For my whole life, everything has been a competition.
You either win, or you lose.
I wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt people, but I wanted to be a winner.
It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I learned a better way to live: win/win.
It transformed my life. I started looking for ways that I could succeed while allowing the people around me to succeed, too.
At the end of the day, we’re all in this together.
The idea of creating win/win situations has been mastered by my guest on today’s episode: Dr. Alaa Murabit.
Dr. Alaa Murabit attended medical school at the age of 15 and was named one of Forbes 30 under 30, an Aspen Institute Spotlight Scholar, and one of Canada’s 30×30.
She is one of the UN’s 17 Global Sustainable Development Goal Advocates and a UN High-Level Commissioner on Health Employment & Economic Growth. She was recently appointed the Executive Director of Phase Minus 1, LLC which provides leadership in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and more.
Dr. Murabit champions women’s participation in peace processes and conflict mediation.
She approaches conflict in a way that humanizes both sides: by first finding common ground.
She is helping everyone in the world understand that when women succeed, everyone succeeds.
It’s good for the economy, it’s good for the government, and it’s even good for the environment.
Learn how Dr. Murabit mediates the most difficult scenarios and helps women obtain an education, reproductive rights, and health in Episode 703.
Lewis Howes: This is episode number 703, with Dr Alaa Murabit.
Welcome to The School of Greatness. My name is Lewis Howes, former pro-athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur and each week we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Now, let the class begin.
John F Kennedy said, “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”
Today we’ve got a powerful human being on, her name is Dr Alaa Murabit. She is nicknamed ‘The Libyan Doogie Howser’, named by John Stewart. Dr Alaa Murabit was admitted to med school at fifteen years old.
In her final year, she turned her eye to policy, founding the Voice of Libyan Women, a non-profit aimed at empowering those caught in conflict in her home country. Four years later she researches health securities issues, as the only UN High Level Commissioner under forty-five.
If you go to her website, you’ll see paragraphs and paragraphs of things about her bio, of the boards she sits on, of the things she’s doing around the world, she’s truly making a massive impact around the world.
And in this interview we dive in deep, and it gets pretty emotional at certain moments. So be ready for what it might unlock for you. She shares her secrets on the best thing to do when negotiating. She goes in to different governments and countries and works with the people in negotiating big conflicts, and how you can negotiate in any situation in your life.
Also, why we need to approach religion with inclusivity, so everyone is accepted, and the challenges that religion faces with conflict today, around the world. Also, how you can use your own privileges to make an impact and lift your community up.
The difference between education and empowerment, especially for women. We talk about gender equality and what really needs to change, if there’s one thing that needs to change that can impact so many other causes around the world, what that one thing is, and so much more.
This one goes in deep, guys! Make sure you share it with your friends, I believe you’re going to be moved and inspired in a powerful way. And make sure you tag @LewisHowes and @alaamurabit, that’s A.L.A.A.M.U.R.A.B.I.T., over on Instagram when you’re connecting with us and let us know what you enjoy about this episode.
A big thank you, today, to our sponsor, PayPal. Now, when I started out my business online, I used PayPal, and it has helped me grow my business significantly. Walid grew up in the desert of Saudi Arabia, and after emigrating to the United States, Walid wanted to share the health benefits of one of his favourite beverages from home, camel milk, with the rest of the world.
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Again, a big thank you to our sponsors today, and I’m so excited about this episode, because we dive in deep on a number of hot topics. I hope you enjoy this one! Again, make sure to share with your friends, text a couple of friends the link from Spotify or iTunes, just send a link directly via text, put it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram stories, tag me, @LewisHowes and @alaamurabit as well, to let us know the parts that you enjoyed the most.
And without further ado, let me introduce to you, the inspiring, the incredible, Dr Alaa Murabit.
Welcome, everyone, back to The School of Greatness, we have Dr Alaa Murabit in the house! Good to see you!
Dr Alaa Murabit: So good to see you.
Lewis Howes: Welcome to the studio! I’m so excited about this. We just had a powerful, probably it could have been a twenty minute podcast that we had, just conversation already. Maybe we’ll throw some of that in there.
But before we dive into things, can you share a little bit about exactly what you do? So that people understand it, and how you got into your profession.
Dr Alaa Murabit: So, I am a medical doctor by background. I knew I wanted to be a doctor since I was a little kid. My dad is a surgeon himself, so my after school program was going to the hospital and watching surgeries, which a lot of parents might find unacceptable now, but it was a really good method for my parents. And I ended up going into medical school at the age of fifteen, in Libya.
Lewis Howes: Fifteen?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Fifteen. In my final year of medical school, a revolution broke out, and so I started an organisation called, ‘The Voice of Libyan Women’, which really focused on getting women included in and actually being architects of peace processes and conflict resolutions. Because, statistically, they last longer when they are more inclusive.
And, from there, our projects ended up changing laws nationally, being implemented internationally. I was asked to advise the United Nations Security Council, which really looks at how we can prevent conflicts, or mitigate conflicts around the world. And from there I was asked to be an advisor to UN Women, which is the arm of the United Nations that really looks at women’s roles in leadership and how we can prevent challenges and disasters towards women, et cetera.
And then, of course, from there, [I was] asked to become a UN Sustainable Development Goal Advocate. There are seventeen sustainable development goals. They have been signed on by 196 countries and, really, the purpose of them is, we’re saying, by 2030, we’re going to have a vastly different world. So, seventeen goals that are in that.
Lewis Howes: What are two or three of them?
Dr Alaa Murabit: No poverty, gender equality, reducing inequalities, economic growth, peace, justice, and strong institutions, equal quality healthcare, quality education.
Lewis Howes: Around the world?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Around the world. And countries have signed up, companies have signed up, which makes it very important. Goal seventeen is actually partnership for the goals, and you have a huge push, I think, from almost everybody at once, to have this lighthouse that’s giving you this pathway, when we know that there are challenges daily, obviously.
There are new political surprises, you turn on the news, there is always something new, a new conflict, a new natural disaster, and new opportunity; but these are meant to be a framework for the next fifteen years, not to get distracted.
Lewis Howes: So what’s your role in that?
Dr Alaa Murabit: I’m one of the seventeen Sustainable Goal Advocates, so some of those advocates include…
Lewis Howes: So, you have seventeen goals? And you’re one of the advocates?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Seventeen goals, yes, and there are seventeen advocates.
Lewis Howes: Gotcha.
Dr Alaa Murabit: And so, some of the advocates include the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, famous soccer player Messi, singer Shakira, Forest Whitaker, Richard Curtis, who is a well-known film maker, and then Nobel laureates, Muhammad Yunus and Leymah Gbowee, CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman, so it’s huge mix of different people that all bring a different perspective, and about a year after that I was asked to be the UN High Level Commissioner on Health, Employment and Economic Growth.
Which looks specifically at how wellness and health and supporting health, for your citizens, for your employees, for your community actually leads to greater economic growth. We see that with companies all the time, where they’ll put a GEM in because they know it’ll decrease sick days and increase productivity.
And so, our sentiment is, if it works in a company, it works in a country, and that’s what the data shows.
Lewis Howes: Wow! Interesting! So, when do you have time to just relax?
Dr Alaa Murabit: I don’t, but I’m going to get more. I am taking some hints from your podcasts, I’m going to take more time off.
Lewis Howes: That’s good!
Dr Alaa Murabit: I’m planning a family vacation in February, if my family can agree on the minute details.
Lewis Howes: What’s the thing you’re most proud of?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Probably my relationship with my family. There’s this, Mari Andrew, who does these cool cartoons on Instagram, and she does this, like, she did today, or yesterday, metrics of success. And so some people define success based on the number of followers or the number of patients they have per year, or number of, for me, it might be the number of negotiations I actually get my zero points in.
And lower in the metrics were relationship with family, time you spend with the people you love most, and so, for me, it would be, like, I have a very large family, ten brothers, ten sisters, and yeah.
Lewis Howes: It’s crazy!
Dr Alaa Murabit: Very independent, very successful, very mobile group of people, but I’ve dedicated a significant amount of my time to making sure that that is prioritised. And so, my relationship with my family, with my husband, with my parents, probably what I’m most proud of.
Lewis Howes: And you talked about religion in your TED Talk and reclaiming religion and how it gives people power. What does that actually mean?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Well, I think, if you look at organised religion – so I think faith is, for me, faith is, what I define as between me and whoever I believe is the higher power. So, in my case, Allah, and I believe that’s a very personal journey. I believe that you can live with somebody in the same house for twenty years and have very different perspectives on faith.
And that’s fair, and it probably means that you’re growing in your relationship with God and probably with each other, because you’re being open to those different perspectives and ideas. The challenge with organised religion is, it becomes a tool for political and economic power. Anything organised does.
There’s the added, kind of, bonus of people being able to say, “Well, God said so,” and it’s very difficult to argue with God.
Lewis Howes: How do we know God said so?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly! Exactly! And so it becomes defined by those who have authority and power and, traditionally and historically, that has been men. And so you find, even today, in my own religion, there are significant social and cultural issues, and challenges I have towards the treatment of women or what is said about women.
And that can span in any faith, most major faiths, so, if you look at reproductive rights in Texas, or if you look at domestic violence, for example, in the Middle East, for me, the frustration is, these rules and these social and cultural norms have been defined by men, who have gained economic, political and social power, because of how they have manipulated and interpreted and spread the word of God, right?
So, I think religion, and because of the way in which they’ve ensured women haven’t been part of that conversation. When women did speak up it was, “Oh, you’re speaking against God, you’re dishonourable,” they would get into her character, her honour, her morals, et cetera.
And we saw that here in the United States with the Suffragette movement, we see that around the world with different movements. The huge push for abortion laws in Argentina and Ireland has brought that out. It’s a constant challenge, because, whether we like it or not, religion has shaped a significant amount of our policies, even in countries that say that state and church are separate.
And until, I think, we as women stand up and say, “Listen, we need to start redefining who gets to dictate what religion means, and the interpretation of what God has said,” until we start doing that, we’re always going to be playing catch-up, I think.
Lewis Howes: So what do we do to evolve the process?
Dr Alaa Murabit: I think a huge part of it, I think it’s similar to almost any process where power is up for grabs, right? Ultimately religion means power. Across the globe, it means power and it means money.
Lewis Howes: Rules, money, yeah.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Rules, money, regulation, who gets to sit at the table, who gets to define the agenda, that’s all what, when I say God has interpreted that you are unable to do this, that automatically means that I’m getting to make the decisions, and I get the benefit of those decisions, so, that economic pull, or that social pull.
And I think a huge part of the way it can change is, first and foremost, we need to start redefining who’s at the table. Women should, and we need to be able to create an ecosystem where women can say, “Listen, we have as much right, knowledge, expertise, to be able to define what God has said, to interpret, to be part of this conversation. God is not created in the likeness of men. That’s not the purpose, here.”
But then, second, we also need men that have positions of authority in those spaces, much like any other space, to say, “Listen, I’m going to give up some of my power, I’m going to leverage some of my network, leverage some of my credibility, leverage some of my social capital, to ensure that you have a seat at this table, and to ensure that we can move this agenda forward.
“And maybe put my own name on the line and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to talk about the representation of women, or the interpretation of this verse, or the way we’ve executed this particular notion within our faith community.”
And, I mean, across faiths you have challenges where a lot of things get brushed under the rug to protect the status quo and to protect those in power, and if the people who are part of that powerful community don’t start standing up, you’re never going to be able to push that agenda forward.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, you hear about all the stories from different religions that are dealing with sexual abuse or violence, whatever it may be, or stealing, or crime, but they sweep it under the rug. To protect themselves.
Dr Alaa Murabit: A hundred percent.
Lewis Howes: Even if it’s against their faith or their religion.
Dr Alaa Murabit: That’s why I think it’s so important, because to define the difference between religion and faith. It can be 100% against their faith, but it may be in service of their religious institution.
Lewis Howes: So they justify it.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah, they justify it. Like, “Oh, I’m protecting the institution, right? And I find that very frustrating, because if you look, for example, at the sexual violence of children, 90% of kids are abused by somebody they know. And so, oftentimes, when we ask, “Okay, what can we do to do things better?” in many of these communities, religion still does play a role, globally.
You have religious institutions you have religious authorities, and yet, when families go to those religious institutions, oftentimes, the families are told, “This is a familial issue, let’s deal with this internally. Let’s not take this outwards.” And it does limit, I think, the growth for that family and their ability to heal, but, more so, the legitimacy of the religious community.
Like, how can you tell me God is merciful and God is open and God is just, when this is happening to me, and when I went to seek you out, and to ask you for what you could do, or what God could do, you told me, “No, you need to keep this quiet.”? I think religious communities are going to wrestle with that reality as well.
Lewis Howes: Do you feel like religions create a lot of the chaos in the world?
Dr Alaa Murabit: I fundamentally believe the interpretation and misuse of religion causes significant challenges, yes.
Lewis Howes: Because you’re constantly in negotiation for peace, travelling 90% of the time, you said, doing conflict resolution, essentially, right?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah.
Lewis Howes: With different countries and different challenges.
Dr Alaa Murabit: And stakeholders, and religion often comes up, or the misuse of religion.
Lewis Howes: Really?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Religion and cultural norms. So, in Arabic, and I mention it in my TED Talk, there are two key words I always heard when I was growing up, “Haram,” which means, like, religiously forbidden, and, “[Makhru],” which is, ‘culturally inappropriate’. Those two cross a lot more than you would expect.
Lewis Howes: Really?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah, there is a huge grey [area] there. So, for example, you’ll have conversations, and I had them pretty recently, actually, with friends who are devout Catholics, who will tell me, “This is religiously prohibited,” when, really, it’s more socially or culturally not accepted or not appropriate.
And the same in Islam, you’ll always have these conversations where you begin to challenge them and you say, “Wait, that’s not actually what religion says,” but that is what we’ve been told for a very long time, and what we dictate as normal and what we dictate as acceptable, and what we then teach our kids, and what our kids teach their kids.
So, I always give the example of when I started my organisation. My grandpa is old school, like, was very old school, he passed away a couple of years ago, but he was very old school. And when I started my organisation he had a lot of trouble with it. He was, like, “What are you talking about?”
Lewis Howes: Why?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Because he said, “Women are empowered.”
Lewis Howes: Wait, did he say women are empowered?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah. He’s like, “If a woman wants to do something she can do it. You don’t need organisations for women to move things forward.” He was very, like, “If you pick yourself up by the bootstraps, you’ll move forward,” but then, [by] that same token, he’d be like, “Women are meant to really sustain the community and the family. They don’t need to be at peace negotiations, they don’t need to be talking about the intricacies of security.”
It was interesting, because having those conversations with him made me realise – and I did it, too, I was super arrogant about the way I approached things – when you go to somebody and you want to change their mind about something, and you’re like, “Well, this is right. You should do this. This is right.”
And I’m a data nerd, so I’d be like, “Statistically, 90% of peace processes fail within five years. When women are included they’re 35 times more likely to last fifteen years.”
Lewis Howes: So, “Here’s the facts.”
Dr Alaa Murabit: “Here’s the facts, and you’re not intelligent if you don’t agree with me.” It was very, like, “This is the way I see the world and you should see it, too.” In the past, I think, first being a sibling of ten other people, but also the past eight years of this work, nine years of this work, has taught me that, most times, that’s not the best way to do things.
Lewis Howes: What’s the best way to do it? To convince someone?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Well, it’s not necessarily to convince them, I just listen to them. At this point I ask them why. Because I think, probably, my grandparents, your grandparents, your friends, your family, most people believe things because that’s what they have been taught to believe, but the people who they think, and they know, love them most.
Lewis Howes: They trust them, yeah.
Dr Alaa Murabit: They trust most, so when you go to a woman and say, “Listen, your daughter needs to get an education, what you’re doing is wrong,” what you’re telling her is, “Everything you’ve been taught by the people who love you is wrong, and everything you’re teaching to the people you love most is wrong.”
Lewis Howes: “And you’re wrong and bad and ignorant.”
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly, 100%!
Lewis Howes: It’s an attack on their life and their character and their identity.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly, their lives and their growth and their identity. Because I’m not going to agree with everybody who brings me data and statistics and facts all the time, right? But what I will do…
Lewis Howes: Because 90% of the time statistics are wrong. [laughs]
Dr Alaa Murabit: You terrified me with that! I was like, “So, listen, Lewis, let’s talk about that.” No, but facts can be skewed, right? Or conversations can be misled.
Lewis Howes: Just like the Bible and anything else.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly, depending on who interpreted it and who decides the metrics and the norms and the values, and who sits at the agenda-setting table, right? But, for me, it really is, “Okay, so tell me why you believe that way?”
Like, if you don’t think your daughter should have the same education as your son, tell me why. And usually they’ll go into a story about how, when they were younger, it didn’t matter to them, and their mother didn’t have an education and look what she was able to do.
So, it’s a lot more personal than, I think, we give it credence for.
Lewis Howes: So, what do you say when someone says that? “When I was younger this was that.”
Dr Alaa Murabit: Well, I usually have conversations with them about…
Lewis Howes: Times have changed.
Dr Alaa Murabit: No, not times have changed, but, “Do you ever wish you had done things differently? Do you ever wish that you took the opportunity? Where do you think you would be if you had an education?” Oftentimes people will point out – so, my mum, who got her university degree, but then had eleven kids, her number one rule in life was that you always sustain yourself.
And so, she had that rule because she was responsible for this entire family and felt like she had very little self-sustainability. She was responsible for a community, she wasn’t the breadwinner in the home, she didn’t have a lot of the economic power.
And, even though she and my dad had this wonderful relationship, growing up, and had each other’s backs, growing up, it was always my sister went into plastic surgery at the age of 22. That was her plan for residency, and when the rest of the community was saying, “Plastic surgery for a woman?” and this was in Canada, like, she could do gynaecology, or paediatrics, my mum was, like, “No, she’ll do what she wants to do. And she’ll be her own boss.”
And so, I think, a large part of why my mum felt that way, was because she never felt she had that opportunity. And, usually, when you ask people what they believe, why they believe in it, and if they would have done things differently, you get a lot further than saying, “This is what you should do. Because I said so,” or, “The numbers said so,” or, “You are wrong.”
Even if they don’t change their minds, and it’s not my job to change their minds, at least you get to hear a different perspective and they get to hear yours, with more open ears.
Lewis Howes: Is there anything about your religion that, you feel like, could improve or could evolve to bring more peace.
Dr Alaa Murabit: A hundred percent! I think that my religion, across the board, I think, religions, but speaking specifically about mine, I think that, without the leadership in interpretation of women, there’s very little room for growth. I think anything without inclusive – and I’m not saying unilaterally 100% women, what I’m saying is, if you don’t have the people most impacted by policy, or by religious interpretation, all at the table, then whatever is decided will never be representative of the community it governs.
So, if I have a community where it’s 50% women, 50% men, and all the rules are being set by men, then it will never be reflective of the people it governs. It will never be legitimate to them. I, as a young woman, didn’t often go to the mosque, didn’t feel welcome there, didn’t feel like it was a place where I found most spiritual comfort.
I actually felt a lot more spiritual in hospitals. I feel like the laws of a hospital allow more prayer than any congregation. And I think that, unless we have that inclusivity, unless we approach religion with that level of inclusivity, religion just doesn’t have the room for growth. It doesn’t have the space.
Lewis Howes: Do you think religion, with that much power and that much time that it’s been around, has the ability to change?
Dr Alaa Murabit: I think it has to. I think it has to.
Lewis Howes: Otherwise people just leave the religion.
Dr Alaa Murabit: They’re leaving and it loses it’s power, yeah. I mean, it’s interesting, because I’ve been asked this question before, and somebody disagreed with me. They said, “Listen, religion is never going to lose it’s power. It has all this land, and there’s all this money, and there’s all this…”
Lewis Howes: Buildings and that.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah, and there’s all this established power. And that’s true, there will always be an established level of power and structural power, institutional power. But that dilutes over time, especially if people don’t adhere to it, and if they decide to put their money and their energy and their effort elsewhere.
So, I think, either religions learn to embrace new ideas and new voices, or they are going to become less fit for purpose than they are, yeah.
Lewis Howes: Are there any women making decisions in your religion?
Dr Alaa Murabit: There are, oh no, there are. There are incredible stories about, I mean, there’s Morchidat, which is a group of women scholars in Algeria, who do significant work on domestic violence, and there are judges in Morocco who have been able to completely transform laws. No, there are incredible stories, and Islam has a very rich history of women being very powerful.
But, as most religions in today’s day and age, if we look at almost any sensitive conversation as it relates to women across the spectrum, so looking at the United States and the conversations we’re having about reproductive rights, in a country that’s meant to be secular. There’s a division that’s meant to be between state and church, and yet a lot of the conversations we’re having have heavy religious undertones.
And that’s the same in the Middle East. A conversation that is not meant to have those undertones, they get brought in. And people are told, “Well, you should think this way, because this is what religion says.” Even though it’s not a conversation about that.
And they get skewed a lot. Education is a good example of that, so we’ll have scholars who lean a certain way, who say, “Okay, girls shouldn’t be educated, even though, religiously, we have the prophet himself saying, “I will stand between the gates of hell fire for a man who educates his daughters.”
So, you have these two different worlds, and those narratives are not getting out there with the same frequency as the more fear-mongering, terrifying, like, “You need to do this or else it’s the end of your community, and the end of your life, your life as you know it,” et cetera.
So, I think it’s really about who holds the power and who we need at the table.
Lewis Howes: What do you wish powerful men knew more about powerful women?
Dr Alaa Murabit: You know, I think I actually wish powerful men knew more about other powerful men, if that makes sense. I wish powerful men were more accountable for their actions. That is probably what I wish most for powerful men.
I, personally, I think it would be tough, for me, to get through my work, or for anybody to get through life, if they felt everybody was mal-intentioned. So I tend to walk into a room and hope that’s not how I do it.
So, I assume that everybody, most people – I won’t say everybody, I’m not that Polly-Anna, but most people – approach work and life with their best intentions. They might not have the same intentions I do, they might be the best intentions just for their family, or just for their community, but I assume they’re approaching life with intentionality in some way.
And I wish that they took that intentionality and they took that perspective, and they asked themselves just about accountability. So, “If this is the best for my family, who is it not serving?” Or, “What is the impact I’m having?”or, “What could I be doing better?”
And my dad, when we were growing up, always had this incredible quote, he would tell us about how God’s mercy is greater than his wrath. And so, my dad would always tell us, “No matter what you do, you can come and talk to me.”
Lewis Howes: That’s comforting.
Dr Alaa Murabit: It’s comforting, and I think he did that, because my dad didn’t always do that. I think when he had younger first kids, it was a lot more about, like, “I’m your father! Because I said so!”
Lewis Howes: “Respect me!”
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly! And, I think, as we got older, he realised “You can’t, it’s two on eleven, like, you’re not going to win this. This is not a game you’re going to win, there’s eleven kids.” So I think he was like, “Wait a second, being loving is going to get me a lot further,” you know, “Being their friend is going to get me a lot further.
And it did, because I would approach my dad and I would tell him what I was challenged with. And I genuinely believe, I view my dad, in my life, and in our community, as a person with power. He was privileged, he was male, he had influence, he had power, he had credibility, people listened to him, they still do.
And I recognise his ability to leverage his power to support his daughters so publicly, to support his family, to be so open, to be open minded, to be malleable, to have compromise. He would say, “Either you convince me, or I convince you. We won’t leave the table until that happens.”
So, to be that person, he really did look at the accountability of his power. And I do wish more powerful men and, to your question, even more powerful women, would ask themselves, “Hey, what am I accountable for?” Because we can all look at, I can look at my metrics of what I’ve done today at work, but I’m also accountable for what I’m doing at home.
And I’m accountable for who I am when people aren’t watching, and I’m accountable for… Those are all, I think, standards that we need to look at ourselves by.
Lewis Howes: It’s funny, because my whole life, until about five years ago, when I was talking about before, everything, for me, was a competition. It was win/lose, because I played sports, and that’s all I knew. It was like, you win, and you get the result, or you lose.
Dr Alaa Murabit: And that was socially acceptable, you were a winner.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, exactly. And when you were a loser, you were a loser in your life, like, that was your identity: you always lost, right? So, I wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt people, I don’t think, but I just always wanted to win.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly.
Lewis Howes: I always wanted to be right, because I didn’t want to feel like a loser. And it wasn’t until I literally learned the concept of win/win, at thirty years old. I probably heard it sometime when I was younger, but it didn’t sink in. It was, like, “No, I have to win, and at all costs.”
And when I learned that principle, it transformed my life, because it made me so conscious of all the decisions, all the conversations, every action.
Dr Alaa Murabit: It made you accountable.
Lewis Howes: Very, and it made me more responsible with the power that I do have, or the opportunities I do have. And even further, it’s like, “What’s the win/win/win opportunity?” in every decision that I make. Every action, you know?
Dr Alaa Murabit: A hundred percent. And I tell people, because when we talk about privilege, somebody asked me, a friend of mine actually said, “Well, how do I leverage my privilege?” And I said, “The same way I leverage mine.” We all have privilege and we’re all disprivileged in different spaces of our lives.
Some of us have exceedingly more, some of us have exceedingly less, but there are certain audiences, when I walk in, they’re going to listen to me more than when you walk in, right? Because they’re going to identify [with] me. They look like me, they feel I have, maybe, the same life experiences, et cetera.
And there are some where you have that access and that point of view. So, leverage whatever privilege you have to ensure that somebody is part of that conversation, or ask yourself, are you being accountable to that community?
When you said, “I was always competitive,” I used to, about five, six years ago, two years into my work, so I was 23, and I used to, when people weren’t doing something the way I felt it should be done, or when people weren’t understanding my perspective, I would be, like, “This guy is doing this on purpose. I’ve explained it multiple times, he’s still not getting it. He just doesn’t want to listen.”
Lewis Howes: “The jerk!”
Dr Alaa Murabit: I know, “What a jerk! I mean, seriously!” Because, to me, it didn’t make sense, “You’ve now heard this multiple times, I clearly…”
Lewis Howes: “I told you all the facts, they’re all accurate.”
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly, “And I’ve laid it out, I’m pretty sure, I’ve done this for you, I’ve done your homework, you just need to…” And it wasn’t until an older mentor of mine was, like, “It’s not that I don’t get it. I do. But I’m also walking in thinking of my organisation, and what my company needs.”
And so, we all walk in, I mean, we can be all part of the same conversation and all have intentions that are good, but that are, for you, about winning, and for me about something else. And until we recognise that you can win as well, I can too, we can all get there, but we just have to listen to each other and have a bit more of an open conversation, and then be accountable for what we say and what we do.
And, I think, that, when it comes to power and leadership, a lot of people can get intention on board, it’s a lot more difficult to be accountable for your actions. It’s a lot more difficult. So that’s probably the one thing I would want.
Lewis Howes: So who are some of these conversations that you’re having with, is it mostly with companies or is it with politicians, where you’re trying to bring peace? Or how does that work?
Dr Alaa Murabit: So, it’s oftentimes heads of state, ministerial level, and then, of course, we work a lot with corporations, because corporations are a huge part of that engine of peace and sustainability, as I mentioned. Civil society, we have conversations sometimes with military factions, or militias, so non-state actors; it really depends on the particular conflict.
My personal favourite conversations, actually – and I had been mentioning this, we did a talk at Merril Lynch recently, and I said, “Listen, the difference between corporations and governments right now, is super interesting to me.”
Because corporations are, for the most part, younger, more diverse, more bottom-line thinking, to a degree. There needs to be an actual empirical output for them to be able to make a particular decision or to follow through on something. And governments have not gotten that same framework, to a significant degree.
So, having conversations with both of them in the room, where corporations are steadily increasing a lot of their own political power and their own clout, because they now have communication mechanisms they use on their own, and they don’t rely on governments to be able to have outreach leverage or economic success, has been very interesting.
Lewis Howes: Wow. When you’re working with two different people, who have massive conflict or are disagreeing, what’s the best way to bring the peace?
Dr Alaa Murabit: I think, mediating. Usually just getting our – in peace negotiations and conflict negotiations, the number one rule is, always talk about the most common denominator first. So, if you know that one area of the agenda, one area of the negotiating agenda is going to be a lot more sensitive, you will leave it a little bit later, because usually you can bridge people on something they agree with and they can get to know each other.
Lewis Howes: Build little wins.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah. And, well, it becomes a bit more personal, but a lot less a zero sum game, if you will, because people are like, “Wait, Lewis, you’re actually a good guy, I know you, we agree on this,” and they’ll be more willing to have negotiations.
Lewis Howes: They believe in the same things.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly. But if you bring the contentious issue first, people just get up and leave the table. They won’t stay. They’ll leave the table. I mean, I’ve been in rooms where they’ve been, like, “You’re barbaric, I’m not even wasting my time. You’re backwards thinking.” And they’ll get up and leave.
So, if you can bring something that most people agree on in the beginning, start with some light conversation, get people to see each other as human, you can usually get much further.
Lewis Howes: Talk about their kids, talk about something they both agree on, family.
Dr Alaa Murabit: A hundred percent! Kids are fantastic!
Lewis Howes: “Show me photo’s of your kids,” yeah.
Dr Alaa Murabit: I take photos of my niece, she is three, turning four years old, and she has older brothers, and one younger brother, so she is the only girl, and this is a family where the boys play Smash Bros. and all those video games which we were talking about, Fortnight, Halo, and so she has two older brothers who are nineteen and sixteen, and then one who is four.
So, across the board she is seeing video games, and then she is seeing, no, sorry, the five-year-old brother who is now playing with, what’s the game? Zelda, he dresses up his link and he wants bows and arrows and all of that. So, that’s what she sees. So she wanted to be Spiderman during Halloween.
And I open up with this story of my niece, Sophia, being Spiderman, and how surprised parents were that she was still wearing her costume three months later, and she called it her uniform. It wasn’t a costume to her.
And I always open up with that story, because I don’t have kids, so I can’t use my own, but my sister’s kids are totally up for grabs, and people put their guard down. Or I’ll talk about watching reality television. And you’ll have really intelligent people suddenly be like, “Oh my gosh, me too!” And they don’t feel like they have to put on a show.”
So you can usually just talk with people, get them to get to know you, and then they’re more willing to listen.
Lewis Howes: It sounds like you’ve taught your niece well. She understands that with great power comes great responsibility.
Dr Alaa Murabit: I used to – this is the one best story about Spiderman – so I told her, “I’m going to write a book about this, you’re going to be the superhero in the book.” And she says, “I’m not a superhero, I’m Spiderman.” And I was, like, “Okay!”
We have a bit of like, you know, we can’t really use that, there’s copyright issues, but we’re going to work around it. No, she is, she’s very sweet.
Lewis Howes: How many mediations have you done?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Oh, a lot, I mean, over a hundred. On different issues. There’s some that are on trade, there’s some that are on health, there’s some on economic growth, there’s some on conflict, so yeah, a significant amount. Some on the sustainable development goals themselves.
Lewis Howes: Who are the two different parties usually that you’re working with? Is it a company and a government, two governments?
Dr Alaa Murabit: It depends. Usually it’s two governments so I work with a lot of governments, that’s an area I tend to do well with.
Lewis Howes: With governments?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah, with usually the state actor, so with governments usually, sometimes corporations, those are the ones that we have. Because most of the conversations over the last couple of years have been about the sustainable development goals themselves, and about metrics.
So, if we’re talking about gender equality, usually that’s with governments and civil society, or governments and corporations. “How can we move the needle forward on women’s rights in your community? What are we doing wrong?”
The government needs to earmark 15% of it’s budget on civil society, specifically towards women’s rights. Okay, women’s rights organisations, what does that mean for you? Because you can get around those earmarks really easily.
So, it’s really about getting everybody at the table who usually have their ideas and their opinion and their talking points and just making sure that those links are there and then getting them to sign on the dotted line.
Lewis Howes: What’s been the most challenging mediation you’ve faced, where you’ve felt like, “Man, this might create a war, or create some type of chaos, that I didn’t want to happen.”?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Honestly, a lot of the gender and reducing inequalities have been the most.
Lewis Howes: Those are the most challenging?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah, for me, they are, because they are the ones that are most personal to me. It is a lot more about what you bring to the table as well, and so, for me, most things I can distance myself from, and I can be like, “Okay, we can analyse this. This is economic growth, this is what makes sense, this doesn’t,” et cetera.
But, for me, the gender equality, especially as it relates to health; so, women’s reproductive rights. If I’m sitting and we’re trying to mediate a situation where we’re saying, “Okay, this needs to be budgeted, this needs to be approved, this needs to be sanctioned,” and I’m not getting the green light I want, or I think is necessary, it becomes very personal, because I know, and the best example I use lately is, abortion.
I mean, I personally do not care what your personal opinion on issues, I genuinely don’t. I care about the fact that, legally, when we’re talking about a legal issue, I don’t. Because when we’re talking about everybody’s personal opinion, then I keep trying to change their mind, and then that’s not actually what moves the needle forward.
What moves the needle forward is being able to say, “Okay, here is a substantial, legal, legislative change that ensures this right. And as a health care professional, as a woman, as a minority woman in particular, as a young woman, I mean, I know the data about abortion backwards and forwards, and we can make it illegal, but more women will go, they will try to self-abort, more women will die, and we will have higher crime rates twenty years down the line. Maternal mortality increases drastically if you make abortion illegal.
Lewis Howes: Isn’t it a Freakonomics episode where they talk about when you’re allowed to do abortion, crime rates decrease ten years down the line.
Dr Alaa Murabit: It is, it’s a Freakonomics. Crime rates decrease twenty years later. It’s a huge issue, but when you look just at the data… So, when I’m sitting next to somebody who says, “Well, I don’t believe in it and I don’t agree with this,” for me, those are the most difficult negotiations, because I have to really bite my tongue and be, like, “I’m not trying to convince you as a person, you and I can disagree on so many issues, this is life and death for women around the country, around the world.”
And if we don’t start looking at, those are the tough ones, for me. Because I can have my own personal opinions, I have my own personal opinions about a lot of things, but you feel a lot more accountability and responsibility, when you know the decision made at that table will impact women for generations to come, and societies for generations to come.
Lewis Howes: I know we have a long way to go to get to gender equality, but what are a few of the rights that you believe, like, if we were able to get to these few things, soon, in the next few years, that it would drastically improve the world?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Without a doubt, Lewis, women’s health and women’s education. So, if you look, if I ask you, “What are the most practical and cost effective solutions for climate change, what would your answer be?”
Lewis Howes: Cost effective solutions for climate change? I have no idea.
Dr Alaa Murabit: So most people would say, “Oh, new energy, reducing emissions.” It’s actually girls’ education and women’s reproductive rights.
Lewis Howes: Why is that? How is that?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Because when girls are educated they get married later, they have less kids, they’re more likely to vaccinate their kids. If 10% of the population of girls in a country are educated, they increase that economic GDP, that country’s GDP by 2%-3%.
Lewis Howes: Why is that? Because they can work more?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Because they work. They get married later, they join the workforce. Women reinvest 90% of their income into their local community, as opposed to men, who reinvest 30%-40%.
Lewis Howes: They like to buy things, hey?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah. Well, they do, they like to buy things locally, it’s a very sustained process, and so they create a cycle of education and employment in their community that is unique and the fact that they’re having less kids is important, because you can reduce emissions as much as you want, but unless women are choosing not to have more children, because they feel as though they are contributing in other ways, et cetera, you’re not going to lower the population growth.
Lewis Howes: And what does more kids in the world, just causes more waste, is that what it is? Waste?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Population is waste, yeah.
Lewis Howes: Population, waste, trash.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly, and so, the risk becomes, because, again, this is the minority nuance I bring to it, we’ve had people will be like, “Well, now you’re saying that women shouldn’t have kids,” and that’s not what I’m saying at all. What we’re saying is, women deserve the right to have the choice and the opportunity.
And usually, when women are educated, they choose to get married later, they choose to have less children, and that’s a choice they make because they see their opportunities as being wider.
Lewis Howes: As opposed to only, “My role in life is to have kids.”
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly, which is what socially, in most countries, is a socially constructed role. Wherever you go. I mean, you could go to the United States, you could go to parts of Uganda, parts of Libya, where people say, “Your number one role, great, you can be a teacher or a doctor, but your number one role is to sustain this community, and to have kids.”
And so, I think, honestly, climate change, security, economic growth, almost anything you look at, girls’ education, women’s reproductive rights. If we could get those two things, you’ll see more women in business, because they’ll have the education and the capability to go, they’ll have cultivated an ecosystem. Those two things.
And I lump into reproductive rights, the ability to have children comfortably. So, paid leave, you know, maternity leave, childcare.
Lewis Howes: Not stressed to have kids.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly, exactly. Not this belief that, “Okay, you can’t,” it has to be a choice, right? So, you have the choice to have kids in an organic, healthy way, where you have support from social systems, so you have childcare, you have maternity leave, et cetera, or you choose not to have kids.
But you choose that because you have an education, because you have the opportunity to sustain everything for yourself. So it really is looking at those two, because they open up the door for everything else.
Lewis Howes: Wow. Are we having too many kids in the world? How many people in the world right now?
Dr Alaa Murabit: A little over seven billion. The world’s going to continue to grow, that’s not going to change, right? And I don’t support anything like the one child policy, or telling women that they can’t have kids, either. I just fundamentally believe that there are a lot of things that happen socially, like child brides, where young girls are forced to do things that they should not be forced to do.
And oftentimes families do feel – this is where intentionality comes in, because I used to think, “How could you give your daughter away like that? How do you sell your daughter?” and it makes you really pessimistic about the world.
So you have to take a step back, and say, “Okay, this is what they felt was the only opportunity for them and their family and their daughter, because they didn’t have money.
Lewis Howes: Because they weren’t educated.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Or they weren’t educated! Exactly! And so it’s, “Okay, how do we bring opportunity to these families to make different decisions, to make better decisions. And it really does start with education. It really does. Education and women’s reproductive rights.
Give women choices, give women opportunities, let them lead.
Lewis Howes: Do young girls not have education, not have the ability to go to school right now? What’s the challenge?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Well, I mean, if you look at 60%-70% of illiterate youth are women.
Lewis Howes: Really? I feel like it could be a lot of boys who just don’t want to go to school. I never wanted to go to school. I was, like, “Get me out of here!”
Dr Alaa Murabit: Well, in many countries you’re legally required there, right? So, in many countries you have to legally go until you’re sixteen. That’s not the case…
Lewis Howes: Is that true? I didn’t know that.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah. And the huge drop off is actually based on age. So, you see a huge change for girls once they hit puberty. So, it’s girls start getting periods in many parts of the world.
Lewis Howes: They’re embarrassed, they don’t want to go.
Dr Alaa Murabit: They’re embarrassed, they don’t want to go to school, there’s no proper sanitation, and obviously, when they hit puberty, they also become reproductive age. And so, a lot of families will let them have kids. And in a lot of parts of the world they do, they do work, they sustain the family.
Lewis Howes: At twelve you’ve got to come work.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah, work at their family’s tea shop, or whatever. And the reason, it’s actually super interesting, we were in Bangladesh, I was in Bangladesh relatively recently, and we were talking with a family where the young girl did work at her family’s tea shop.
And I asked, “Okay, so why don’t the boys?” And they said, “Well, no, the boys can go abroad and they can get better education, they can bring more home for the family. They’re more able to migrate out and give us something back.”
Lewis Howes: Why is that?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Because they can take care of themselves, they’re more independent.
Lewis Howes: It’s less dangerous for them, yeah.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly, so it’s this entire ecosystem, where, if you walk in and ask people why they’re making particular decisions, most families will come back to you – I personally believe most of the challenges that face young girls, women, today, really do root back to family and community and to what opportunities they had.
And it really does come down to education and, really, their reproductive, their health rights.
Lewis Howes: So you feel like if all women were able to have education up till, what, eighteen? Or as long as they wanted?
Dr Alaa Murabit: As long as they wanted.
Lewis Howes: But at least up until eighteen.
h Dr Alaa Murabit: At least up until eighteen. At least twelve years of quality, safe education.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, if they had that, and they had the choice to…
Dr Alaa Murabit: To get married, to no get married; to have kids, to not have kids.
Lewis Howes: And the choice to abort if they wanted to.
Dr Alaa Murabit: And the choice to abort, to have family planning and contraception.
Lewis Howes: Like a safe choice, not like this pressure that you have to do it.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly.
Lewis Howes: Do you think, if those things changed, around the world, what would happen?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Oh, I think you’d see a lot more women leading companies, you’d see a lot more women leading countries, you’d see a lot more inclusive conversations around security and conflict, you’d see a lot more inclusive conversations around religion. Because a lot of the limitations that are most emphasised about women and faith, relate specifically to education and women’s rights, and women’s health rights.
Those are where you find a lot of, “Oh, wait, no, women can work. Great! Let’s have a conversation about women’s reproductive rights. They can’t family plan.” And those two things are an oxymoron, you can’t have them in the same sentence, because if you can’t plan when you’re having a family, it’s unlikely they’re going to get much further ahead in work.
Or if you can’t plan when you want to get married, it’s unlikely that you’re going to have the independence and he ability and, really, the ecosystem, to thrive in other ways. So we can talk, and I do, I started my organisation and my first thing was to push women in political positions and economic power.
And it took me a second to step back and say, “If we don’t address the social challenges, we’re not going to get to the point where we’re going to feel like they have the ecosystem or the ability or the confidence to do things like run for office, if they never got the education.”
Lewis Howes: You can’t put people in power if they haven’t done the work or got the skills.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Well, they won’t even seek out the power, because they won’t feel like they’re qualified, or they won’t feel like they’re capable of it. Or, you know, if you’ve been married at twelve, oftentimes without your consent.
Lewis Howes: Twelve!?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah, twelve, eleven, thirteen, if that’s been something that’s been decided for you, it’s very difficult, down the line, for you to say, “Wait, I’m going to take the reins and I’m going to change my own situation. There are a lot more obstacles.
It’s doable. I know incredible women who have, I mean, Jaha Dukureh, who is a FGM, female genital mutilation survivor, a phenomenal woman who got married quite young, forcibly married quite young, has done incredible work, has shifted the conversation, started Safe Hands for Girls, is a role model to other women; it’s doable. There are those women.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, it’s just very challenging.
Dr Alaa Murabit: It’s challenging. There’s so many more obstacles.
Lewis Howes: What’s the biggest challenge you face right now? Because you’re in your twenties, right?
Dr Alaa Murabit: I’m twenty-eight, yeah.
Lewis Howes: Twenty-eight. Do you feel like you get taken seriously when you’re going into these high power conflict resolution situations, where they’re like, “You have no clue what you’re talking about, you’re a woman, you’re this, you’re that, you’re in your twenties, what do you know about business or government?”?
Dr Alaa Murabit: So, when I was twenty-three I went to my first big, big meeting at the UN. And at the UN, they give you this wooden plaque, and they etch your name in white, and they really show up. And this is like, I had a flip phone and I was still taking selfies. I was committed, I was so proud of myself.
Lewis Howes: And you were a doctor at this time, right?
Dr Alaa Murabit: I was a doctor, yeah.
Lewis Howes: Like, working in surgery?
Dr Alaa Murabit: No, I was working with VLWs, I was working with my organisation, and I was on the advisory board for resolution 1325, which is women, peace and security. So it’s a resolution the security council passed, to ensure that women have leadership roles in conflict and peace resolution, but also that they’re protected, because there are often challenges that women unilaterally face in conflict.
So I walked into this meeting, I had been prepared, I prepared non-stop.
Lewis Howes: You did all your research, knew all the facts.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Showed up early, showed up early, because, I mean, come on! I’m a type-A personality, but also a woman, and a minority. So I knew that I had to show up before everybody else, and I had to be prepared to answer everybody’s questions, because I knew that I was representing myself, and then, of course, all Muslim women, young women.
And so I sat at my chair, I was one of the first, and a young intern a couple of years older than me, maybe, came up to me, and she was, like, “You know, that’s Dr Murabit’s seat, and I hear he’s quite difficult.”
Lewis Howes: That you were sitting in?
Dr Alaa Murabit: That I was sitting in. “It’s Dr Murabit’s seat, and I hear he’s quite difficult.” She’s like, “You can go sit in the back with the rest of the support staff.”
Lewis Howes: And you’re like, “That’s me.”
Dr Alaa Murabit: I know, but I had one of those moments, I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, where you kind of like watch yourself from far away? And I just packed up, and nobody, when I tell them this story, like, you didn’t say something back, but I just picked up my stuff and I went and I sat in the back.
It was like a really weird, it was one of those imposter syndrome things, for me, where it was, like, “Wait, what? What?” And it wasn’t until some of my colleagues came in and they said, “Come back, sit at your seat,” so I went and I sat and I spent this meeting that I had prepared so much for, for like, two hours.
And I don’t know if you do this when you’re in the car or the shower, when you’re like, “Oh, I should have said this, could have said this, this would have been perfect, this would have been the perfect rebuttal.” So I did that for a good two hours, and about ten minutes before the end of the meeting, one of my colleagues said something that just didn’t make sense.
So I looked up and I’m super thankful he did that, because as I looked around the room, they were all older men. There was not a single young woman at the table, except for me. So, when I spoke to the intern after, because we had a wonderful conversation, she came up to me and apologised and was really, really gracious, which made me feel bad about all the mean things that I was going to say.
She said, “You know, I’ve never seen anyone who looks like me or you, at the table.” And I started a women’s mentorship program, after that, for minority women, and now men. I really began to think to myself, I always ask, “Where are the young women? Where are the young men? Where’s the inclusivity?”
And until we start leveraging our own positions of authority and power, to bring it in with us, it won’t happen. Nobody is asking, I mean, when I walk into a room, I don’t think many people are asking, “Oh, wait, where are people who look like Alaa?” Or, I very rarely will go like, “Where are people who look like Lewis?”
You know what I mean? We always wonder where we are, but I don’t think it really crosses many other people’s frame of mind, to look for inclusivity in the room. And I think we need to start doing that a lot better.
Lewis Howes: What’s the skill you think you could learn to improve everything you’re doing more?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Oh, I think I could be more empathetic, and I think more kind to myself. I think a lot of my challenges, with a lot of my work is that I am… Yeah…
Lewis Howes: How often do you beat yourself up?
Dr Alaa Murabit: I have five brothers and five sisters, and so, if you thin you wanted to win when you were young… It’s not necessarily beating myself up, I usually think, if something wasn’t accomplished, then I am partly at fault, or I could have done better, or I could have listened better.
And I would say that’s usually where a lot of challenges come from for most people. So, yeah, being a bit more kind to myself, recognising I can’t do everything I want to do in a day, and that’s okay. I think I would be a much better leader if – oh, and probably being less, I’m very type-A. But I’ve been hiding it really well in this conversation.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, right.
Dr Alaa Murabit: But I’m very type-A, and I think the two of them are very connected. But I would say, being a lot kinder to myself, and being a lot more empathetic to challenges that other people face. Oftentimes people I disagree with most. So I can be very empathetic with…
Lewis Howes: You don’t have as much compassion for them?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah, I don’t, and it’s a bad [thing], but I’ve noticed it especially recently, as things are becoming more polarised. I will find myself in a meeting being, like, you have all the power, you are economically powerful. You have privilege in this community, why are you doing this?
And my level of compassion for them is very different than, for example, a single mother fleeing from a country. And I find that would be a place I should probably work on, because when I do kind of force myself to be like, “You know what? They also have that personal baggage we were talking about. And they also were raised by parents in a particular way. And they also…”
Lewis Howes: “Have some trauma or fears.”
Dr Alaa Murabit: Trauma, fears, probably being very intentional about making sure that they keep the money for their family so their kids can have it. If I give them the same assumption of positive intention, the conversation goes a lot further, but it so much harder for me to do that. It’s hard for me to admit that, but it’s hard for me to do that.
Lewis Howes: What are the things that you say to yourself, when you’re mean to yourself?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Probably that if I had, my big one is, “If you had slept more, you probably could have gotten that.” And another one is, I usually wish that my brothers, like, “Oh, if your siblings were in the room, this would be a family joke.” That’s a big one, I have a very supportive family, but there are also high expectations. So, it’s a double edged sword.
Those are probably the big two.
Lewis Howes: The internal conversation you have?
Dr Alaa Murabit: The internal conversation, I have a lot of internal conversations, but those are probably the big ones. The big ones are, “You could have been on top of this,” that’s probably the biggest one.
Lewis Howes: “You didn’t do enough work.”
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah, “If you’d planned differently, you could have done this,” and, usually, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to learn they’re usually not necessarily things that are always within my control.
That could be true sometimes, but for the most part I can’t change a lot of things. So I’ve gotten much better at being, like, “You know what? If it happens, it happens. I did the best I could, I put it all there, but if it didn’t work out…” Because of areas out of my control.
But that’s still very difficult for me. I have a lot of trouble with that, like, “Oh, if you had showed up earlier, if you had spoken to them before the meeting and told them,” for example, “about your niece, and they’d had that human connection with you, then when you sat down for the negotiation, they would have completely changed their minds.”
I write romantic comedies in my head about what I should have done differently.
Lewis Howes: Do you feel like you connect more to people’s heads, or hearts?
Dr Alaa Murabit: It depends on the person. It depends on the person. I think, with people like my dad and myself, definitely heads a little bit, I’ll throw in a few heart stories. I think hearts change their minds, but I think heads give themselves, almost, the personal permission to listen to me. So they almost assume I have more credibility and then they’ll start having real personal conversations with me.
So I think it’s a mix of the two, and there are some individuals that I don’t really need to get into the statistics and the data, I can have a nice two-hour conversation with them and, at the end, they’ll be like, “You know what? I’m going to research that more.” So it really depends. It’s a good mix of the two, though.
Lewis Howes: Who’s the most inspiring leader in the world, to you?
Dr Alaa Murabit: My mum! My mum raised eleven kids. She raised eleven kids, moved [to] a country where she didn’t know the language, to a very, for her, hostile place. My mum.
Lewis Howes: What’s the greatest lesson she’s taught you?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Lewis, why are you doing this? I don’t know, maybe… So, I have two older sisters. My eldest is a paediatric plastic surgeon, very successful, in that way. The second is a stay-at-home mum, very successful. And they are both 100% dedicated to what they do.
I think the single greatest lesson my mum gave me was that she created an ecosystem where two girls, where all her daughters, could aspire to be whatever they wanted to be, and make those decisions. My mum taught me that you get to make the choice. And she didn’t get to make a lot of choices.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, that’s a powerful mom.
Dr Alaa Murabit: It is! She is! My parents, in general – my dad’s going to get so mad that I didn’t say him, too – he won’t, but.
Lewis Howes: What’s the greatest lesson he taught you?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Sacrifice. Easily.
Lewis Howes: Sacrifice what?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Sacrifice, that sometimes great leaders do not put themselves first. That you do what you do for your [family]. He’s the person that probably taught me most about intentionality. That you do what you do for those around you. If you’re good at doing sacrifice.
How about you?
Lewis Howes: Greatest leader?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Greatest leader.
Lewis Howes: I really like the way Obama showed up with a powerful and connected energy. I felt like he did a great job of his way of being.
Dr Alaa Murabit: With his message of hope.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, his way of being and his presence and his ability to connect with people. I really enjoyed watching that, and I think he delivered it well.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Is that something you personally learned from him?
Lewis Howes: I’ve never met him, but I mean, just by watching.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah, yeah, like, something that you think about?
Lewis Howes: I’m just always thinking, “Who are the people that are making the biggest change in the world? Who are the people who are making the biggest impact?” Maybe not directly.
Dr Alaa Murabit: But who are the people that made the biggest change to you?
Lewis Howes: Yeah, it’s going to sound, I mean, my parents obviously made a huge impact on my life, and they taught me everything, almost, but I’m constantly learning from people. I mean, I’m learning a lot from you right now. Every time I sit down with someone, I ask questions, and I like to learn from everyone. It doesn’t matter if they’re a person of power.
Dr Alaa Murabit: What’s the most important lesson you’ve ever learned, that you feel like? What’s the lesson that’s stuck with you?
Lewis Howes: The thing that sticks with me the most is health, going back to health, because without health, you can’t make an impact in the world. If you’re not fully feeling well, emotionally, spiritually, physically, you’re going to be in pain, and you’re not going to be able to have the energy or the presence to show up fully.
And so, I think, health is the key to a fulfilling life.
Dr Alaa Murabit: It’s that saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
Lewis Howes: That’s it! And I remember, Steve Jobs was talking about it in his last couple of months, he was like, “I would give all these billions back, to have another year of my life, week of my life, day of my life. A day of my life.”
But the cancer took over, and he was like, “I created this,” it was like, through this engine that he had for his desires, but I think that lesson, this is why I get up early and work out, it’s why I try to get as much sleep as I can, because I know that I’m not going to be able to achieve my dreams if I’m not healthy.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly. If you’re not taking care of you.
Lewis Howes: That’s it, and so, it’s funny, because you said sacrifice, but I think you’ve got to sacrifice a lot of other things to make sure your health is there for you.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Oh, a hundred percent. And I’m not necessarily sure that my parents taught me the lesson about health. Because, my dad’s a doctor, but doctors are notoriously the worst patients.
Lewis Howes: Unhealthy, yeah!
Dr Alaa Murabit: Oh, my gosh, they’re the worst patients.
Lewis Howes: Horrible.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Oh, horrible. So when my dad got diabetes, we’d be like, “Dad, you have to go for your checkup,” and, “Oh, got it, I went to medical school.”
Lewis Howes: But doctors don’t learn about nutrition and don’t learn about sleep. They learn about prescriptions.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Well, now there’s – I agree with you on that one – I think the previous generation of doctors, even when I went to med school. This generation are actually super…
Lewis Howes: Just more evolved.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah, because they have more wellness classes, they have more family health classes, which I like, and I think it’s part of that connection that we were talking about, about health and economic growth.
It’s because, for example, I’m Canadian, right? So, in Canada healthcare is taxed. You pay taxes, and it’s social. So if you get in a car accident, my taxes will go to you as much as they might come to me. Who knows where they’ll go?
And so, there’s a lot more interest in preventative healthcare. So the medical schools have really been shaped around this notion of, “Okay, if we want to prevent obesity and all the complications of obesity; the amount of money we’re going to be spending on heart disease; the amount of money we’re going to be spending on neuro-disease; then let’s start talking about preventative. Let’s start talking about family health, and let’s talk about what fruit you need to buy, and let’s talk about do we even have…”
Lewis Howes: “Do we move our bodies? Are we walking?”
Dr Alaa Murabit: Not even just that, but, “Do we have the right shops in the right neighbourhoods? Can you even buy fruit in your community? And if you can’t, why? Let’s talk about the inequalities that exist.”
Because health is so fundamentally connected to the structures and the institutions and the community around you. So, yeah, my parents never taught me the lesson about, “Okay, you take care of yourself first,” but it’s probably been a lesson I’ve had to self-teach.
My husband is very good at it. He’s very good. Like, he’ll wake up at 4am and go for these super long runs, and he’ll be like, “It’s an investment.” And then I’ll be like, “I’m going to go to this Pilates class,” he’s like, “Yeah, it’s good, it’s an investment. You should. It’ll clear your mind.”
So that’s been better. I have good friends who inspire me, but I think it’s a harder lesson, particularly for women, to be, like, “Hey, you need to prioritise yourself to get everybody else in line after.”
Lewis Howes: Yeah. I think health has been a great lesson, but also just a growth mentality, growth mindset, and the way that you continue learning. You know, education is so powerful. School, not necessarily, is powerful, but education is powerful.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah, and that’s why it has to be quality education. Because education means different things. It can be vocational, it can be community based, it can be really dismantling the structures and the norms in your own community, that limit you. So it means so many different things.
Lewis Howes: There’s two things my dad taught me a couple of things. First, I was raised in a religion that was created by a woman, called Christian Science, and it was all about mind over matter, and so we didn’t take medicine, growing up, because the religion was about, “We are spiritual beings and we can never be harmed. Physically.”
So my dad instilled this belief that I am a spiritual being, therefore I can never be harmed physically. Although it contradicted itself when I was, like, “Why am I in pain?”
Dr Alaa Murabit: “I think I need some medicine.”
Lewis Howes: Exactly, so, he was over the top with it, but at the same time, he didn’t believe in time. He was always on time, but he believed in an infinity. He didn’t believe that my age…
Dr Alaa Murabit: Oh, time is a social construct.
Lewis Howes: He was just like, he never carried a watch, we never celebrated my birthday, and I never understood why. I was like, “Why are all these other kids celebrating their birthday? Do you not love me? Am I not good enough?” or whatever. And he’d go, “It’s not about that,” he said, “Too many people are held back by how young or how old they are, on their dreams.”
He was, like, “I never want you to be held back. I want you to know that you can achieve or go after anything at any age.” And so that was one of the greatest lessons he gave me.
Dr Alaa Murabit: That’s an incredible lesson.
Lewis Howes: Because, when I was in my early twenties, I just never thought that I wasn’t able to do something.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Because you were too young.
Lewis Howes: Exactly, and I didn’t have a degree, and I didn’t have the skills and I didn’t have this. I was like, “I’m going to go after it.”
Dr Alaa Murabit: That’s incredible. But have you made up on all the birthday cake you missed out on?
Lewis Howes: I’ve had a lot of sugar, yeah! That’s my vice.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Okay, good! As long as, the one thing, I mean, being a kid at eleven, birthdays become a thing!
Lewis Howes: Every week you’ve got a birthday.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Every week, but my birthday became, like, it was a birthday month, because you only get one day of the year, where you’re the big deal. So I’d be like, “My birthday is today,” and literally at 4am, I’d be like, “Where is my pancake cake?”
Lewis Howes: Oh, yeah, “And my presents,” yeah.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Well, I wasn’t really big on presents, I just wanted people to celebrate me. It was a very selfish…
Lewis Howes: Oh, like, “Do a song, make a video of me.”
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly, exactly. So, as long as you’ve gone into retroactively celebrate all those birthdays, then that’s good!
Lewis Howes: If you could solve one thing before your life is over, what would that be?
Dr Alaa Murabit: One thing?
Lewis Howes: I’m sure you’ll solve many, but if you could solve one thing?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Oh, no, we’re lucky if I get one thing. I don’t know. If you had asked me five years ago I would have definitely said, girls’ education. I think that would be it. That, for me, is a big, not even just education, for me it’s a mix of healthcare and education. But I’d probably actually go more on reproductive rights now.
Maybe it’s because of my age, but ensuring that women have the choice of when they want to make certain decision about their bodies, and that they know that their bodies are theirs to make decisions about, particularly in the Muslim world.
We don’t have as many challenges with things like abortion, but we do with the things like, “Okay, so your job is to be a mother.” That reproductive mentality is definitely there. So that would be something I would hope to solve and really be able to widen the conversations there.
But, to be honest, I actually don’t think that would be it, if there was one thing I could solve. I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to that question.
Lewis Howes: If you could snap your fingers right now, and something could be resolved, what would that be?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Oh, gosh! No, if I could snap my fingers, it would be women’s reproductive rights. That women around the world would have reproductive rights and would also be able to have those conversations in their communities and in their families, because I think it’s that silence and that almost, “No, we don’t talk about periods, we don’t talk about whatever,” makes it very difficult for women to see themselves as healthy and whole and human.
So, definitely, if I could snap my fingers, that would be it.
Lewis Howes: And what’s the difference between education and empowerment?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Well, I think, you can go to, and I did, so you can go to school and learn math and science and all of that, right? And the best example here, is, I’ll give you math, you can learn math and do your arithmetic, your algebra, your calculus, whatever, and you can be the smartest math student, and then you can get your first credit card and cheque book, and you can be in debt, because you have no idea how number actually work. You’re not empowered to understand.
Lewis Howes: You don’t understand personal finance.
Dr Alaa Murabit: You don’t understand it, and you’re not empowered to understand what the implications are for you and what your role is in that, and the accountability of it. Nobody sat you down and taught you that.
And, usually, I think, empowerment is a combination of, yes, understanding those basics, and those foundations, and knowing, yes, how to read and write and those are very important, the basics of education, but also, having the space in your own life to learn about the daily reality of life.
And having the space to make mistakes, and the community to pick you back up and to grow and to have people, particularly, like, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for incredible mentors. I know that, the arrogant half of me likes to be, “Oh, you know, I got here…”
Lewis Howes: Self made.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Yeah, “I’m a self made woman, I got here pretty quick,” but the reality is, a lot of people had to sacrifice for me to be where I am, and a lot more people looked at me and said, “I think I have an opportunity for you,” or, “I can see something in you,” or, “I can leverage this for you,” or, “Would you like to lunch with me?”
And these little moments where I got to learn and got to absorb from really impressive, interesting people, who ranged from everything, from my sister, who is a stay-at-home mom, who taught me probably everything I know about time management, as only a mother can do, to women who have led countries and have transformed the world.
So, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for incredible women, and I think empowerment comes with mentorship, it comes with somebody sponsoring you in that growth. It comes with the ability to make mistakes and to have self awareness and education, and I think that’s where education comes in.
To know that that mistake isn’t the be-all and end-all of it all. It doesn’t mean you’re a loser, you can move forward, you can do better, you can learn more, you can change things. And I think the greatest thing education provides, even though, especially, actually, in the school, reading, writing, I think it provides, for a child, it provides value to a degree.
And it says, “You are worthy of learning, and you are worthy of knowing, and we’re going to invest time in you and we’re going to invest effort in you.” And I think there are a lot of kids in the world who don’t get that feeling. So, education and empowerment, I think, are two sides of the same coin.
Lewis Howes: Yeah. This is called The Three Truths, that I ask everyone at the end. So, imagine you get to choose the day you leave this Earth, okay? It could be many years, a hundred years away, whatever day you want it to be.
You’ve achieved everything you want, you’ve lived your life fully.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Oh, that would be nice.
Lewis Howes: You know, women’s rights, reproductive rights, everything, education, it’s all happened, right?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Oh, fantastic!
Lewis Howes: Everything you want to have happen, has happened.
Dr Alaa Murabit: You’re painting a really pretty picture for me.
Lewis Howes: Exactly. I believe it will happen, and you’ve done it all, and it’s the time for you to leave, you get to choose the moment, your whole family, everyone’s there celebrating you, it’s a great, peaceful moment. Okay?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Okay.
Lewis Howes: But, for whatever reason, everything that you’ve put out into the world, your work, your videos, writings, whatever it may be, it’s got to go with you, so no one has access to your information any more.
But you get to write down three things you know to be true, or three lessons, that you would leave behind, and this is all people would have to have access to your wisdom, just hypothetically. What would you say are your Three Truths, or three lessons for humanity?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Read more. Know history. I don’t think anybody can make wise decisions without knowing the history of them, without knowing the roots of challenges. So, if you want to talk, for example, about when we were talking earlier about population, the nuances of that conversation are deeply connected to colonialism, and to a history that is very powerful and very detrimental.
So, I think, knowing history would be my first Truth. Always know the issue and the history of the issue. Never take it at face value, would be my first Truth.
The second would probably be, there is nothing better than a good family. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be your blood family, it could be friends you cultivate, it could be a community you cultivate, but cultivate a community that is on your side.
Because almost everywhere you go, you will find people who aren’t. It’s great to go home and to have people who say, “You know what? You did your best.” Because I talk down to myself sometimes, and it’s good to have people whispering in my ear, “No, you shouldn’t do that. You did awesome. You’re great.” I think we all need that, we all need somebody on our side.
And the third would be, I mean, it’s particularly to women, but I guess it applies to everybody, but never, never belittle yourself, because you give other people permission to. Like, my little sisters, they’re in high school, I hate when I hear them say, like, rude words to each other, because I think you give permission to other people to talk to you like that.
So, never talk down to yourself, never speak to yourself or to other young women in a way that is derogatory, or negates their humanity, because I think you give other people permission to. And I think that kind of sucks.
Those would be my Three Truths, maybe.
Lewis Howes: I like those.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Okay, good! That was like a pop quiz, I was worried I was failing!
Lewis Howes: You passed the test.
Dr Alaa Murabit: See! This is the type-A personality. I’m like, “I didn’t get to study, you didn’t give me, like, next time I need to know.”
Lewis Howes: All the questions beforehand.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Exactly.
Lewis Howes: How can we support you? Where do we connect online, with you?
Dr Alaa Murabit: You can follow me on Facebook @alaamurabit, or on Twitter, @alaamura. And then, of course, visit my website. We’re putting together a book, I’m writing a book right now on the economics of equality, so a lot of things we talked about; the data and the heart and head really meet up when we talk about inclusivity, and when we talk about things like health, when we talk about education, there’s both the empirical evidence, but also, it just makes sense, it really does.
For sustaining successful communities and families and prosperity planet and all of it, it just comes down to being as inclusive as we possibly can be.
Lewis Howes: Can we pre-order that book right now?
Dr Alaa Murabit: No, not yet. But I will definitely send it to you when you can, and you can update the link.
Lewis Howes: Okay, cool. We will. What else can we do? How can we support you right now?
Dr Alaa Murabit: You can visit the Omnis Institute, it’s the institute that we do a lot of our work our of.
Lewis Howes: Where is that?
Dr Alaa Murabit: It’s online, omnisinstitute.com, and we do a lot of work with local leaders in the most dangerous parts of Colombia, and in the most dangerous parts of other countries, where we really focus on actually bringing a lot of this conversation to local communities that don’t have access to things like the internet or schools or, really, the benefits that we get to have.
Lewis Howes: Is there anything else we can do to support you?
Dr Alaa Murabit: I mean, just be nice to each other. Listen, negotiate with each other, I don’t know. I think that would probably be…
Lewis Howes: You spend the most time on Instagram, Twitter, what do you spend the most time on, personally?
Dr Alaa Murabit: Probably Instagram, mostly.
Lewis Howes: And it’s @ alaamurabit.
Dr Alaa Murabit: @alaamurabit. Oh, and there’s one thing, I always give a call to action and this’ll probably be it. My friend, Tara, is here, and she’s chuckling because I always do it, but I think the key thing, and I always tell this to almost every group.
I am where I am, and I think I mentioned it, I am where I am because people looked at me and said, “You know what? This is something we can cultivate, and this is a person who we can support,” and, yes, there’s a lot of work that went into it, but there’s also a lot of support.
And I think that’s probably the same truth for you. There’s people who looked at you and said, “You know what, Lewis? You have something,” or, “What do you need,” right?
And I think my biggest call to action, to men and women alike, is think of a woman in your life – it can be a woman at work, it can be a woman at school, it can be a woman in your community, it can be a woman that you don’t know very well – but think of a woman in your life who you know is capable, who you’ve seen do the work, who you know could use the support.
And leverage your networks, leverage your success, leverage your platform, leverage your voice, to ensure that she’s elevated in that space. So if that means you’re at work, and you know, when you walk into a board meeting that there is a woman who works with you who would be perfect on that board, and there’s questions you’re not answering, leverage a bit of your power to say, “Hey, I think we need to open this board seat.”
Or if you know that you have this amazing podcast, you can say, “Hey, I’m going to leverage a bit of my voice, and my community, to ensure that other women can be elevated in this space.” And the reason I say that, honestly, is because we can always talk about the amount of work and the amount of effort that we put in, but unless we have someone patting us on the back, like a invisible pat on the back in the meeting, or opening that door, turning on that light, and pulling out that ladder, I don’t think we can sustain women’s engagement and, honestly, I don’t think we can sustain sustainable development, just empirically, without it being inclusive.
So, open the door for a woman. That’s my number one call to action. Then you can follow me on Instagram.
Lewis Howes: Great! Yeah, I like that, I like that. Well I’ve got to acknowledge you, Alaa, for how you show up in the world, because you’re an incredible human being, I loved connecting with you, and I hope we get to connect many more times.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Oh, I hope so, I hope so.
Lewis Howes: Hopefully I can bring some of the heart to your head. I acknowledge you for the countless work that you’re doing right now. I mean, you’re constantly showing up, depriving yourself of sleep every single night, which you need to stop doing.
Dr Alaa Murabit: I’m going to stop, I’m going to stop!
Lewis Howes: To serve humanity and to bring peace to conflicts and to help elevate women and help elevate all people who need more support, more education, more rights, so I really acknowledge the work that you do.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Thank you. It’s a mutual appreciation society, honestly. I think I said it when i first came in, the conversations you’re having about the role of men and what masculinity looks like, I don’t think women’s rights can move forward if we don’t have honest conversations about what femininity and what masculinity look like. And how we’re shaping these conversations with our sons and our daughters.
That’s why I asked, “How many times do women reach out to you?” because I know, if I ever had a son I would be, like, “Lewis! Lewis! Tell me what to do! He likes to win a lot, is this an issue? Do I buy him the toy kitchen? Come on, give me a heads up here!”
So, I think it’s incredibly important, and it’s definitely something I think is rare, courageous and takes a lot of personal vulnerability, and I thank you for that, too.
Lewis Howes: My pleasure. Thank you, I appreciate it. Final question: What’s your definition of greatness?
Dr Alaa Murabit: My definition of greatness is probably the same as my definition of success, and, for me, greatness would be, like, at that day where I give you my Three Truths, if I know that I left no harm. It’s leave no harm. It’s the Hippocratic Oath, I’m such a cop-out I’m a doctor.
But it really is, it’s ‘Leave no harm.’ If I can’t do it, and I know I can’t do it, then I need to get out of the way so that someone else more efficient can do it. It’s try to leave a space in the world where either you’ve done good, or you just haven’t created obstacles for other people, you haven’t created challenges.
So, my definition of greatness is people who recognise leadership means asking others for help when they don’t know, that’s something else Obama did quite well. It means using your privilege, your leverage, your platform. But it also means, if you don’t know what you’re doing, get out of the way, don’t do any harm. I think that’s the bare minimum that you need to do to be great.
Lewis Howes: You’re amazing, thank you so much.
Dr Alaa Murabit: Thank you.
Lewis Howes: Appreciate it.
Dr Alaa Murabit: The feeling’s mutual. Thank you so much.
Lewis Howes: Appreciate it.
* * *
Lewis Howes: There you have it, my friends! I hope you enjoyed this powerful inspiring and moving episode. If you did, make sure to share with your friends, lewishowes.com/703 for all the show notes and the full episode, the full video interview, the quotes, where you can connect and learn more about Dr Alaa Murabit, as well.
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Again, a big thank you to our sponsors. And, to reflect on what I really enjoyed about this episode, is that I know there is so much pain and suffering and conflict in the world, and there are certain things that we could do, right now, to help eliminate so many things that are unnecessary, so many causes that are unnecessary that are hurting us.
And, as John F Kennedy said, “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”
So I ask you to be mindful of the conflicts you’re creating, and ask yourself, “Is this really worth it? Can I negotiate in certain ways, to create a win/win/win experience for my life and the people around me, so that we can continue to improve our humanity.
I love you guys and thank you so very much!
You know what time it is: It’s time to go out there and do something great!