited about this program and looks forward to interviewing additional WE Empower awardees and their ILA leadership coaches.

In September 2018 the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University along with Vital Voices, the United Nations Foundation, and other partners announced the five winners of the 1st WE Empower UN Sustainable Development Goals Challenge. The UN Secretary General launched the inaugural competition during the General Assembly in New York along with the World Bank President, High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Council of Women World Leaders.

WE Empower raises awareness about the valuable contribution women entrepreneurs can make toward the SDGs and provides capacity-building training sessions and high-level advocacy opportunities for the award winners.

The ILA served as a thought partner for this effort and is a WE Empower Supporting Partner, joining UN Women, the Council of Women Leaders, and the International Trade Centre along with other outstanding organizations, in offering additional opportunities for the winners. ILA gave each of the awardees a complimentary ILA conference registration and the opportunity to present at one of ILA’s topical or global conferences in the 2019 or 2020 calendar year. ILA also arranged to pair each of the awardees with an ILA member who would act as a leadership coach throughout 2019.

Group Photo at WE Empower
ILA President & CEO Cynthia Cherrey (seated on right) spoke on a luncheon panel in honor of Habiba Ali, one of the inaugural WE Empower winners.

ILA member Amanda Ellis, ASU Wrigley Institute and former NZ Ambassador to the UN (Geneva), founded WE Empower and continues to be one of the driving forces behind the WE Empower Challenge. Last April, Amanda invited Cynthia Cherrey, ILA president, to join a panel and speak about the ILA leadership coach program at a luncheon in honor of Habiba Ali, one of the WE Empower winners.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to one of the inaugural winners, Hadeel Mustafa Anabtawi, the work she’s doing in the world, and her experience with her leadership coach, ILA Board Member Joanne Barnes.

Hadeel is a social entrepreneur with a passion for empowering girls and the founder of The Alchemist Lab, whose educational center has offered more than 25,000 children in cities, remote villages, and refugee camps the skills they need to explore themselves and the world around them with confidence and determination. She has also launched Go Girls! — a program that encourages girls to think with a STEM and scientific approach — and a 10-minute children’s radio segment called, "Everything is Possible," which aims to address life challenges and empower children.

Hadeel’s ILA leadership coach is Board Member Joanne Barnes, Dean of the Graduate School and Professor of Organizational Leadership in the Department of Leadership Studies at Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU). Prior to her work at IWU, Joanne had 37 plus years of service at Delphi Electronics & Safety where she held various management and leadership positions. Joanne is a certified trainer/coach in the Intercultural Effectiveness Scale, the Global Competency Inventory, and Cultural Intelligence.

Photo of Hadeel and Joanne
Hadeel (l) and Joanne at 1440 Multiversity, where they attended the ILA 4th Women and Leadership Conference.

I had the pleasure of talking with Hadeel and Joanne earlier this year. The conversation was rich and lively, reflecting the energy between Hadeel and Joanne and their inspiring work together. It was obvious from the first moment of the conversation that they had “clicked.” Though, at that time, they had never met in person, they seemed like lifelong friends who were excited to be on this journey together. Since then, Hadeel and Joanne were able to meet face-to-face at ILA’s 4th Women and Leadership Conference. As they later shared with me, “The meeting was everything we thought it would be. We made an immediate connection and plan to continue our relationship as friends and colleagues.” I hope you enjoy some of the memorable moments of our conversation below.

Megan: Hadeel could you tell us more about The Alchemist Lab and your work?

Hadeel: In the Middle East, schools have been very slow in adopting STEM education and creative and critical thinking training for children, particularly for girls. According to reports, at the age of 15, girls in our region outscore boys STEM education. However, their participation in the workforce and in STEM careers is less than 30%. To address this, we established The Alchemist Lab in 2012.

I'm originally an engineer with a Master's degree in business administration and I'm a serial entrepreneur. The Alchemist Lab is one part of our offerings and is currently the center of our work. It is designed to give kids the best experience via workshops and other formats where they interact with the instructors in The Alchemist Lab and get training on creative and critical thinking skills.

We support schools and individual children — both boys and girls — through clubs, camps, and the workshops. While it's a challenge for boys because of the economic crisis, the political crisis, and cultural issues, the challenge for girls is doubled, particularly in less fortunate areas in the villages and the cities outside of Amman, the capital and most populous city in Jordan. So, my major focus is on girls. That is my personal passion.

I always say that I'm passionate about empowering girls because, in our country, the cost of empowering women when they are over 20 is costly for the women themselves. If a woman makes a decision at the age of 18 to not pursue studies, when you come to her at the age of 22 and say to her, “Okay, you can be strong. You can be empowered. You can do this, and you can do that,” this is a dream for her. The cost of this would be very expensive. For example, to do this, she may have to leave her village and family. That’s why I’m so passionate about empowering girls to make a different decision before the cost is too big for them.

Furthermore, as an engineer, I see the global transformation towards STEM as a path that can carry them in to the future. If we encourage more girls and women in our region to build their skills towards STEM careers, they can be empowered, economically developed, and connected to the world outside their villages. That's why, in 2015, we launched the Go Girls! program. Go Girls! starts with hands-on experiences and experiments where we encourage girls towards options in science and technology. One way we encourage them is to highlight women role models in STEM. If girls see women pursuing STEM careers who are able to make a balance between their careers and their personal life, they will be encouraged to see that they can do it too. Since there are not enough women to go to all of the villages in person, we are creating videos and curriculum to scale up the reach and help teachers introduce career options that are not known for these girls.

One of the biggest challenges that we have is to ensure good education for all children, not just for people who can pay for it. There are many kids in less fortunate areas who do not have access and cannot afford to pay for workshops on STEM. With the ongoing financial crisis in Jordan, it's really difficult to get grants to help reach these kids. One idea we have is to scale up by offering some content, including the videos, online. Our dream is to deliver Arabic scientific content to kids in the region, build their capacity, and create more creative thinkers.

An engineering mindset and the scientific method are ways of thinking that are important in life. These train kids to start questioning themselves and questioning the world around them. We work to train them to ask the right questions, do the research, build the model, test the model, and then accept and learn from their mistakes. I'm not only interested in having kids create inventions, my dream is that kids will adopt a scientific methodology to be able to ask the right questions and find solutions for all of the problems that they face. It's a life skill that you can apply in all sorts of areas.

Joanne: It's absolutely phenomenal to be working with Hadeel and contributing to the work of The Alchemist Lab. There’s a natural connection between her passion for women in STEM and my background in the automotive electronics industry. In the automotive field there are very few women in STEM and I know from personal experience that this is an industry where women can thrive. I’m also very interested in developing young women for STEM careers and am particularly aware of the fact that African American young women are oftentimes viewed as not being capable in STEM.

I love seeing what Hadeel is doing to help young women in Jordan and beyond. Young women need to be able to say, “I know that there are roadblocks, but I can remove them because I believe in what I'm doing. I have the passion. I have the energy.” Many times, we have instilled in young women the cannot instead of the can. What I’m seeing in Hadeel is the very positive energy that says you can, you can, you can! And here are the tools to equip you to do so.

Connecting with Hadeel is such a win win. I’m energized every time I learn of a success that she has had in helping a young woman explore careers she previously hadn’t dreamed of doing, or in helping a woman see that she can be more than her previous choices. Hopefully I've played a small part in that success through my coaching. This movement is so important to me. I work on these same issues within my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. AKA was the very first black sorority in the United States for women. We encourage young women to look at the career choices that other people say they can't have and to move into careers that show them how to think critically, think outside of the box, and ask the right questions. I like that whole approach. Go ahead and try things! If you make a mistake, look at what you learned from it and how you can move forward to revise, redo, and recommit yourself to your purpose.

Hadeel has created a lot of opportunities for young women. As she said earlier, she’s a bit of a serial entrepreneur. One thing I’m working on with her is helping her narrow her focus a bit.

Hadeel: [Laugh]. Absolutely! The first time we talked, I was like, “I want do this and this and this!” You helped me a lot. For example, in that first call I mentioned my belief that we have to include more boys in our programs, but Joanne gave me the perfect advice and said, “Hadeel, you have to focus. Figure out your priorities and what you want to focus on for the next period of time.” After some calls and emails, I came back to her and said, “I decided that our focus at this stage is to take Go Girls! to another level and build on what we've already done. We will wait to work on a plan to include boys in the future.” That enhanced focus is one of the really good outcomes from our work together.

Another challenge Joanne helped me with is managing how to work remotely. Joanne offered some great advice on staying connected with team members. For example, she suggested sharing photos and selfies with the team in Jordan whenever I’m away. Another challenge we discussed was around visibility and getting more publicity. One idea we came up with was using videos online. Joanne always gives me a fresh, positive perspective that encourages me and helps me solve challenges. From the very start, I felt that I could say anything, ask anything without any judgment. That was lovely.

Joanne, I think the world is trying to help me through you! Thank you so much.

Joanne: You're so welcome. And, that works both ways. Working with you has led me to think more about some of the projects I have, especially with young women and how I need to be a little bit more visible in their lives and spend more time with them. I need to encourage them to be bold in what they’re asking for. Sometimes I think we feel like we can't be bold. But when you present yourself and your efforts in such a positive way and take advantage of the opportunities that you have to go and speak and share your story, to share your vision – that’s a positive boldness.

Megan: Joanne, walk me through how you approach coaching someone new.

Joanne: It really starts by just wanting to get to know someone as a person. I think that's so important. When you're a coach, it's not about what you're going to do. It's really about relationships. To me that's number one. Everything else just comes from having that relationship, knowing a person, knowing what their passions are. Cynthia Cherrey, ILA’s President, was so good at connecting us. Hadeel and I care about so many of the same things. It just worked. There was no agenda. Everything just flowed out of our conversations.

Perhaps one thing of interest is how this is a virtual coaching relationship. Hadeel and I connect through Zoom and What’s App whenever possible but with our schedules and different time zones, it’s complicated. I follow Hadeel on social media and sometimes I'll just chat with her through LinkedIn. I'll see something that she just did and write, “Wow, you just did…,” or, “Congratulations….” I'm always available for coaching or whatever through email, Zoom, Facebook, and WhatsApp.

Hadeel: I agree. The key, as Joanne said, is really the relationship.

Megan: It seems like the two of you have a great chemistry, which has added to the success of your venture together. Do you have any words of wisdom and advice to others working out similar partnerships?

Hadeel: I think the chemistry is very important. It’s very valuable to have that connection and that trust., so the entrepreneur can ask whatever questions they want and share their experiences. Entrepreneurs may be struggling through their daily life and struggling to get meaningful feedback from their circle that they see every day. Having this other relationship and outside perspective is really empowering. Sometimes I think that entrepreneurs, because they always have to pitch to investors and donors, believe they have to impress people 100% of the time rather than talking about challenges.

Joanne: This is ideal advice. Just pitch yourself as a person with your work and build this relation with the coach and be open to the feedback. The important thing is to just be yourself. Be totally transparent and open about what you know and what you don’t – so you can learn from each other. As you build the relationship, you can start to figure out a person’s strengths. Also, even though you may be far apart and not able to be in dialogue, don't be afraid to connect in all the various ways that are available. Drop in notes; whether it's on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, to show that you're connected and that you're following the person, so they know that you're engaged.

You know, social entrepreneurs are unique. For them, it's not about what “I need,” it's about what the world needs to be a better place and the resources needed for sustaining the world in the long term. Social entrepreneurs invest in that future. They are leaders in their own right and they understand business. They have a visionary spirit that a lot of people don't have. Too often, individuals put themselves in a box, but social entrepreneurs tend to color outside of the lines. They have a gift for being able to see what others can't. They lead where many might be afraid to go. They are able to picture what will benefit the whole instead of the few. I love working with entrepreneurs because they help me to get outside of my paradigm. I’ve had a couple of my own businesses as well, and when I’m with an entrepreneur, it really helps me to think wider and broader and to imagine what could be instead of imagining what is.

Megan: Thank you. Any final thoughts before we bring this to a close?

Joanne: I’d like to thank Cynthia Cherrey for first thinking of me for this role and for connecting Hadeel and me. I’d also like to thank Hadeel. She is so inspiring that I don't want to stop at the end of our year! I believe in what she’s doing, and I can't wait to go to Jordan myself and see everything in person.

Hadeel: That's fabulous. Thank you so much and thank you for this opportunity.