Sustainability is defined in a number of ways. When focused on the ecosystem, the most commonly used definition was written in 1987 by the United Nations Brundtland Commission, “Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This definition of sustainability denotes that although current populations may use what they need regarding the earth’s capital, this must be done is a manner that will leave ample resources for others, with minimal waste.
In this interview with African Development Magazine, Dr. Hanaa Albanna speaks about her educational background, challenges, the importance of sustainability leadership to the nonprofit sector and field of social responsibility..
Below are excerpts:
Tell us about yourself and your work.
I’m a professional in non-profit organizations, specifically in the fields of social responsibility and sustainable development. I specialize in marketing and public relations for non-profit organizations, while also providing training for international organizations. I feel a deep sense of responsibility for others, especially more vulnerable groups in the world and through my work in the nonprofit sector, I am hoping to make a difference in the world.
What has your academic journey looked like?
I graduated from Jordan University with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Engineering, and then went on to complete a Master’s Degree in 2006 as a valedictorian in marketing.
I did a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering at the Jordan University in Jordan and immediately started my master’s degree and graduated in 2006 as a valedictorian in marketing. I then joined the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in London to do my Diploma in Public Relations and Social Media Use. Finally, I completed my Ph.D. at Cardiff Metropolitan University, specializing in marketing, public relations and social Media Use in non-Profit Organizations.
Tell us about some of the Honours you have received.
I received the IAM Honorary Fellow from the Institute of Administrative Management IAM for my efforts in the training field and in linking Arab organizations with the British ones and strengthening cooperation in administrative and training areas.
I also received an honouring from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as one of the most influential Arab women in the Arab world in 2020 and 2021 in the professional category. I also had my name recorded in 100 Arab Personalities Most Influential in Social Responsibility for the Year 2020.
What are your thoughts on the current administrative practice in the field of strategic management and international sustainable development?
I believe that one of the main challenges that stand in the way of organisations today is not associating management practices with leadership practices or applying strategic management principles. Today, we face new challenges universally, and we require practices that will contribute to achieving real change. We need to distinguish between the concepts of management and leadership.
When speaking of management, I refer to the organization of the internal parts of an organization which will allow the organization to implement systems that allow optimal performance of the organization.
Leadership relates to the broader empowerment of individuals within the organization and boosting trust between members to improve results when facing challenges. When enhancing both management and leadership skills within an organization, institutional capacities are strengthened and strategic objectives can be achieved, ensuring a higher quality of services provided.
Current administrative practice must focus on leadership that helps build moral systems and takes into consideration environmental, social and economic aspects. These business systems must meet the needs of stakeholders. Now we are facing a new concept of leadership, sustainability leadership.
According to the Institute for Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cambridge, “Sustainability leaders are the leaders who inspire and support work for a better world.” These individuals have chosen to make a difference by increasing awareness of themselves and their surroundings. They seek to adopt new methods to organize and create innovative and sustainable solutions.”
In order to develop and tackle the challenges faced by organizations of not linking management and leadership practices, we must combine the strategic management of businesses and sustainable development so that institutions develop strategies based on sustainability principles, values, and solid foundations..
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, there is more interest than ever before in linking strategic management with sustainable development. Organizations have become more aware of their responsibility towards society and towards providing solutions to global challenges.
This new awareness of social responsibility is spreading throughout government, the private, nonprofit and public sector, and at all levels too; large, medium or small-scale. Companies are gaining more awareness of the movement, the impact it can have on a company’s reputation, and the advantages available to themselves and to their communities when embracing these new practices.
It is expected from us today to reinforce our management and leadership skills and build moral business systems that take into account the basic pillars, the environment, the workplace, governance, society and charity to ensure the participation of our institutions in accelerating sustainable development, addressing global challenges and supporting economic, social and environmental growth to achieve societies’ welfare.
How important is sustainability leadership to the nonprofit sector?
Sustainability leadership is crucial to the development of organisations within the nonprofit sector. The practical consequences of effective sustainability leadership allow communities to flourish and our natural environment to be protected. The values enshrined within sustainability leadership are aligned with the goals of the majority of organisations within the non-profit sector – mainly, to address the social and environmental issues of our society and to offer sustainable, long-term solutions.
I believe that if all organisations try to incorporate more elements of sustainability leadership within their leadership structures, that they will see positive long-term effects both within the management of their organisation and within their work. For non-profit organisations, reputation and the visible effects had by the organisation on society and their environment is crucial. Through sustainability leadership, organisations are encouraged to champion an ecocentric worldview, allowing individuals to think more about minimizing their impact on natural systems in the short and long term and to be stewards of natural systems.
By embracing the concept that organisations should be led through influence and not authority, leaders of these organisations will see more success in their attempts of social networking and their influence on their organisation. Sustainability leadership allows leaders to look inwardly and recognise the importance of leading themselves, creating leaders with clear purpose and values who have deep reflection habits. Successful leaders who can represent these key elements of sustainability leadership will be reflected within the organisation as a whole, therefore creating a more successful organisation internally and externally.
What have been the most significant moments of your career?
Even though I had started my specialization in agricultural engineering, my passion was all about marketing, public relations and non-profit organisations, ever since I started undergraduate studies. . This pushed me to pursue my master’s degree in marketing. At this point, I thought this was the right direction for my career, yet my passion for non-profit organisations has followed me consistently throughout my career and my life.
The start of my career in the Society for the Protection of Nature allowed me to travel and inspired me to complete my studies in Britain. I quit my job and joined the PR Diploma Program at the top institute for Public Relations in Britain. This year was such an important moment in my career, it provided me with an amazing opportunity to get to know the UK’s universities and connect with professors and experts in this field. The diploma helped me prepare for my PhD studies, where I would specialize in Marketing, Public Relations and Social Media Use, and was a crucial step in my life with all the experience it gave me in academic research.
The start of my Ph.D. marked another crucial moment in my career, where I realized that I wanted to pursue a career where I would focus on women’s issues globally. I believed that if we enhanced the surrounding circumstances of women, enabled them, and armed them with knowledge and education, we could guarantee the establishment of sound, educated, and safe communities. While volunteering for two associations while completing my Ph.D., I began to struggle with balancing motherhood, work, and studying.
However, completing voluntary work was a significant point in my life where I was able to gain important experience and the knowledge which would eventually allow me to start my career in the non-profit sector in the UK. My work in the non-profit sector started to make me more aware of the importance of the work completed in this sector and the change that can be made to societies throughout the world. Some of my work involved carrying out projects which would lead to the construction of hospitals, the training of doctors and nurses, and the widespread distribution of urgent humanitarian aid kits to refugees. I was able to become involved in high-level UN meetings on sustainable development goals and to meet with the leaders of international organizations.
I have given lectures at many universities in the UK. We established many partnerships, including an academic research partnership with the University of Birmingham, to study the conditions of Syrian refugees in camps. We brought out important recommendations to governments and organizations working with refugees and the bill was discussed in the British parliament.
Another yet crucial stop in my career is the launch of the Alliance of NGOs and CSOs for South-South Cooperation. This experience was very rich in terms of working with many organizations in the South-South Cooperation and establishing partnerships and training programs to raise the efficiency and capacity of civil society organizations in these countries.
Finally, during the Coronavirus period, I began a partnership with the one-of-kind Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This has been especially important for me in my career as it is creating new opportunities for me where I will be able to reinforce social responsibility globally, especially in Arab countries.
How have you overcome challenges in your career?
Just like any other human being, I have faced many obstacles throughout my career and time over the past 15 years. However, I think the biggest challenge I have faced and overcome was during my Ph.D., when I struggled to split my time between my family, university, and my career. However, with determination and will, I managed to overcome this challenge and completed my studies while working and balancing all duties.
I overcame these challenges through consistency, determination, self-confidence, and faith in myself and in God first and foremost.
What would you say to girls and women at the start of their careers, and how can we become a more equal society?
I would like to tell all girls and women that you can turn your dreams into reality when armed with knowledge, determination and the faith that nothing is impossible and that the learning process is a lifetime project. Strive for the best every day and look to strengthen your knowledge and gain new skills. Push further the boundaries of your ambition and believe in yourself and your abilities and that you can and you will. Be sure that if you don’t, nobody will. Don’t wait for anybody to give you a hand. Rely on yourself, for you are the only one capable of building yourself and your career.
In our Arab societies, we need to promote these principles, especially for high school and university girls, boost their confidence and involve them in specialized programs to enable them and introduce them to leading ladies’ success stories for inspiration. We need to encourage girls to complete their university studies and even post-graduate studies. We need to break the stereotypical mentality pattern in our societies which sometimes kills girls’ ambitions. We need women to acquire leading skills and ensure claiming important positions and senior leadership.
The phenomenon of gender discrimination and inequality and placing obstacles before women and girls is a global phenomenon. It exists in Arab and Western countries in various sectors, higher education, banks, corporates, and even government sectors. Since 2000, the UN has sought to launch the Millennium Development Goals, with international efforts on improving gender equality making significant progress as we have greater numbers of girls in schools compared with what they were 15 years ago. There is still a lot to be done for women and girls.
Sustainable Development Goal 5 aims to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls. Communities can only progress when we enable women and girls to progress too. Unfortunately, the breakout of the Coronavirus pandemic has caused a significant decline in this specific goal.
As countries and organisations calling for women’s rights, we cannot overcome these barriers and establish gender equality without strengthening policies and legislation that guarantee women their fundamental rights. We need to provide these organizations with funding to ensure that violence is eliminated altogether, women are economically and socially empowered to start working, and necessary policies are legislated to ensure that women accomplish leadership.
Dr. Hanaa Albanna is an SDGs, CSR, and Charity Expert, International Initiatives Manager – Global One UK