The global award in photography and sustainability

Jacqueline Hassink
Hessa Abdul Rahman Al-Oun Chairman of 5 companies; a.o. Al-bidaia Compa ny for Trading & Industry and the First Female Industrial City Center. SPECIAL COMMENTS: There are 26 million people living in Saudi Arabia of which 6 million are foreign workers. Saudi Arabia is a gender-segregated society. Only 5 per cent of all Saudi women are working, and in order to allow them to work and thereby reduce economic dependency on foreign workers, Ms Hessa Al-Oun is building the ‘Women’s City’. This is a complex of 83 factories 10 km outside Jeddah, covering nearly 600,000 sq. metres where 10,000 women will work in light industries (including clothes, perfume, sweets), and no men will be allowed. There will also be training and recreation centres. The Saudi government has invested $100 million dollars in the city and another $100 million dollars will be covered by the participating companies. Countries including China, Malaysia, Tunisia and Italy are involved in the project. The ’city’ will begin functioning in 2007. Ms Al-Oun is a self-taught businesswoman, a writer and a member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce. She first worked as a journalist and was one of the first Saudi sports writers. She started her first company 20 years ago and since 1998 has owned five companies, one of which produces a small, portable mosque that can be easily assembled and disassembled. Her companies are the first in Saudi Arabia to focus primarily on women’s affairs. ‘My business is not for money but to make the world a better place.’ She does not come from a family with a background in business but her late husband was a businessman, and her son is also in business. Her new headquarters is a beautiful space of her own design with warm yellow sand colours inspired by old Saudi interior design. There are stars on the ceiling – the star is for her a symbol of hope. The official boardroom table would not be ready until the following month. Produced by one of her companies, it is a replica of a traditional, carved, wooden Riyadh-style door covered with a glass sheet. Her personal office was being used for board meetings. In the lobby there is a traditional bedouin coffee corner with pillows on the floor where coffee and nuts were served. At her home there is a painting of her husband in the dining room. Her assistants helped in setting the table. The house is decorated in the same personal style as the headquarters. She had planned to make a seafood dinner for us but had to leave town unexpectedly. In March 2006, Ms Al-Oun ranked tenth in Forbes Arabia magazine’s list of ‘50 Most Powerful Businesswomen in the Arab World’.

Series: Arab Domains
9 November 2005 (left), 11 November 2005 (right)
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

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