Hoda Al-Helaissi

Shoura Council member

One of the questions I hate the most is being asked who I am. I have always found it difficult to define myself because it means having to tick a box. I feel that what might be a priority today could be a very different priority tomorrow.

I am a mother of three wonderful adults who make me proud on a daily basis. The biggest pleasures in my life have been seeing my children grow up, hearing their laughter and witnessing their caring nature toward others. They are my greatest gifts from God.

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I grew up abroad because my father was an ambassador. My first six years were spent in Rome and the next 17 years were in London.

I went to a French school from kindergarten all the way through to high school. I attended university in London for my bachelor’s degree and a university in the US for my master’s degree.

If there was one thing that my father emphasized throughout our lives, it was education and culture. He insisted on the importance of reading and self-improvement and he encouraged listening rather than talking.

I came to live in the Kingdom in 1989 and a year later I joined King Saud University as a lecturer in its college of languages and translation, where I worked until I took early retirement in 2012. Throughout those years, I held various administrative posts ending with a 13-year stint as vice chair at the college.

Professionally, it was a period of great learning and it was an amazing journey of self-discovery as well as self-development. The rapport I had with my students was special and I retained fond memories of “my girls,” many of whom I still keep in touch with.

A few months after leaving King Saud University, and a few months after my father passed away,

I was nominated as one of the first 30 women to join the Saudi Shoura Council. It was a surprise and a huge honor at the same time and the feeling of overwhelming responsibility weighed heavily on my shoulders as was the case for my colleagues.

It was so different from the world of academia and it was imperative that the first group of women learnt fast if we were to make the experience a success. The term was for four years and the learning process carried on with these new responsibilities.

Meeting new people from different backgrounds – all successful in their own right – dealing with governance and ministry reports as well as traveling for meetings in foreign parliaments, made this new world remarkable and impressive.

The fact that women became part of decision-making gave us a huge sense of duty but what struck me the most was, contrary to our expectations, the greatest advice and guidance we received during those first years were from our male colleagues, to whom I am eternally grateful.

In 2016, and to my great surprise, I was invited to serve another four-year term along with nine other women from the previous group. I am still learning, still meeting amazing people – and some not so amazing.

Where the road will take me is still to be seen, but suffice it to say that there is a reason for every step we take in life and I am thankful for all that I have lived so far and for all that I have been blessed with.

What we are today is because of our past, just as tomorrow will be the result of our today. More importantly, not a day goes by without me being grateful for my family and what they have given me, from my father and his legacy, to my socialite mother who taught us the way we should behave and, of course, my ever-supportive husband and wonderful children.

Follow Hoda Al-Helaissi
Twitter: @hodaalhelaissi
Linkedin: @hoda-al-helaissi

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