Griffith Business School graduate and Assistant Dean at Lebanon’s Antonine University, Elizabeth Kassab Sfeir is defiantly making her way on the road less travelled.
The former President and Vice-President of the University’s Student Guild on the Gold Coast, says this leadership experience combined with her Griffith Business degree opened her eyes to social justice issues.
She has defied conventions in the patriarchal society of Lebanon by rising to leadership positions in tertiary education, and striving to improve opportunities for those she teaches.
“Griffith really did play a pivotal role,” Elizabeth says.
“Every time I look back, I always believe that my leadership skills and making me the female that I am, to have the confidence, started at Griffith.
“It started there because I met those challenges and it was important for me.
“As I got into teaching, I saw the young females here, and as you know with Lebanon, it’s a very diverse culture. And coming here, I was absolutely culture shocked. I realised that women were not seen as they should be.”
Elizabeth says her ongoing connection to Griffith has been crucial in helping break through institutional and societal barriers in her adopted home in Lebanon.
“I started as an assistant to the faculty. And as the years went on, I worked my way up,” she says.
“To get people to look at me differently, I got my PhD and I got it in what’s called ‘wasta’, which is about connections…. in order to get a job, you have to know somebody.
“I actually proved, I’ve done my research, and I’m now published that over 55% of people actually get a job only through ‘wasta’, not through just putting in your CV.
“It’s not just about feminism, it’s about being who I am and allowing me to be who I am. I’m allowed to smile. You shouldn’t think that if I laugh, I’m a fool, no, it’s a cultural thing.”
As well as taking on the role of Assistant Dean of the Business faculty at Antonine University in Beirut, Elizabeth is also expanding community initiatives to combat domestic violence and help support people with disabilities.
“In Lebanon unfortunately people with different abilities are not seen, they’re not given the education, they’re not given the support,” she says.
“What we’re trying to do is ensure that they can get all the educational facilities.
“And being able to also awaken in the minds of people, what that’s about having special abilities and different abilities? It doesn’t mean that it makes them any different. So we’re working on that.”
Elizabeth says it’s all about broadening people’s definitions of what makes a great leader.
“Being a woman, being a female and Lebanon, if you’re emotional, you know what it’s like worldwide, they don’t think of you as being assertive,” she says.
“I think it’s strength when you can show your emotion and people are afraid of doing that.
“And I’m just saying, no, I’m confident if I shed a tear, that means I have strength, that means that I’m confident to actually show you.”
Her circuitous path to teaching and leadership at Antonine University shows you never know where your degree can take you.
“People can take away your money. People can take away the materialistic, but my education is for me and no one will ever take that away,” she says.
“Even if it takes you a little while, even if you do it part-time remotely, it doesn’t matter, just do it because you are value adding for you and no one can ever take that away from you.”
Listen to Elizabeth Kassab Sfeir’s story on this episode of the Griffith University podcast Remarkable Tales.