Dania Arayssi: An Epitome of Courage, Commitment, and Compassion

Dania Arayssi | founder | Gleam of Hope

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

The aforementioned quote stands true to this exemplary personality that we take pride in introducing to our readers. This young lady has gone bounds and leaps towards all her social causes and her own personal ambitions. This young woman named Dania Arayssi, strives towards remolding our society into an all-inclusive, unbiased, and empowering one. We at CIO Look, take pride in bringing you her story, her journey, and her aspirations.

Dania is a Lebanese activist, currently living in Denver, Colorado, where she is pursuing her second master’s at the University of Denver, majoring in Public Policy. Dania says she chose this career because believes that government policies and principles play a significant role in building safe, inclusive, prosperous, and equal communities for everyone to live and contribute. She is also a researcher on women, gender, and sexual rights.

Dania is the founder of Gleam of Hope, a campaign that she established in the Summer of August 2018. Dania and her team of volunteers incepted this campaign to support women who needed mental health support, access to essential services such as food and medical care treatment. Dania and her team also helped them build their resume and connected them with possible recruiters for possible job opportunities to empower women to be in charge of themselves and contribute to the community where they are.

In the following conversation with Dania, we receive more insights into her professional journe y, her perspectives about equality, inclusivity, and public policies.

Kindly take us through your journey on becoming a young and proficient leader.

I was raised in a beautiful family, from a strong, independent, and educated mother, and a dad who is willing to sacrifice everything he had, to make his daughters successful and happy.

Being an activist and a leader in Lebanon started when I was eighteen years old, when I became fully aware of my community challenges, difficulties, and the many stories of many women silenced by our community norms, traditions, and values.

They are silenced to express the kinds of abuses and violations they are experiencing, and they are the victims for their sexual and reproductive rights, their dignity, and their principles through domestic violence, sexual harassment, early child marriage, poverty, and unable to access and complete their education and be financially independent and active in their community. Especially, that I am from a society where the masculinity culture dominates the aura of the social system.

I started to listen to many stories of women in my neighborhood and then in my community, but I had no power or enough knowledge and the know-how to offer any kind of help; I was the listener for the pains.

However, those stories were the power that mobilized me to advocate for a Student Leaders Program funded by the U.S. Department of State and organized by them to receive a fully-funded scholarship to explore the full meaning, strategies, and approach related to being a true leader in your community. The program was life-changing for me because I got to learn skills related to negotiation, proposal writing, advocacy, diplomacy, communication skills, and much more.

Through this program, I met peers and learned more about organization promoting change and advocating for a better system for everyone at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. During this trip, I identified girls and women as my primary focal point, which I want to help them speak louder for their rights and face their fears.

Therefore, when I graduated from Georgetown University on Summer 2018, I came back to Lebanon, and I established the Gleam of Hope group where we were working with youth, women, and girls from different backgrounds, nationalities to build the needed skills, receive the necessary treatment and care, and make sure no one needs food in their community in parallel with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Then, I decided to leave Lebanon and settle in the U.S. Denver, Colorado, to prepare for my second master’s in Public Policy at Josef Korbel School of International Relations, University of Denver.

As a social activist, a public speaker, and a positive impact influencer, what is your opinion on the necessity of increasing the inclusion women in leadership positions?

The process of increasing the inclusivity of women in a leadership position is necessary to build a socially balance community relationship with less segregation and hierarchical gender uneven approach between men and women. However, the process requires a progressive and incremental change in the mindset of the community members and the local regulations and rules to create opportunities and spaces for women to participate in decision-making and being protected from violence, threats, and discriminations. It is also imperative to highlight the role of adopting a feminist methodology in structuring the social relationship in the community.

Unfortunately, in different global economies, especially third-world countries, and due to the lack of feminist education and persistence of traditional culture and mindset, we lack understanding of what a feminist theory implies when increasing women’s inclusivity in a leadership position.

In the end, we, as community members and policy advisors, are looking to build long-term stable, inclusive relationships between community members through drafting, and issuing laws and regulation that allows for every community member to participate in decisionmaking without any discrimination based on gender, sex, or skin color.

Do you think that the current quality of education being provided on gender quality and inclusivity is enough? What needs to be improved or scraped?

The US’ education public policy is missing some vital consideration when providing an inclusive, safe, comprehensive understanding and application for gender equality, gender justice, linking them with the feminist theory lens.

The missing areas in the education policy start from the early stages of education, mainly in the elementary, high school, and then in college. We need to provide students with spaces to discuss, share their stories, their personal experience, gender identities, and understanding of gender justice, feminism, and inclusivity while highlighting their knowledge to the other gender identity in a safe environment, including LGBTQ+.

Here, I want to ensure the critical role of building a safe learning environment free from school-related violence. Violence can be physical, psychological, or sexual; it can occur on school grounds, in transit, or cyberspace; and it may include bullying, corporal punishment, verbal and emotional abuse, intimidation, sexual harassment and assault, gang activity, and the presence of weapons among students.

It is often perpetrated as a result of gender norms and stereotypes and enforced by unequal power dynamics. We need to draft laws and regulations that criminalize and prohibit those kinds of violence while encouraging local public and private schools to promote activities and spaces for students to share and increase their participation and understanding of those concepts.

If given a chance, what is the one thing that you would change about the society or the world in general?

If I had the chance to promote one change in the world community, I would draft laws for youth representation in the economy’s political life. By youth, I mean women, and men between the age of 25 to 40, should be represented in the political parliament or the government by a minimum of 30% from the total political representation, regardless of their sexuality, gender, or skin color.

In this 30%, 15% are men, and 15% are women to ensure equal political representation beyond any gender discrimination. The reason I insist on youth because they have the fresh ideas, strategies, power, and knowledge that can promote the sustainability and development of the entire socio-economic system in a secular approach, where I insist on building a secular political government where religion doesn’t interfere in political representation or decision.

What according to you are the essential traits that an aspiring leader should possess?

A leader who is looking to promote a profound or a long-term change in the community should be a patient, resistant, listener, educative, subversive, social, communicative, and curious to explore and dive in the community issues and people stories to find the root causes of the problems and promote a solution that lasts in the long-term.

He/she is a leader who doesn’t have a geographical or mental limitation and a person who can continue working outside of the comfort zone. When I started my journey, many individuals criticized me, and attacked me, and refused to listen to me, and they were saying, you are not going to succeed, and you will fail, and your ideas don’t fit the narrative, but I continued because you need to resist the outside negativities and stick with your goal.

What are your future endeavors/objectives and where do you see yourself in the near future?

I see myself as a professional researcher, senior professor, and policy advisor in the field of public policy for several local and international organizations and governments in helping them designing policies and regulations that can help their communities face the current millennium challenges while increasing their human development and prosperity for the best for the societies while mitigating the possible externalities or trade-off. We need government policies and regulations that strengthen the individual responsibility to contribute and protect the community where he/she is located. The result of bolstering the individual responsibility will lead to establishing the collective responsibility of the entire community members to protect and contribute to the social system where he/she is located.