1- Your story of success. How difficult was it for you to cross the path of success? Who inspired you? To whom you are paving the way?
It requires dedication, persistence and no desperation in any thing you do to be able to achieve success in all aspects of life. You learn about success from childhood, and realize what it means. For me success comes first at home, this will pave the way for success at work. Frankly, life inspired me. Watching people around me, parents, family, friends, professors, colleagues, taught me a lot and made me appreciate every little step taken to achieve good life. I must say without the encouragement of my parents, my brother, my husband, my children and my colleagues I could not have made it. I feel that I have a responsibility that I need to carry on, after I hear many saying I am their role model , their inspiration, their admiration for all those I pave the way , and mainly for women !
2- In your opinion, how great are the chances in Lebanon to empower women so they can better participate in economic life across all sectors? How much can women achieve-on the local front- designed goals of development? And subsequently improve the quality of their lives and that of their families?
Economically, women in Lebanon play a big part. Many own their own business; many are social entrepreneurs, and even the majority of SMEs are owned by women. Do not forget the undeclared working force in agriculture and other unregistered business, and most of all house wives who are doing many jobs in one, saving money on household expenses to be able to spend on more important matters. If you look at the SDGs many call for human rights, eradicating poverty, healthy life all promote women’s rights , but the most direct of these is the Goal 5, Gender Equality ( which I am a proud leader, through the GCNL Council). If you look at the 10 principles of the UNGC, you will find that in order for companies to be able to join, they have to fulfil these principles, amongst which is the fairness to all employees. The progress of such employees depends on their capability and not their gender. The call for gender equality means advancement at work with view to reach decision-making positions and board memberships. I am sure, that we shall see a positive change in Lebanon in this respect, because of many factors .We have now over 150 companies and NGOs as members of the GCLN; the NCWL ( National Committee of Lebanese Women), with its new executive Board are working relentlessly on suggested change of the prevailing laws related to women’s rights, social and economic, and advocating good governance at Ministries. The Lebanese Council of Women (Al Majlis al Nisai al Lubnani) LWC, have been pursuing with the government, and other public bodies, issues related to women. Now, with a Ministry for Women Affairs, that is cooperating with NCWL, LWC, other ministries and UN agencies, we will definitely see a change. Women will take the lead.
3- Do you think you succeeded-through your participation- in local and international commissions, forums, leagues(NAWF, QatarWIL)-in raising the voice of Lebanese women high and to express their pleas ?
I hope so! However, it is not an individual effort. I can present my experience, talk about what Lebanon has achieved; and be positive about it. In addition, I can point out, what is still needed for women, to reach a better social and political status. What I would like to highlight here is that Lebanon is a member of the UN. The UN has issued many decrees, but when it comes to their execution, we are way behind…Every 4 years the UN releases reports showing that we are not progressing. The same applies to World Bank recommendations Lebanon simply does not abide. This is the of the government’s responsibility; the private sector alone cannot progress on its own.
4- Out of what need/to respond to what needs, Fouad and May Makhzoumi took in 1997 the decision to establish their own Foundation? How you transformed The Makhzoumi Foundation into a living reality?
Fouad calls it payback time to our beloved country. We were growing up in the golden age of Lebanon during the 60s & 70s; we had the best education; we were brought up with national pride and belonging senses. We experienced the harmony and co-living of all Lebanese, enjoying beautiful traditions and culture. What we have become is because of this mosaic. Yet we lost it all during a harsh civil war and our country has consequently lost a lot. One of the main things that we lost was coping with Technology. The other sector that suffered is the economy, which has weakened; and last, but not least, we lost our green areas. Thus, the objectives of the Foundation when we launched it was to raise knowledge about IT and language for youngsters and adults. We were concerned that many people are out of work and banks do not give loans to SMEs; so, a well-designed urban Micro Credit program was established for start-ups. (Originally, we had 90% female beneficiary. Now they stand at 75% as loans increased in value, women do not like to take higher risks). Reforestation has been our concern, and an awareness series of lectures to farmers were organized. We established a plant nursery in Akkar, and we are still distributing plants all across Lebanon. Since then, of-course , the Foundation has diversified its activities through social work across its centers, raising awareness on national belonging, civic duties and rights , democracy, alternative energy, education on sustainable development ESD , Health prevention through campaigns , and joining forces with universities for internship & leadership. Collaborating with local, governmental and International organizations that made us one of the most accredited and trusted NGOs in Lebanon. Along the years, the Foundation has been awarded certifications, accreditations, trophies and most of all, the heartfelt testimonies of beneficiaries, interns & staff.
5- As a Foundation President, what were the challenges you faced in the early days and the hardships you still encounter till that day?
Heavy bureaucracy is the main obstacle we face! Many activities require official approvals and these take time to get. In my mind, when you are going by the rules, there should be no obstacles. At the beginning, we had to face a culture of taking and not sharing…When people take a free service, they do not take it seriously… We found out that people would register for courses and then drop out in the middle of the term, at a time when we cannot take newcomers. This practice deprives others from joining. Accordingly, we changed the free offering of courses to courses against a nominal contribution from the trainees. The beneficiaries became committed to attending classes. Another challenge is keeping up to date with all our services, whether Educational, Medical, or Economic and Development, as we are here to empower people to lead a better tomorrow and influence their lives to bring about a positive change.
6- How much at the head of this Foundation you made your best to make people’s future brighter?
Actually, it is not my own sole making. Here, we are a team, starting with the generosity of my husband, Fouad, and the hard work of all our employees. It is their dedication, and love for their work, that boost their creativity and continuous pursuit of new challenges.
7- The services it offers to Lebanese and non-Lebanese benefactors? The targets it tries to reach ?.
Our target has been and is still “Lebanese First”, no matter where they live, or to which sect they belong. They are our priority in all areas we work in: Beirut, Mazaraa, Achrafieh, Aramoun, Saida, Tripoli, Baalbak, and Zahle.
In 2009, UNHCR approached us, to take care of the displaced people from Iraq. There were other nationalities: Egyptians, Sudanese and Yamani’s, but in a lesser number. We provide many services to them such as, medical and training as partners with the UN organizations. According to timetabled projects.
In 2011, we had another request to extend the agreement to cover assistance, and still project based, to the enforced displacement of Syrian influx. Thus, our services extended to Mount Lebanon and Greater Beirut area. Recently we have been mainly working in Beirut. We carry many related projects across Lebanon, and benefit therefrom goes 50% to Lebanese and 50% to displaced communities. This is a policy, we have insisted on, for few years now. Hosting communities should benefit on the same footing as non-Lebanese. These are livelihood projects, which provide skills training.
We do hope that the displaced issue will be resolved as promised, but all depends on this International Crisis resolution.
8- How much your local and external social and political connections served your philanthropic and humanitarian goals?
Not at all. We do not mix between our social and political connections with the Foundations’ work. The Foundation is a separate entity progressing thanks to its own merits. The Founder, Dr. Fouad Makhzoumi, provides 50% of its budget and the other 50% are financed by own activities proceeds. We collaborate with international organizations for projects, meaning we provide a certain percentage of a project cost, as partners with the remaining balance financed by the concerned organization. We do not receive any donations from any political entity from here or from abroad.
9- What about the “Yalla Nefroz” initiative accomplished in partnership with the UNHCR and the Municipality of Beirut?
Due to more and more rubbish accumulation because of the increased number of residents in Beirut. UNHCR offered us a truck, and the municipality gave us the permission to collect the garbage. We agreed with a recycling specialist, to recycle all nonorganic waste material, which we collect from our different centers, as well as during Ramadan and Beirut Marathon at our stands, through the ZERO WASTE initiative he is running. Really leaving no waste! Using every kind of waste to produce another useful item, which we can call upcycling. We are also holding workshops and awareness sessions about sorting waste in households and craft making from waste material. I believe that if all households cooperate with similar organizations we can make a difference.
10- In 2017, The Global Hope Coalition and Leadership Summit under the patronage of UNESCO selected you among the heroes involved in the Global Campaign against violent extremism and intolerance. Your assessment of the event.
The NY public library was the venue for such a prestigious event. The day started with a conference dealing with many issues that result in countries witnessing conflict. I intervened in a panel and spoke about “Trauma of children and women during crisis” I learned from experience during the Lebanese Civil war and recent Syrian crises. Other leaders shared experience from different parts of the world. It is important to know that countries in crises share many issues. The day ended in discussions about losses of heritage in those countries through theft and damages caused by the hostilities and the need to protect it through international laws. As the event was held during the UN General Assembly, we had the privilege of the attendance of countries’ Presidents, Rulers, PMs etc. and some were acknowledged for their work. I was amongst the heroes that fought violence & terrorism with other means, by giving hope to displaced people through training, livelihood workshops, psychological support, medical treatment etc. I am proud, to have been considered as a global hero, and acknowledgement of work done in Lebanon through the Makhzoumi Foundation by a great team, is certainly an honor.
11- Board memberships
I am privileged to have been asked to join, Advisory Boards and Boards of Trustees of various NGOs and businesses. The good thing about being a board member of different institutions, in the Business, Education or Medical fields, is the opportunity to share experience, knowledge and most importantly the network that is beneficial to all.
12- Academic Awards and distinctions
What Can I say! The feeling when receiving awards is overwhelming, let alone the acknowledgement of nomination or even when called upon to submit application. Each step of the way is exciting by itself. When the Foundation, the beneficiaries, or myself earn such recognition, this is for me is another achievement by itself.
13- Academic partnerships you personally supervise
After the passing away of our son in 2011, we established the Rami Makhzoumi Corporate Governance Initiative, a subject dear to his heart, at the Olayan School of Business –AUB- I follow closely with the school in regards to all activities related, attend many of the seminars, workshops and Focus groups, and sometimes am a speaker.
We pledged also at LAU- Fouad Makhzoumi Innovation center, which, will be launched, September 2018, and am following closely all the way through its establishment with the advisor for the President.
14- How much you contribute to the success of Fouad Makhzoumi as a businessperson, and political/public figure?
I myself cannot answer this, I leave it to Fouad’s words. He once said that, being his partner for over 42 years, by his side all the way, from the start through good and bad times has made it possible for him to take risks and move forward to achieve his ambitions. What I can confirm is that his continuous support and confidence in my capabilities has paved the way for me to have a role in his business, which made me grow with it. His encouragement to be involved in Philanthropic activities opened many doors for me. I believe gaining respect of people, their love; and their admiration is in a way a reflection of what our partnership stands for.
15- A dream you didn’t realize so far?
(I had a dream) by the ABBA, is a song that was popular as I was growing! Who does not have a dream? To fulfill all dreams is impossible, but you can make wishes come true by having them as your goal. I dream of a peaceful world, an almost utopic world where no harm exists… Could this be realized? Who knows?