Jumana Abu-Hannoud talks SOS Children’s Villages, entrepreneurship and working for H.R.H. Princess Haya

There are certain people that exist for a purpose, whether to advise individuals through their path or merely exude goodness in every way possible to benefit others. Jumana Abu-Hannoud is one such woman. Her journey within the non-profit sector commenced at the age of 18 and has continued ever since. “It was something I always wanted to do. I loved going around the projects in Jordan and the villages, learning about microfinance and income generating possibilities for women,” says Jumana. The Jordanian-national was born in the UAE, raised and educated back home and returned to this country 15 years ago.

Graduating in languages from university, due to a passion for writing, Jumana initially found herself working in organisations that weren’t humanitarian. However, she made it a point to focus on social impact, be it in technology or the development sector. Upon relocating to Dubai, Jumana worked in healthcare, education, poverty and the development sector through the office of H.R.H. Princess Haya for five years. “This is where I sunk into my dream job, it was a very important turning point. I got a lot of fantastic experience and when I look back, some of the jobs I was exposed to are lessons that still refresh themselves in my mind when I have challenges in the workplace. When you work for a person like H.R.H. Princess Haya, everything you do is so meaningful,” she says. Since then, Jumana has engaged as an entrepreneur, established the first humanitarian-focussed communications agency that specialised in fundraising, consultancy and CSR and communications for the humanitarian and non-profit sector, and became a partner at a branding agency where she focused on sustainability and CSR consulting. “It’s just where my heart is and what I do best,” she goes on to say.

The right opportunities came along naturally, bringing Jumana to her current role as the Managing Director of SOS Children’s Villages International (Gulf Area office), an independent, non-governmental, social development organisation that provides family-based care for children in 135 countries and territories and advocates the concerns, rights and needs of children. Approximately 84,500 children and young people live in 571 SOS Children’s Villages, with more than 296,800 children and youth in educational programs worldwide. “I was exposed to SOS since I was in Jordan, it’s well-known there and back in the day it had the support of the Royal family,” she tells us. SOS has been established for 68 years and was conceptualised in Austria in the aftermath of World War II. “Our founder (Hermann Gmeiner) wanted to make sure they were provided with family care rather than institutionalised care that doesn’t cater to their personal growth, as we believe a child is a child anywhere they are, or they find themselves in. They all have the same right to grow up and have the support of a family.” 533 family strengthening programmes have been created worldwide, reaching 583,300 children and adults to help families stay together. 77 SOS Medical centres are also on hand, offering over 893,300 single-services help families stay healthy. In times of crisis and disaster, SOS Children’s Villages helps through emergency relief programmes – approximately 317,900 single services have been provided through 23 SOS Emergency Relief Programmes.

“I started volunteering at the SOS Children’s Villages four years ago when they began to strengthen their presence here in the Gulf. I stayed with them for three years and consulted on all sorts of activities, strategy setting, communication advisory and even a bit of translation services”

“I started volunteering at the SOS Children’s Villages four years ago when they began to strengthen their presence here in the Gulf. I stayed with them for three years and consulted on all sorts of activities, strategy setting, communication advisory and even a bit of translation services,” she tells us. Three years later, Jumana took over the reins for the Gulf area and moved to her new title. As we chat about life and her journey to date she tells us an incident that gave her even more of a sense of achievement and gratitude. “I caught up with an old friend from Jordan a few weeks ago and she said, I’m so happy for you, you’re in the right place, you’ve always been on a mission and always wanted to save someone or fix something. I felt it was very reassuring because sometimes deep down you know what you want, but when your close friends and community know that this is what you’re made of and cut off to do, it’s great.”

While humanitarian practices are ingrained in Jumana Abu-Hannoud, her strengths also lay in entrepreneurship, particularly mentoring. She is one of the founders of the first non-profit organisations registered in the DIFC, known as Reach. The organisation provides structural mentoring for professional women and has been operational for over three years, having mentored over 200 women. “The non-profit began from the belief in the value of mentoring and the kind of support women need to succeed in the workplace. It’s something that helps and allows people to reflect and it’s very fulfilling,” she tells us. Reach is a programme which works through technology-based platform to match mentors and mentees. The programme spans over one year, with the requirement of commitment to succeed. “We bring together a pool of amazing mentors, provide orientation training to set expectations, guidelines and our code of ethics to let them know of the Reach approach. They then fill matching forms related to personal and work objectives, after which the best pairs are linked,” says Jumana. Throughout the year, Reach also offers networking opportunities, as they are keen on fostering a community. Intakes comprise of two batches, one in January and the other in April, of around 25-30 pairs per cohort. Most women are from law, finance, business, and corporate backgrounds, with mentors being men and women.

Jumana’s mentoring process began through Reach as well, with her mentor based in Lebanon. “When mentees ask me what to expect I always tell them to trust the process, you must allow yourself to grow. I also tell mentees to be realistic, not aspirational in filling the matching form, so that you match with the right person,” she says. Her mentee phase came about at a juncture in her career, when she was pregnant with her second child not too long ago. “My second child was after a ten-year gap and it wasn’t a coincidence. Being a working mother was always a challenge, so I felt it was a critical time for me to work with someone and get help to place me on the right track. It worked wonders for me.”

A typical day is never the same for a woman of her calibre. It begins early, with a school drop off and straight to work. At times, Jumana finds herself rushing home to pack a bag for travels, or meetings and events during the day. The one thing she cherishes the most, however, is downtime with her children at the end of the day. Jumana is one to praise that her line of work comprises of a day job and a passion, both of which she is truly lucky are correlated.