Arab British Chamber of Commerce Secretary General and Chief Executive Afnan Al-Shuaiby, Ph.D. ’09, touched on dimensions of leadership, international diplomacy, education and breaking social barriers last week at a London event attended by members of her economic organization and more than 80 George Washington University alumni.
Speaking with moderator and Skadden partner Scott Simpson, B.A. ’84, at a GW Global Series event hosted by George Washington President Steven Knapp, Dr. Al-Shuaiby, the first Saudi national and first woman to lead the Arab British Chamber of Commerce, reflected on her own education and life experience as she serves in her pioneering role.
“There was a lot of pressure, but I always try to do not just what is expected of me, but to go beyond expectations,” she said of her 2007 appointment, which also made her the youngest secretary general in the chamber’s 40-year history.
The GW Global Series seeks to enrich the university community throughout the world by inviting top executives, business leaders and other distinguished guests to speak on global topics. Previous events include a recent discussion focusing on women in business, featuring Her Royal Highness Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud, MVC B.A. ’99.
“One of GW’s key priorities has been to put the infrastructure in place to reach out to our global alumni population in new ways, and GW Global Series is just one result of that,” said Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Aristide Collins. “These programs connect our lifelong and worldwide community of 270,000 alumni in 150 countries.”
As secretary general, Dr. Al-Shuaiby oversees and promotes trade between Britain and the Arab world and provides leadership to the chamber’s 1,500-plus members. She said her experience as a doctoral student at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development helped prepare her to exceed expectations at an early age. The practical experience from her internship program, she noted, propelled her forward at the beginning of her career.
Later, as secretary general, she established the chamber’s first internship program.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for my experience and education at GW,” she said. “The GW internship program was especially a huge benefit for me. As a Saudi student in the U.S., we didn’t have the concept of internships or volunteer work. Now this concept has been adapted more in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the youth are encouraged to take part. I started my career as an intern through the support and encouragement of people at GW—and they are important because they bring new ideas, new energy, new innovation. So never underestimate the power of an intern.”
Prior to her current role, Dr. Al-Shuaiby worked as advisor to the president of the U.S. Saudi Arabian Business Council. In 2011, she received The International Alliance for Women World of Difference Award. She was also named Diplomat Magazine’s diplomat of the year for the Middle East 2011 and received the Diplomat Award, recognizing her distinguished achievements as a foreign diplomat in London.
“It was a privilege to hear from a prominent leader at the intersection of business and diplomacy,” Mr. Simpson said. “It underscores GW’s strengths as an institution that successfully equips the next generation of leaders to take to the international stage and make a meaningful impact for their home countries and the world at large.”
Dr. Al-Shuaiby’s personal story resonated with members of the audience, which included Trustee A. Michael Hoffman and several ambassadors to the United Kingdom from the Gulf Cooperation Council and Asia. Zoe Petkanas, B.A. ’10, a former GW Commencement speaker, currently is conducting doctoral research at Cambridge University challenging gender stereotypes, focusing on the accomplishments of female parliamentarians in Tunisian politics.
“As the first Saudi, first woman and youngest secretary general and chief executive of the Arab British Chamber of Commerce, [Dr. Al-Shuaiby] did an excellent job challenging the stereotype of Arab women as passive and powerless,” Ms. Petkanas said. “[They] are anything but passive and powerless.”