The United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has selected Hon Lujaina Mohsin Darwish, chairperson of Infrastructure, Technology, Industrial & Consumer Solutions – Mohsin Haider Darwish (MHD-ITICS), to join its esteemed global community of over 30,000 innovators, entrepreneurs and changemakers, to support and create a sustainable future that works well for everyone.
RSA is a London-based organisation committed to finding practical solutions to social challenges. Founded in 1754 by William Shipley, currently its patron is Queen Elizabeth II, and its president is Princess Anne. Notable past fellows include Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin, Stephen Hawking, Karl Marx, Adam Smith, Nelson Mandela, David Attenborough, William Hogarth, John Diefenbaker and Tim Berners-Lee.
As the first Fellow of RSA from Oman, Hon Lujaina will be inspired by new ideas, have access to innovative projects, be part of a diverse network of like-minded people, and expand her platform for social change. In an exclusive interview with Hubert Vaz, she reveals some of her ambitious plans and aspirations in this prestigious role. Excerpts:
How does it feel being selected to join the ranks of international stalwarts who have been fellows of the prestigious RSA in the past? When did you learn about your selection?
The RSA members are innovative contributors to human knowledge and this is the first thing that inspired me to apply for the RSA Fellowship programme. The RSA network is very extensive as an organisation, thus, being associated with RSA has given me the opportunity to network with like-minded intellectuals and work together to make a difference.
I was thrilled to learn about my selection just a few days ago, and knowing that I have been selected by some of the most prestigious, previous RSA international fellows, makes me feel grateful. At the same time, I realise the responsibility it brings on me to think of the various ways in which I can contribute to the society.
What projects or past work undertaken by you have paved the way for your selection to join the RSA. How do you propose to maintain the momentum of existing/new projects for social change?
I am undoubtedly honoured and beyond grateful to be joining the RSA. What, I believe, paved the way for my selection was my tireless long journey of hard work with a clear vision – to be an inspirational Omani leader – and my mission to promote good causes, such as gender equality, youth empowerment, access to education, and innovation.
Being selected as a fellow of RSA will only propel me even more to work for the causes I believe in. While maintaining the momentum of the existing projects I am involved with, I will also be actively looking for new areas I can make a difference in with my experience and exposure.
I have proudly represented Oman and GCC women at various global and regional summits in Muscat, Geneva, Dubai and Sweden. In 2018, I spoke at the WTO public forum in Geneva on ‘Leadership beyond the veil’ on the significance of Omani women leaders and also addressed the opening plenary session, as a keynote speaker, at the IRU World Congress 2018 in Muscat.
In 2020, I was honoured with the prestigious International Executives Diamond Award and Harvard Business Council 2020 Leadership Medal by Harvard Business Council for ‘Outstanding commitment towards excellent leadership practices’. This recognition was bestowed for exceptional management skills and several of my other achievements professionally.
The same year, I was also honoured with the Citation Medal at the celebrations of the Oman China Friendship Association’s 10th Anniversary by the Government of the People’s Republic of China in recognition of my efforts towards developing trade, cultural, sports and economic relations between the two friendly countries.
You will be among 30,000 innovators and changemakers globally. Have you drawn up any initial plans or ideas that can be implemented to have some impact in Oman and the Arab world, if not globally?
I believe in a world where everyone is able to participate in creating a better future. Hence, I have joined the RSA’s mission of unearthing patterns and unlocking insights to enable and empower change.
While I am greatly honoured to be joining their global community of over 30,000 innovators, entrepreneurs and changemakers, to support and create a future that works for everyone, I am determined to contribute to thought-provoking debates and will be supporting all RSA fellows with their ideas and projects, and furthermore seek opportunities to develop solutions to global social challenges, including my country Oman, and the Arab world overall.
As an RSA fellow, I am looking forward to being part of a diverse network of like-minded people, and expand my platform for social change.
What according to you are the most pressing issues of social change that need to be addressed internationally. Have you identified any specific issues that need attention in this part of the world?
In previous years, food security has been the biggest threat to the overall health of the human population, more so than malaria, tuberculosis, or HIV. And 2020 saw the most severe increase in global food insecurity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, impacting vulnerable households almost everywhere.
Some of the most pressing issues of social change that I believe need to be addressed internationally include environmental issues, especially threats to habitats and organisms on land and under water, as well as resource depletion. Despite its importance, the ocean is under threat due to overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices which are causing the endangerment and extinction of many marine species.
Another sensitive subject that needs to be addressed is universal access to education. Unfortunately, there are countless children around the world who are denied access to education. Some are only provided with a primary-level schooling, while some are denied any formal education at all.
The future belongs to smart cities and smart citizens. Do you think, every nation needs to gear up for this as well as equip the younger generation to fit into this new ‘smart’ concept which will be the mantra of the future?
The need for further innovation and investment in infrastructure should always be stressed upon. A significant digital transformation can be achieved by deploying appropriate technology for ICT as well as other enablers of technological progress.
I am very happy to mention here that the Technology & Communications Division of MHD-ITICS is already working with several organisations in Oman that have been tasked with setting up infrastructure for smart cities, providing equipment, technology and knowhow from international partners.
Do you feel women need to play a greater role in social change in the current age? What is your opinion about global empowerment of women and the need for encouragement for them to show the way ahead?
Despite having countless responsibilities as mothers, wives, and daughters, women in the Middle East most probably have the world’s lowest rates of labour force participation.
We should remind our region, as well as the whole world, of the productive value waiting to be tapped in an increasingly educated and successful female population.
While economic progress is significantly important to female empowerment, unfortunately, a culture of gender inequality still dominates the macro context of the regional startup ecosystem.
Women need to play a greater role in social change. Their participation in the economy would stimulate wider benefits.
Societies with greater gender equality not only offer better socioeconomic opportunities for women, but also tend to grow faster and more equitably. There are gains in poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, consumer choice, innovation, and decision-making on a wider set of issues.
If we want to see the global economy prosper, we must enact the domestic policy and structural reforms that will empower women.
What type of support will you need to realise your vision and goals as an RSA fellow from Oman? Do you expect any cooperation and assistance from the GCC states since you are a representative from the region?
As the first RSA fellow to be selected from Oman, I will be representing my country and the GCC states in the most dignified way through existing best practices to help enhance the international ranking of the region by opening thousands of job opportunities to help the economy.
Furthermore, it is for certain that the GCC states are bound to offer their unconditional assistance and cooperation to help me achieve my goals as an RSA fellow from Oman.
What’s more, having joined the RSA’s community of committed problem solvers and changemakers will create limitless opportunities for progressive organisations to support positive change, both, locally and on a global scale.
Has this prestigious fellowship already changed your own status as an enlightened global citizen and will it be instrumental in bringing prestige to Oman as well as insights for Oman’s progress?
Being an RSA fellow has undoubtedly boosted my way of thinking and has definitely inspired me to give my best. Oman already holds a very prestigious position in the region and the world, and my endeavour will be to enhance Oman’s standing by my humble contribution to my country’s progress.
I look forward to sharing my journey with those who look up to me, and eventually inspire them to enhance their way of seeing things.
If we all stay united and work together towards a shared vision or common goals, I believe we can all identify ourselves as global citizens who are eager to promote such good causes.