It should come as no surprise that Elizabeth Kassab Sfeir, pictured, is forging such an impressive career in tertiary education.

That the Griffith University alumnus is doing so while negotiating the challenges of living in a patriarchal society in the Middle East, makes her efforts all the more admirable.

As Associate Dean and Head of Department (Management) in the Faculty of Business Administration at Université Antonine in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, an important part of Elizabeth’s teaching is defined by her own example.

“I’ve always wanted to make a difference wherever my career might lead, although it’s certainly more demanding in a society so steeped in the patriarchal tradition,” says Elizabeth, adding that her connection to Griffith University has been an asset in breaking through institutional and societal barriers.

A former President and Vice-President of the Student Guild on the Gold Coast, Elizabeth graduated with a Bachelor of Business (Marketing) in 1996.

In acknowledgment of her role as President of the Student Representative Council, her name even features on the plaque commemorating the opening of The Link (G07) on the Gold Coast campus in November 1995.

All of which is a long way from Lebanon.

A Canadian-Australian, Elizabeth’s husband is in the Lebanese military and they have three children.

Religious and political issues

“Living in Lebanon, you never really know what to expect,” she says. “Religious and political issues run through society and security is always of paramount concern.

“I remember how during the 2006 Lebanon War, the bombs were exploding every day. You went to work as usual every morning and never be certain of how you’d make it home.

“The challenges continue. The country is now coping with an influx of 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and all the while many Lebanese families struggle to make ends meet.

“Pay rates are low so that people are working two and three jobs. There are many graduates with Masters degrees but no jobs.”

Nevertheless, Elizabeth retains a steely determination to inspire her students about their prospects for future success, a task enhanced by the credibility of her own achievements.

Promoting peace and unity

For example, in 2013 Elizabeth was awarded the Université Antonine Lecturer of the Year Award for promoting peace and unity among students. For the past 16 years she has also been an Advanced English Communications Instructor for the Lebanese Military Academy, helping cadets with their communications skills.

She also recently completed her PhD investigating the “Impact of Wasta” (connections or clout) on HR practices in Lebanese universities, and she is working to find solutions to human capital issues in the Middle East.

“Often I’ve been reminded that what goes without saying in Australia is an entirely new concept in Lebanon,” says Elizabeth.

“Yet despite initial resistance, I’ve been able to launch courses in community service, public speaking and social media. I’ve been able to make my way, to fulfil ambitions and to share and celebrate achievements.”

A few years ago, Elizabeth was asked where she saw herself in 10 years.

“I told them I’d be Dean of Business at Griffith University,” she says. “I’d love to come back and teach. The University means so much to me.”