Online platforms bringing visibility to knowledgeable voices
In 2016, Swedish Palestinian Saana Azzam boldly moved out of her career in finance. She was set to improve the state of the world through dialogue.
Azzam founded MENA Speakers and KnoWhoMarket, online platforms connecting knowledgeable speakers from the region with international corporations. She convinced Ericsson, Spotify, Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, RTA and Del Monte among others, to join her mission.
Her expertise in the art of public speaking was carefully crafted through training with media experts from CNBC and MBC. Her speaking engagements include appearances before crowds of 1,000 people across Europe and the Middle East. In 2015, she was listed as Top 30 under 30 influencers by the Swedish 4potentials.
Azzam spoke with The Arab Weekly via Skype, discussing the need to diversify voices in international conferences. She said knowledge belongs to all people, including Arabs.
The Arab Weekly (TAW): How powerful is the word in the Arab world?
Saana Azzam (SA): “The region is infatuated with the power of the words. Just like in the story of the ‘One Thousand and One Nights,’ we have countless of parallel narratives that infuse passion and drive in the citizens of the MENA region. We have incredible intellectuals who can think and talk about innovation, business, culture arts, and poetry among other subjects.
“For example, we represent Her Excellency Sara al-Madani. She is a young, hard-working and successful speaker who constantly shatters stereotypes in her speeches. We support Joy Ajlouny, one of the most VC-funded female entrepreneurs in the world to share her message with the world. We have hosted Mohammed Qahtani, who is a world champion in public speaking. We helped spread the lessons from Sheikh Majid Sultan al-Qassimi on veterinary trade and sustainable agriculture.”
TAW: Why is it important to have our knowledgeable voices resonate across the globe?
SA: “I came from a part of the world where — quite often — experts on stage were primarily white men. Many of these speakers were, of course, excellent. Yet, I found it very odd that my demographic of either female or young was rarely represented. Seeing Arabs on stage was as rare as a lunar eclipse.
“Since knowledge belongs to all of us, we ought to have diversity among its voices. I also believe that by having a similar perspective on stage, societies move towards groupthink. This has been proven to be at the detriment of evolution and growth.
“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities. By allowing different narratives to unfold, we are opening up minds and hearts for more compassion and understanding in our world.”
TAW: What do these voices share?
SA: “Raha Moharrak was the first Saudi female to climb Mount Everest. Her story is about pursuing her passion against all odds. Omar Albusaidy, the author of the book, ‘Just Read It,’ uses much humour to delve into about business and culture.
“When I go up on stage, I talk about communication and how to use the voice as a force for good. I truly believe that we can create an improved state of the world through great dialogue. That is our mission at MENA Speakers.”
TAW: What do local speakers have to learn?
SA: “The speakers’ industry is still at its infancy stage in the region. We had to educate both the market and speakers to reach parity with international speakers with regards to marketing and branding. The content and the excellence in achievements exist in the region but the branding is one aspect that needs improvement.
“Because of this lack in branding, I aspire to democratise the speakers’ industry. We are yet to unlock the phenomenal stories and ensure that every voice gets a chance to pursue public speaking as a career or hobby.”
TAW: Why do international companies want speakers from the region?
SA: “We simply have experts who have achieved remarkable things. International companies understand that we have leaders at the forefront in their field who are shaping the future in the region by sharing their knowledge. International companies understand that these are ideas worth spreading and valuable knowledge worth acquiring.”