Soraya Salti. (Image via Skoll.org)
"Passionate, energetic, humble, selfless, happy, positive." These are some of the few words people use when describing Soraya Salti. On November 6, the news of her passing away shook Jordan and the Arab world.
As the director of Injaz Al-Arab, Salti not only inspired millions of young Arabs, but listened very carefully to the generation’s aspirations and needs that often pass unnoticed.
Placing education and empowerment on her priority list, the young woman managed in 2014 to be recognized as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world.
Salti, who is remembered as the dedicated, generous and passionate leader is now gone, but her legacy will continue to live and thrive stronger than ever. We at Wamda reached out to people who knew her from various aspects of her life to share their memories of Soraya and how she impacted them, whether personally or professionally.
Below are some witnesses to Salti’s admirable character and unforgettable legacy.
Akef Aqrabawi, CEO at Injaz Al-Arab Jordan
“Fifteen years have passed since I first met Soraya… 15 years of ‘a great partnership’ as she has always said, for she was never on a stage during the last 10 years of her journey, with INJAZ, without pointing me out as her partner. I can still remember our first Regional Company Competition in 2007 with students from seven participating countries. I glanced at her to see her reaction to the event and all I saw were tears. They were tears of happiness because the event was a success; those tears were triggered by seeing our youth live on stage and they embodied her immeasurable passion for youth. It is this passion and belief in youth that she engraved in the hearts of all those who have known her and that would keep her legacy alive through the future generations of Arab youth.”
Nancy Lublin, CEO of Do Something Inc.
“When Soraya entered a room, the first thing you noticed wasn't her height or her beauty - and both were staggering. It was her smile. She was one of the most brave, passionate, happy people I've ever known. And, no matter what amazing thing she was doing, she would always stop and say: ‘But tell me about you’. She was humble, and curious, and genuinely cared about other people and their missions.”
Miniya Chatterji, CSO at Jindal Steel and Power Ltd
“We met for the first time at a café in Amman, four years ago. Soraya entered the café with her usual beaming smile and gave me a warm hug. It was already late in the evening, and so I asked her how she managed to be still so lovely and energetic? She said: ‘We have to know that we are all gifted with something special, and knowing that can keep us smiling all our life.’ We then spoke of her life, and her passion for educating young children. At that time I was working at the World Economic Forum and my job was to manage a community of leaders in South Asia and the Middle East, of which Soraya was one. We met several times after that on the side lines of work meetings in the most unlikely parts of the world. Soraya’s undying passion and smile never waned.”
Fadi Ghandour, founder and chairman at Wamda Capital
“Soraya was the ray of hope and optimism that the Arab world was desperate for every day. She was the embodiment of the bridging of the “hope gap” and she worked relentlessly to give hope to every person she touched, especially the youth. I have never known anyone that had more energy, more positivity, and more desire to change the status quo of the region we live in. She was the change that we wanted the Arab world to be, a woman, an entrepreneur and a role model. I have also lost a dear friend and I am heartbroken.”
Muna AbuSulayman, cofounder of Meedan.com
“We were professional friends, meeting in conferences and forums and on panels. Her energy and optimism drew me in, like many others. We compared life notes. We had similar stories, and lives. We were divorced, parenting girls, multicultural, and navigating the NGO world. Yet we were very different. Injaz was her baby. She firmly believed in it, in its potential to save our country's youth and give them hope. And she was so passionate about her daughter and giving her a better world than the one she lived in. The first time I met Soraya was at WEF Davos where she convinced me to become a cheerleader for Injaz and our last was when she invited me to be a judge for last year's Injaz awards in Kuwait. I miss her radiant smile and how her eyes lit up when she was truly engaged in talking about her family or work. I miss her no-nonsense attitude to getting things done. I miss the moments when we would inadvertently bump into each other at a conference and squeal with delight that we have to have dinner together, with just as surely, a newly converted sponsor for Injaz joining us for dessert.”
Samar Dudin, regional director and head of Programs at Ruwwad al Tanmeya
“Soraya was a force of optimism and positivity who believed fully in the crucial role of entrepreneurship education in enabling the Arab youth to face the challenges of a changing reality. She was a great listener and motivator. She had the unique quality of bonding and appreciating human worth and human initiative. I will miss her and will always remember that she nurtured leadership and hope wherever she served. May her soul rest in eternal peace and may her family find the strength to endure her sudden loss.”
Habib Haddad, Co-founder and CEO at Wamda
“You didn’t need more than two minutes with Soraya to feel re-energized, revitalized and ready to make an impact. Her quirky giggle was contagious, even child-like, perhaps because she had dedicated her life to the Arab youth. She said, ‘education systems across the Arab world have failed its youth’, but she certainly never gave up. Not once did I hear her complain, it’s as if she almost had an infinite store of energy. A selfless beautiful soul, a role model to many, an amazing woman and Arab social entrepreneur, a dear friend; she will be dearly missed. Her mission of turning every Arab student into an entrepreneur will live on, but an unfillable void has been created.”
Rana Al Nibari, CEO at Injaz Al-Arab Kuwait
“Soraya Salti was the embodiment of an inspirational leader. When I joined the organization four years ago I had heard so much about her and was eager to meet her. I built an image in my head of an assertive, powerful advocator. But my first encounter with Soraya, during an annual regional training in Lebanon, proved otherwise. To my surprise, Soraya was a humble, soft spoken, pure and spontaneous person, and one amazing story teller! It was through her passion, motivation and perseverance to change the world that she inspired those around her. I remember leaving that day thinking how lucky I am to be part of her team. Throughout the years Soraya never let me down; her wealth of enthusiasm and positivity channeled my work and I grew.”
Gilbert Doumit, managing partner at Beyond Reform & Development
“Soraya’s power lay in her genuine soul, beautiful mind and passion for a better Arab world. She was someone you can never say no to because of her strong vision and belief in Arab youth. She advocated on every platform for youth entrepreneurial education, and made the world believe in their potential worth to invest in. When she called me to join her endeavor to open Injaz in every single Arab country, asking me to go train corporate volunteers in Algeria, Kuwait, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Morocco, I could never say no to her dedicated and inspiring voice. Soraya was the antidote for youth reality that we are living today in this part of the world; her passion will be missed but her legacy will continue forever.”
Mina Al Oraibi, journalist, political analyst and Yale World Fellow
"The days pass but the sense of loss and sadness over Soraya's passing only increases. She will be missed not only because of her incredible work and the hope that is represented, but because of her lightness of spirit when so much darkness seems to surround us. Soraya was always with a smile on her face, even when she was concerned, it came with a sweet smile that concealed an unshakable determination. She will forever be missed.”
Abdulsalam Haykal, founder and CEO of Haykal Media
“Soraya was a pioneer of Arab youth empowerment, bringing the topic to the fore and forcing it on the agendas of policy makers. I remember our passionate discussions on how no single Arab country can make it on their own. ‘We need to do this together,’ she said and I concurred. Sometime in 2007 in Damascus, Soraya’s determined voice came through the phone: ‘I want your help to bring Injaz to Syria.’ Although the plan never materialised, subsequent initiatives in my country benefited immensely from her experience. That made her just as happy. I will miss Soraya as a friend and a true renaissance woman of our generation. It comforts me that her example will live on to touch and inspire generations to come.”
Emile Cubeisy, managing partner at Silicon Badia
“Soraya always stood taller. Saw further. In high school, we called her ‘ozone’, a graceful, towering, intelligent young lady that excelled at everything she touched. A star in the classroom, in sports, and just about everything else, she was oblivious to her skills, always humble, smiling, and thoughtful. She warmed hearts with an infectious energy and an almost stumbling charm. Harder to see was that she also had a fight in her, an inability to accept the illogical. We drifted apart only to later reconnect, and while all of her magical characteristics remained intact, what blossomed to me was her purpose and her drive. I watched in amazement at the laser focus and passion in which she built up Injaz, delivering new skills to hundreds of thousands. One of my memories with Soraya was at the World Economic Forum Meeting in the Dead Sea, where I walked up to her as she was scanning the room. ‘What are you doing Soraya?’ She was trying to find about 40 names on a list she had compiled. I urged her, ‘Relax, enjoy the moment, the future can wait a little as you catch your breath’. After a very (very) short pause, she went right back to pursue the change she so badly desired for our youth. We will certainly miss that desire, that purpose, that passion, but we also comforted by the fact that everyone she touched is propelled by the energy she has left behind.”
Loulwa Bakr, education entrepreneur and former director at Credit Suisse Saudi Arabia
“It was October of 2011 when I walked into the King Hussein Convention Centre to attend my first Dead Sea WEF. Disenchanted by a long career in investment banking that had lost its meaning somewhere along the way, and somewhat confused by the significance of recently being nominated a Young Global Leader, I wandered into a panel session chaired by HM Queen Rania and comprised of several distinguished speakers including Soraya. Soraya sat in the middle, with her signature radiant smile, and spoke with an assertiveness and elegance that didn’t mask her infinite passion for the cause of education and entrepreneurship in the region. Criticizing the state of education in the region seemed to be everybody’s favorite pastime, but few were effectively doing anything to change the status quo as Soraya was. Her authenticity made her stand out in the crowd. As soon as the panel was over, I elbowed my way through the crowd that was congregating around her (perhaps causing some bodily harm to some standing between us), made a quick introduction and told her that I am in desperate need of inspiration. She didn’t hesitate for a moment, she was after all a natural mentor. Over a cup of coffee in the breakout area, she told me how she found her purpose, and gave me the most valuable advice I needed to transform my career ‘once you stop identifying yourself as an investment banker, the world will open its doors to you’. I kept in touch with Soraya and made sure I caught up with her whenever she came to Jeddah or I went to Amman. She was genuinely interested in where my research into the education space took me and never hesitated to provide guidance. She was a beacon of light for many like myself. A light that has been extinguished before its time, may she rest in peace.”