Arab American Business & Professional Association

emPOWER 10: Celebrating the Most Inspiring and Influential Arab American Women in the Nation

In a world where women are breaking barriers and making their mark in every industry, the Arab American Businesses and Professional Association’s emPOWER 10 is excited to honor the most inspiring and influential women in the nation. These women are bold, brave, and unafraid to blaze a trail in their respective fields. The emPOWER 10 committee had the challenging task of narrowing down the selection to just 10 women from a pool of exceptional candidates. This year’s emPOWER 10 consists of a powerful force in various career fields, including business, medicine, technology, education, and more. These women are not only leaders in their professions but also artists, philanthropists, and mothers who consistently put justice and equality at the forefront of their work.

The upcoming emPOWER 10 networking event and Grant Fundraiser on March 6th at the Alhambra Palace promises to be a celebration of the remarkable achievements of these extraordinary women. It’s an opportunity to recognize their contributions, learn from their experiences, and be inspired by their stories.  We celebrate the achievements of these women and the impact they have made on their communities and beyond. The emPOWER 10 is a reminder that when women support and uplift each other, incredible things happen!

The emPOWER networking event and Grant Fundraiser on March 6th is a testament to the commitment of the Arab American Business and Professional Association’s dedication to empower and elevate women in the community. It’s a celebration of resilience, determination, and the spirit of leadership that these women embody.

Tala Al Rousan

Dr. Al-Rousan stands at the forefront of innovative healthcare as a distinguished physician-scientist and founding faculty member at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health at the University of California San Diego. Dr. Al-Rousan has become a driving force in promoting health equity for migrants on a global scale. She has served in multiple national and international leadership positions, including directing a Doctors Without Borders “Médecins Sans Frontiers” clinic that serves Syrian refugees in Jordan, on advisory committees at the World Health Organization, the Arab League, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the visionary founder and director of the Displacement and Health Research Center at the University of California San Diego, she has become a trailblazer in addressing the complex intersection of health and displacement globally. She has mentored more than fifty refugee and immigrant students from the Middle East and North African region and has published more than a hundred research articles, scientific book chapters, Op-eds, and commentaries at leading journals, including the Harvard Crimson, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Journal of American Medical Association. She is a Bernard Lown Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, and Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health at Trinity College in Dublin and the Atlantic Institute at the Rhodes House in Oxford, England.

Supported by funding from the Bernard Lown Nobel Peace Prize Endowment, the National Institutes of Health, the Global Brain Health Institute in San Francisco, Trinity College in Dublin, the California Department of Public Health, and various foundations, Dr. Al-Rousan assumes the principal investigator role in multiple clinical trials that focus on implementing behavioral health interventions to enhance chronic disease management among migrants throughout their life course. Dr. Al-Rousan’s vision is to foster multi-disciplinary collaboration through a dedicated research center at a premier research institution to advance scientific evidence that addresses the health needs and wellbeing of the MENA population to inform policy.

Hala Alyan

Hala Alyan is the author of the novel “Salt Houses,” winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Arab American Book Award and a finalist for the Chautauqua Prize. Her latest novel, “The Arsonists’ City,” was published in March 2021 and was a finalist for the 2022 Aspen Words Literary Prize. She is also the author of four award-winning collections of poetry, most recently “The Twenty-Ninth Year.” Her work has been published by The New Yorker, The Academy of American Poets, LitHub, The New York Times Book Review and Guernica. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter, where she works as a clinical psychologist.

Mariam Saad Bazzi

Judge Mariam Saad Bazzi has served on the Third Circuit Court since 2017 and she currently serves in the Criminal Division. In addition to her regular duties, she has overseen a Mental Health Court docket, served on the Court’s Executive Committee, and served on the Court’s Strategic Planning Team. She is currently the Judicial Sponsor of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee for the Court. She also was appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court to serve on the Michigan Continuing Judicial Education Board.

She previously served as an Assistant Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney prior to her appointment to the Bench. During her service at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, she prosecuted thousands of criminal cases including violent crimes, drug cases, financial crimes and other complex, and high profile cases. Prior to leaving that office for the bench, she was the Lead Attorney in charge of the Mortgage and Deed Fraud Task Force in Wayne County.

Judge Bazzi has been active in many community and civic organizations. She currently serves as President of the Leaders Advancing and Helping Communities (LAHC) Board.  Prior to her judicial appointment, she was elected to the Dearborn Board of Education and Henry Ford College Board of Trustees where she chaired both boards.  She also previously served on Michigan’s Middle Eastern Affairs Commission, Michigan’s Environmental Justice Work Group, and as the President of the Arab American Political Action Committee.

and, together, they have three children.  

Rana el Kaliouby

Rana’s life work is about humanizing technology before it dehumanizes us. She is an Egyptian-American scientist, entrepreneur, angel investor, author, and an AI thought leader on a mission to bring emotional intelligence to our digital world. She is the Deputy CEO at Smart Eye and formerly, Co-Founder and CEO of Affectiva, an MIT spin-off and category defining AI company. Rana realized a successful exit for Affectiva in June 2021 when the company was acquired by Smart Eye, where she is currently focused on scaling the company to a global AI powerhouse. She is also an executive fellow at the Harvard Business School where she teaches about AI and startups. Her bestselling memoir, Girl Decoded: A Scientist’s Quest to Reclaim Our Humanity by Bringing Emotional Intelligence to Technology (Penguin Random House, April 2020), follows her personal journey, growing up in the Middle East and moving to the United States to become an entrepreneur, juxtaposed against her work building Emotion AI.

She is extremely passionate about the ethical development and deployment of AI, including advocating for standards to ensure data privacy and to mitigate data and algorithmic bias. To help establish best practices and guidelines for AI ethics, Rana is part of industry organizations like the Partnership on AI and the World Economic Forum’s Council of Young Global Leaders.

As one of few women leading an AI company, she cares deeply about her role as an advocate for diversity and inclusion in tech and leadership. To help catalyze change and improve equity industry-wide, she is a member of the Boston Steering Committee for All Raise supporting female founders and funders, and a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) where she serves on YPO’s New England board. Rana is also a venture partner of the MIT Media Lab E14 Fund, a Board Member of SIMPEDs at Boston Children’s Hospital, and a Board of Trustees member at the Mass Technology Leadership Council and at the American University in Cairo, the leading liberal arts university in the Middle East. A TED speaker, and co-host of a PBS NOVA series on AI, Rana has been recognized on Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list and as one of Forbes’ Top 50 Women in Tech. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge and a Post Doctorate from MIT.

Fadwa Hammoud

Fadwa Hammoud is the Chief Deputy Attorney General at the Michigan Department of Attorney General, the state’s largest public interest law firm. In five years with the Department, she went from serving as Michigan’s 12th Solicitor General to ultimately being appointed to the highest position in the office, Chief
Deputy Attorney General, and has achieved historic wins for the people of Michigan. In the course of leading in the Department, she shattered glass ceilings she did not necessarily set out to break by becoming Michigan’s youngest Solicitor General, the first Arab and Muslim American to hold the office in the nation, the highest ranking Arab or Muslim state official in Michigan’s history, and the first
Muslim woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mrs. Hammoud has established herself as a leader in Michigan through her legal expertise, unrelenting work ethic, and through building excellent relationships statewide with leading stakeholders across public and private sectors. She has accomplished this while overseeing the Attorney General Department’s 18 civil divisions, 4 criminal divisions, the Solicitor General division, and the Offices of Human Resources, Fiscal Management, Legislative Affairs, and Public Information and Education.
Mrs. Hammoud also served as a Trustee and Treasurer of the Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education and the Henry Ford College Board, championing public education in her hometown. A first-generation American, Hammoud advocated on behalf of Michigan’s various ethnic and immigrant communities and advised state, county, and city leaders on their affairs. After thirteen years in public service, she has culminated the respect and support of her colleagues in the legal community who recently named her Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s 2023 Influential Woman of the Year.

Mai Kakish

Mai, a Palestinian-born marketing professional and mother of three, holds a master’s degree in marketing and public relations from DePaul University in Chicago. When not consulting, she dedicates her free time to community projects and her blog, Almond and Fig.

Founder of TEE, a community program nurturing Arabic language and culture among Arab American children, Mai has directed this initiative since 2007. Additionally, she is the vice chair of Seraj Library project, a non-profit establishing libraries and community centers in Palestinian villages and refugee camps.

Mai, a compelling public speaker, shares her experiences growing up under occupation in Palestine. She actively organizes fundraisers and events focused on education, raising awareness, and celebrating Palestinian culture and cuisine.

As a Palestinian chef, storyteller, and content creator, Mai uses Almond and Fig to share the history, injustices, and beauty of Palestine through recipes and storytelling. This blog serves as a family memoir, connecting her roots to her children and others. @almondandfig is Mai’s way of inspiring people to cook from this misunderstood part of the world, creating memories and conversations through food and stories.

Dima Khalidi

Dima Khalidi is a Beirut-born, Chicago-raised Palestinian American lawyer and advocate. In 2012, she founded and has since directed Palestine Legal, an organization that engages in legal advocacy to protect the constitutional and civil rights of people speaking out for Palestinian freedom in the US.

Prior to founding Palestine Legal, she co-counseled, volunteered and interned at the Center for Constitutional Rights on various cases involving Palestinian rights, including an international campaign to stop the desecration of an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem, and cases aiming to hold Israeli officials accountable for violations of international law. She also interned at the People’s Law Office in Chicago, assisting in the acquittal of a Palestinian-American on politicized criminal charges.

Dima has a JD from DePaul University College of Law, an MA in International and Comparative Legal Studies from the University of London – SOAS, and a BA in History and Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan. Prior to law school, she headed a research project at Birzeit University on informal justice mechanisms in the Palestinian legal system. She has also worked as a youth educator at several Chicago community programs.

Dima’s advocacy on Palestinian rights issues extends to media forums such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Hill, Democracy Now!, The Nation, Al Jazeera, NPR, and other outlets. She is passionate about bringing to light Palestinian narratives in an ecosystem that insists on erasing and silencing them.

Khitam Masoud

A first-generation Palestinian immigrant with a unique background in nonprofit management and philanthropy.  Khitam’s passion for philanthropy and community building has inspired her to a lifetime of service. From her work providing 1-on-1 support and mentorship for cancer fighters with Imerman Angels, to founding Blessons for Women in 2016, a nonprofit dedicated to providing scholarships towards skilled trades and resources for women, Khitam’s mission has always been to empower others and educate her community in volunteerism.

Following her battle with cancer in 2007, Khitam moved to Chicago, where she has built a community of motivated and resilient women and developed a background in philanthropy and community organizing that is entirely unique. She has been featured in Harper Bazaar Arabia, spoken at over 200 events, conferences, and engagements, and is the recipient of the Lettuce Entertain You “Mity Nice Award” and the Hyatt “Portraits of Understanding” Award, among

others.

Through volunteerism, yoga, workouts, running and participating in a variety of races including triathlons, she found they were all the best medicine for her wellbeing. Khitam has fundraised over $150k for charity over the years while completing more than 162 races including all 6 Abbott World Marathon Majors; Chicago, NYC, Boston, Berlin, Tokyo & London and she did them all within 12 months ( April 2016- April 2017). She brought running for a cause for Blessons. Since 2018, Team Blessons has been an official charity of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Empowering others to make a difference by using their feet is one of her passions.

Laila Mokhiber

Laila Mokhiber, a fourth-generation Arab American, is an award-winning advocate and strategic communications professional. She takes great pride in both her Lebanese and Palestinian heritage.

Since joining UNRWA USA in 2013, Laila has been dedicated to advocating for the humanitarian rights and needs of Palestine refugees, especially in the areas of mental health. She leads the organization’s narrative transformation efforts, aiming to broaden perceptions about Palestine refugees among Americans. Known as the host and emcee of the organization’s signature Gaza 5K walk/run, Laila has held key roles within UNRWA USA, including Director of Communications, since 2016 and Acting Executive Director in 2018. Through her leadership, she has elevated UNRWA USA into a widely recognized brand and cultivated a community of caring Americans, making it possible to secure tens of millions of dollars for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s life-saving programs.

Laila is also a co-founder of various initiatives and serves on boards such as Open Roads Media Foundation, Latitude Adjustment Podcast, the Network of Arab American Professionals DC Chapter (NAAP-DC), the DC Palestinian Film and Arts Festival (DCPFAF), and the ADC DC Chapter. As the co-founder and former ambassador for the Afikra DC chapter, she brought the community together for the last seven years to nerd out on the histories and cultures of the Arab world. Most recently, Laila has begun producing a documentary film that will explore Palestinian food across the diaspora.

Known as the ‘mukhtara’ (mayor) within her Arab American community due to her widespread reputation as a connector, Laila’s influence and impact have also gained national recognition. She’s been named a 40 under 40 awardee by both the Arab America Foundation in 2020 and the Middle East Policy Council in 2023.

Celine Semaan Vernon

Céline is a Lebanese-Canadian designer, writer, speaker, and advocate working at the intersection of environmental and social justice.

Céline is the founder of Slow Factory, a 501c3 public service organization addressing the intersecting crises of climate justice and social inequity — filling the gap for climate adaptation and preparedness, building community power through open education, narrative change and regenerative design. As a part of this work, Slow Factory produces a conference series promoting sustainability literacy called Study Hall, the first science-driven incubator in fashion called One X One, and a range of other offerings.

An advocate in a range of fields, Céline is on the Council of Progressive International, has been a Director’s Fellow of MIT Media Lab, and served on the Board of Directors of AIGA NY, a nonprofit membership organization that helps cultivate the future of design in New York City.

Céline writes for New York Mag: The Cut, Elle, Refinery29, Huffington Post, among other publications. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, CNN Vogue, Refinery29, Scientific American, Fast Company, Teen Vogue and many other outlets.

Céline lives in New York City.