Zainab Salbi

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Zainab Salbi
Zainab Salbi(2).png
Zainab Salbi (2013)
BornSeptember 24, 1969 (1969-09-24) (age 49)
Baghdad, Iraq
Alma materGeorge Mason University (BA in Sociology and Women's Studies),
London School of Economics (Master's in Development Studies)
OccupationHost and Creator of The Nidaa Show, author, and Founder of Women for Women International
Spouse(s)Amjad Atallah (1993) divorced (2007)

Zainab Salbi (Arabic: زينب سلبي; born 1969) is a humanitarian, media host, author, and founder and former CEO (1993-2011) of Washington-based Women for Women International.

Early years[edit]

Salbi was born in 1969 in Baghdad, Iraq. Her father worked as personal pilot of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Experiencing immediate psychological abuse to her family from Hussein, Salbi chose to dedicate her adult life to the women around the world.[1]

Her arranged marriage to a much older Iraqi banker living in Chicago brought her to the United States at the age of 19.[2] The relationship did not work out and she left him three short months later. Salbi was forced to survive on her own in an unfamiliar country. In 1993 she married a Palestinian man named Amjad Atallah. Together, they learned about the atrocities occurring in the Bosnian war through various news sources. They became motivated to intervene in the hopes of generating a positive change on the lives of those trapped in rape camps. They sought help for rape survivors through existing organizations, but found that none existed. This led them to found their own organization, 'Women for Women'. Their organization aims to help female war-survivors recover from their experiences. The program is designed to help these women improve their skills, self-confidence, and emotional health to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of war.[2]

Salbi's experience with the Iran–Iraq War sensitized her to the plight of women in war worldwide. She has written and spoken extensively on the use of rape and other forms of violence against women during war.[3] Her work has been featured in major media outlets including seven times on The Oprah Winfrey Show and the Washington Post.[1] In 1995, President Bill Clinton honored Salbi at the White House for her humanitarian work in Bosnia.

Salbi graduated from George Mason University with a Bachelor of Individualized Study degree in Sociology and Women's Studies and from London School of Economics with master's degree in development studies.[4]

Humanitarian work[edit]

In the early 1990s, newlyweds Zainab Salbi and Amjad Atallah, a Palestinian-American, were deeply moved by the plight of the women of former Yugoslavia, many of whom were forced into the now infamous rape and concentration camps. They wanted to volunteer to help, but were unable to locate an organization that addressed these injustices and egregious wrongs.

In lieu of a honeymoon, Salbi and Atallah, launched an organization that created "sister-to-sister" connections between sponsors in the United States and women survivors of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They were greeted with an overwhelming response; a woman survivor of the rape camps who had lost her husband and children during the war said, "I thought the world had forgotten us…."

When Salbi read about women in rape and concentration camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she was so moved she felt she must do something to help. Frustrated by the lack of action from relief agencies, Salbi and her new husband flew to Croatia on their own and spent months helping women survivors. One survivor of the rape camps who had lost her husband and children in the Bosnian War said, "I thought the world had forgotten us.[5] They returned to the United States with a mission to help those that have been frustrated in life. At the age of 23, Zainab Salbi, with the continued support of other concerned individuals, she founded Women for Women International, a grassroots humanitarian and development organization dedicated to serving women survivors of wars by offering support, tools, and access life-changing skills to move from crisis and poverty to stability and economic self-sufficiency. Under her leadership as the organization's CEO (1993-2011), Women for Women International grew from helping 30 women upon its inception to more than 400,000 women in 8 conflict areas. It also distributed more than $100 million in direct aid and micro credit loans that impacted more than 1.7 million family members.[6]

Since 1993, Women for Women International has supported women survivors of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Kosovo, Nigeria, Colombia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. Under Salbi's tenure as the CEO of Women for Women International, the organization reached more than 400,000 women in eight conflict areas, distributed more than $100 million in direct aid and microcredit loans, trained thousands of women in rights awareness, and helped thousands more to start their own small businesses.[7][8]

In October 2011, Salbi gave a lecture entitled "Building Bridges, Rebuilding Societies" at the University of San Diego's Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series.[9]

Media work[edit]

Zainab Salbi launched the Zainab Salbi Project, an original series on Huffington Post and AOL in 2016.The Series can be viewed on In 2015, she launched the Nida'a Show on TLC Arabia She has been Editor At Large at Women In The World of The New York Times since 2015

Kate Spade Initiative[edit]

Women for Women partnered with Kate Spade New York, an American fashion company, with the goal of helping Afghan women fleeing conflict, to assimilate into American society. The initiative aimed to do this by increasing job opportunities for these women. In an interview with Investment News Weekly, Salbi reveals her belief that the road to peace and opportunity in Afghanistan is through investment which will allow the Afghan economy to grow, leading to development. She then states that by partnering with Kate Spade and opening a manufacturing branch in Afghanistan will create steady flow of jobs bringing new opportunities through financial independence for Afghan women.[10]


  • Time magazine Innovator of the Month for her pioneering work as philanthropist.
  • Honored by President Clinton at a White House ceremony for her humanitarian work (1995)
  • Harper's Bazaar 21st Century Heroines nominee (1993)
  • Forbes Magazine Trailblazer Award (2005)
  • Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, on behalf of Women for Women International (2005)[1]
  • World Economic Forum's Young Global Leader (2007)
  • David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award (2010)
  • Austin College Posey Leadership Award (2011)[11]
  • Harper's Bazaar 21st Century Heroine (nominated by President Bill Clinton)[4]
  • Honorary doctoral degree from York University (2014)
  • One of the Most Influential Women on Twitter, Fortune Magazine (2014)
  • One of the Most Influential Women on Social Media, Wear Your Voice (2015)
  • One of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women, Arabian Business (2015)
  • One of the 100 Most Creative People in Business for being a voice of change in the Middle East, Fast Company (2016)
  • One of the World's 100 Most Powerful Arab Women, Arabian Business (2016)
  • One of 25 Women Changing The World, People Magazine (2016)
  • One of the 100 Leading Global Thinkers, Foreign Policy Magazine (2016)


  • Between Two Worlds Escape from Tyranny: Growing up in the Shadow of Saddam

In 2005, Zainab Salbi published her memoir Between Two Worlds with the help of Laurie Becklund.[12] It describes her life growing up in Iraq under Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime. Publishers Weekly calls Between Two Worlds "the most honest account of life within Saddam's circle so far. It's an enlightening revelation of how, by barely perceptible stages, decent people make accommodations in a horrific regime." Only eleven years old when her father was chosen to serve as Saddam Hussein's personal pilot, Zainab and her family were often forced to spend weekends with Saddam where he watched their every move. She provides a rare glimpse into the ways in which Saddam used his charm as a weapon to terrorize people, even those closest to him. Zainab describes how this impacted her ability to protest the suffering of others, even after moving to America in 1991. While the book reveals how she overcame Saddam's influence and found her voice she continues to refer to him as "Uncle" which is a word used to demonstrate admiration and love in Iraqi culture. Between Two Worlds is a voyage through hope revealing how Salbi found her will to live and passion.[13] Zainab started over. She forged a new identity as a champion of female survivors of war and founded Women for Women International.

  • The Other Side of War: Women's Stories of Survival and Hope

In 2006, Zainab Salbi wrote The Other Side of War: Women's Stories of Survival and Hope. Published by National Geographic, Zainab Salbi takes readers into the heart of Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Sudan to hear the stories of women who daily reclaim the lives of their families and communities from the ashes of conflict.

"War is not a computer-generated missile striking a digital map. War is the color of earth as it explodes in our faces, the sound of a child pleading, the smell of smoke and fear. Women survivors of war are not the single image portrayed on the television screen, but the glue that holds families and countries together. Perhaps by understanding women, and the other side of war...we will have more humility in our discussions of wars...perhaps it is time to listen to women's side of history."[14]

  • If You Knew Me You Would Care

If You Knew Me You Would Care was published in 2013. It is a collaboration between Zainab Salbi and photographer Rennio Maifredi. Together they traveled to Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Bosnia and Herzegovina to seek out women who have been subject to the worst trials individuals must ever face, and yet overcame this adversity. Salbi conducted interviews with women about their definitions of war and peace, about their horrific and tragic pasts and their hopes for the future, and Maifredi photographed each of the women interviewed. The interviews and images together create a compelling, global, first-person account of what it means to be a powerful female survivor. "If You Knew Me You Would Care" is a celebration of women's stories and strength worldwide—it represents a journey taken to find women who have survived wars, violence, and poverty in order to collect their stories. The stories go beyond tears and victimhood and reveal joy, love, and forgiveness.

"The women in this book are an inspiration to all of us who aspire to triumph over adversity. It is a personal peek at the most intimate stories as told by women who have survived war. It is a tribute to them, to their survival, their achievements, and their dreams. I hope people everywhere will take away the powerful message of survival this book inspires." —Zainab Salbi


  1. ^ a b c "Architects of Peace. Zainab Salbi. Biography". Retrieved March 7, 2011.
  2. ^ a b Krotz, J. L. (n.d.). Women, Girls and Armed Conflict. In Global Women's Issues: Women in the world today, extended version.
  3. ^ Sherr, Lynn (March 12, 2010). "One Woman's Formula for Change". The Daily Beast. Retrieved August 14, 2010.
  4. ^ a b "United Nations Girls' Education Initiative. Founder and CEO, Women for Women International". Retrieved March 7, 2011.
  5. ^ "Zainab Salbi | The Immigrant Learning Center". Retrieved 2018-05-23.
  6. ^ (2014-07-30). "Zainab Salbi". Women for Women International. Retrieved 2018-05-23.
  7. ^ "Zainab Salbi. Founder & CEO, Women for Women International". Retrieved March 7, 2011.
  8. ^ "Zainab Salbi: Founder and CEO, Women for Women International". Women for Women International. Retrieved August 14, 2010.
  9. ^ Lecture transcript and video of Salbi's speech at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego, October 2011
  10. ^ U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry Joins Women for Women Founder Zainab Salbi and Kate Spade COO Craig Leavitt to Announce a Major Initiative for Women. (2010, August 28). Investment Weekly News, 628. Retrieved from
  11. ^
  12. ^ Salbi, Zainab, and Laurie Becklund. Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam. Penguin, 2006.
  13. ^ Alkoriji, Sadiq. Salbi, Zainab & Laurie Becklund. between Two Worlds: Escaping from Tyranny; Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam. vol. 130, Library Journals, LLC, 2005.
  14. ^ "The Other Side of War". Women for Women International. Retrieved August 14, 2010.


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