By any unit of measurement, Dalal Al-Waheidi has come a long way.
A childhood split between refugee status in Kuwait and Palestine eventually led to a high school scholarship in Norway. A passion for international development brought her to Trent University in Canada before sending her off to Ecuador to monitor projects on the ground. And an internship with WE—back in the days of Free The Children—started a 15-year journey to a seat at the head table, steering the WE movement.
There’s a saying: history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. In Dalal’s case, her childhood contained all the notes that her life would later strike.
She grew up affected by war. She experienced marginalization and deprivation, studying through power outages and air strikes. She saw friends married off or forced to stay home to take care of siblings, their dreams stifled under the heavy burden of responsibility. And she held on to a glimmer of hope in the form of her education to unlock doors for her future.
Those experiences established the themes that have come to define her life and her work: advocating for young people, fighting racism, advancing education and championing young girls.
Fresh out of university, her internship with WE saw her doing everything from youth outreach and data entry to stacking chairs after events. It taught her that no job is too small—and that every role is an opportunity to learn.
Soon she was leading her own program as the International Projects Director. She brought the youth empowerment strategy that had already transformed lives in Kenya, India and Ecuador to communities across the Middle East and North Africa. Working with teenage girls in Gaza and Tunisia, she helped develop strategies to improve their leadership skills and tackle gender issues in their communities.
Now the Executive Director of Executive Leadership at WE Charity, Dalal’s focus is on moving the strategy of WE forward, overseeing organizational governance, fiscal responsibility and delivering on the promise of making doing good, doable.
We talked to her about leading WE Charity globally, working with youth and families across the world, and her most important role—being a mother.
I feel like I’ve had nearly half dozen careers here since I started in 2002! I started at WE as an intern doing data entry. In my 16 years here, I’ve carved my own path, largely because I pushed to create roles that didn’t exist before.
It was the work in war-torn and developing countries that first drew me to WE. So I learned from everyone I encountered, grew as a person and an employee, refused to accept “no” as an answer—and, as a result, I found myself bringing WE programs to girls in the Middle East and North Africa for the first time, empowering them with opportunity and education.
Now, I work alongside a truly incredible team and especially take pleasure in mentoring young women, helping them grow into strong leaders. But that’s only possible when they recognize their own value and learn to advocate for themselves. Be confident: you are not an imposter. You are capable and you should fight for the job that suits your strengths and fuels your passion.
Khalil Gibran wrote, “It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” That message is at the heart of what I do—and it’s at the heart of WE Charity. It fills my heart to see this come to life, whether it’s through students or companies giving back to their communities, seeing parents get involved in raising young people who care or seeing communities around the world working together to create a bright future for the next generation.
But it’s also the smaller moments that I take pride in. In my role, I meet people around the world who truly live WE, seeking out ways both big and small to make a difference every single day.
I have been with WE since 2002 and I have watched this movement grow and gain momentum, from thousands of students to a global force of millions of young people, families and teachers. Seeing the impact they make is the best part of my job.
My favorite thing is to see that impact come full circle—seeing a school attend WE Day and channel motivation and energy from the event into fundraising or awareness-raising campaigns to make a real difference on issues they care about that impact youth their age around the world. It’s those connections made between young people domestically and internationally that truly inspire me every day.
I think creating space for others is one of my main roles. I am passionate about diversity at WE and if you look at the number of women in senior leadership positions in the organization, we’re doing very well. But it’s not something we take for granted. I try to consciously make space for people to share and to grow, to foster voices from different backgrounds who’ve had different experiences. It’s not enough to want to change the world—we need to make sure that change is representative. And that’s why diversity matters.
It’s through diversity that we find our strength. Our diversity of ideas, background and experiences are what makes us successful.
Before I had my daughters, my idea of motherhood was a mix of other people’s opinions and stories. It was memories of my own childhood and half-recalled promises about what I’d do differently. It was assumptions and judgements. It wasn’t real.
Then Zeina and Leila, my daughters, were born and suddenly it was.
It was more, in every way—that’s the best way to describe it. More challenging, more rewarding, more consuming, more exhausting, more beautiful.
Being a mother recommitted me to this work, because all mothers want what’s best for their children. That is the universal dream of motherhood—and I see it in the mothers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting across Canada and the mamas we work with in developing communities.