Ruba Al-Zu’bi is a very well-known sustainable development policy and planning expert, and a true inspiration for youngsters in Jordan and beyond. Currently she is the CEO of EDAMA, a Jordanian business association that seeks innovative solutions to advance the energy, water and environment sectors. Ruba Al-Zu’bi is Global Resolutions’ Jordan Ambassador and a Plus Social Good Connector promoting SDGs and success stories around sustainability in the MENA region.
She is also a founding member of the Jordan Green Building Council, and has facilitated its organizational establishment and strategic planning process. Ruba led the Clean Technology Sector Development at USAID Jordan Competitiveness Program with focus on enhancing private sector’s competitiveness, creating jobs and increasing exports in the clean energy, solid waste management and water resources management clusters. She is associated with EcoMENA as a mentor, and has provided tremendous support to the organization in raising environmental awareness, mobilizing youth and disseminating knowledge. She was selected as Jordan’s Eisenhower Fellow for 2012 fellowship through which she investigated green economy, green buildings and sustainability policy in the US; and was named as 2012 Ward Wheelock Fellow for her outstanding contributions to her community.
Here she talks to our collaborative partner Impact Squared about her educational background, professional achievements, strategic thinking and visionary approach.
Impact Squared: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and what you do?
Ruba Al-Zu’bi: I was originally trained as an environmental engineer. When I was studying to become an engineer, I found that the training was disconnected from, rather than supportive of Jordanian society and development. I wanted to make that connection. When Jordan established the Ministry of the Environment in 2004, I was involved in the development of the ministry, updating policies and building its capacity. I was really supported by a minister who believed in empowering women. I continued my education and earned a degree in Institutional Change Management to be able to contribute to public sector reform in Jordan. Right now, I am the CEO of EDAMA, a nonprofit organization that activates the private sector to improve green technology and a green economy in Jordan.
Impact Squared: What specific challenges or issue areas are you driven to work on?
Ruba Al-Zu’bi: A big issue facing the world today is sustainability mainstreaming, which is the idea of bringing ideas and practices of sustainability to different sectors and development decisions. There are tradeoffs that we always need to make. In developing countries, it’s not always possible to put sustainability at the top of the priority list, it’s important to keep the costs of compromise and the tradeoffs in mind throughout the decision-making processes.
I also think that equal opportunity, job development and bridging education with job opportunities is another important issue. Currently, there is not a lot of green innovation because there’s a lack of understanding of market needs and not a lot of resources to support that. It’s important to support green entrepreneurs to innovate on sustainability. The vision I try to keep in front of me includes these things. Whenever I have the chance to speak, I always integrate these issues and concepts to mobilize efforts for global support and to create action on a larger scene.
Impact Squared: What motivated you to pursue your career and what drives you to continue?
Ruba Al-Zu’bi: I’ve worked in public, private, government, and international donor-based organizations. I really want to be where I can add value and make an impact. Right now, working at a nonprofit organization is challenging because there’s a lack of resources and a need for financial sustainability, but it’s also really important to be closer to the general public because that’s where there is a greater need. At EDAMA, there’s an added advantage of working with the private sector. I’m able to link businesses with the community, which is a promising area in Jordan. The more we think about sustainable energy that can be provided to everyone, especially in light of the influx of Syrian refugees, the more we can alleviate pressure on both the economy and natural resources.
Impact Squared: How do you approach leadership? What skills or values or are important in leadership?
Ruba Al-Zu’bi: I recently took my team out for brunch. They told me that they wake up happy and feel empowered and appreciated. They feel like they have the space to create, innovate and make decisions, rather than just implementing other people’s ideas, which matters a lot in a leading a nonprofit organization. As a leader, creating a small community for your team is important for them to create a community in their work around a cause. If you don’t succeed at creating the internal community, you can’t have an impact on the larger community.
I always say I wish I had a mentor in an earlier stage of my life – it wasn’t common in Jordan when I was younger. I have a couple of mentors now for myself and I serve as one for younger people. I think relationships like this are very important. It’s important for a mentor to understand how to give mentees support without influencing decisions. I like to help people find their way; I wish I had someone help me do that. Also, family support and friend support contributes to leadership. The more we’re comfortable in our personal lives, the more we can give professionally to our communities. I’m lucky to have that in my life.
I was a young leader, leading before age 30, which had advantages and disadvantages. If you’re not ready or mature enough, it can backfire on your career and how people see young leaders in general. So, it’s important to self-reflect, self-evaluate and to have the ability to see your own growth and skills. Keep learning about those things to be an effective leader. I try to explain that to the younger generation, as they rush, sometimes trying to climb the ladder too quickly. Maturity takes time.
Impact Squared: What values drive the ways you make decisions as a leader and in general?
Ruba Al-Zu’bi: In general, I try to implement my social and environmental values. I value social justice, equal opportunities, and gender equity, which is really what’s behind everything happening in the Arab world and Arab Spring. If we, as leaders, don’t care, integrate, and mainstream these values in our day-to-day life and then professionally, they can’t be implemented on the ground, cascading.