* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Nida’a is a new show designed to give Arab women a voice and platform in a way that has never been done before—discussing topics such as women’s issues, current events, pop culture, entertainment, food and fashion— all in front of a studio audience.
It is the brainchild of Zainab Salbi, founder and former executive director of non-profit humanitarian organization Women for Women International, and on Nida’a, Salbi will highlight the inspirational stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, including an in-depth interview with an Iraqi man who made the ultimate sacrifice in order to save his family from ISIS. With no topic off the agenda, the show will also feature Arab artists, designers, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, philanthropists, and others who are contributing in positive ways to the development of the Arab world.
In an interview with Salbi, we discussed the origins of the show, challenges to putting it together, topics and guests, defining success and much more.
As someone who has spent 20 years in the nonprofit world, what attracted you to television and talk-shows, and wanting to explore something so different from your past experiences?
My dedication to ensuring women’s voices are heard and supported is the foundation of my life. I spent 18 years running Women for Women International and providing all kinds of services from financial aid, to education to jobs training – all with the ultimate quest of trying to find the secrete sauce that can lead to change in women’s lives. It was during the time I was writing my last book “If You Knew Me You Would Care” that I realized that the secrete sauce is in “inspiration”. Around that time I met an Iraqi woman from a very conservative and poor community who talked about how watching the Turkish soap opera made her realize that she does not have to tolerate the abuse of her husband for 20 years. It was the soap opera and not any organization that helped inspire her to change her life. She then joined a woman’s organization to help her get the skills in order to get a job that will support her after leaving her husband.
That’s when a light bulb lit in my head. Inspiration can be disseminated in so many ways: through TV, radio, books, newspapers, and of course any other means of raising awareness. I realized that the Turkish soap opera had reached millions of women while I was trying to knock one woman’s door at a time to inspire her of the possibilities of change and progress in her life. It was then I came up with the idea of The Nida’a Show and focus it on acknowledging Arab women, showing the possibilities of change from within the culture, and promote building small bridges amongst women. The TV show is just another way of expressing my life dedication to serving women and the marginalized voices whoever and wherever they may be.
What were some of the challenges you faced to bring this idea to fruition, and how did you navigate those hurdles?
Well, there were many challenges. First, I had the idea a few years ago before the region acknowledged that there is a cap in the market for women programming. At the beginning many dismissed the idea of a need for a women dedicated multimedia channel in the Middle East and North Africa. But then, companies started coming up with reports and statistics showing the need and eventually my dream became interesting to others.
Then there were the challenges of how to do the show while keeping the integrity and independence of my voice. I spent a life time finding my truth and speaking my truth and I was not willing to let anybody interfere in my ability to express myself truthfully and independently. That led me to let go of many opportunities that were offered to me and that came with the condition of controlling my voice. It was not a choice I could make. I waited until I found the network that was willing and supportive of my independent voice. That is when I found a home in TLC Arabia as part of the Discovery Network and within the OSN pay TV in the Middle East who were incredibly supportive of my efforts.
Finally, there was a personal challenge of having to let go of all that I built in my prior life from leading Women for Women International, an organization I founded when I was 23 years old and led for 18 years. I had also built a home in the United States. This journey required me to move to the Middle East and let go of all that was built in the past – something that I did and am actually proud of doing though it was very painful at times.
What kinds of issues will this show focus on, and how will you decide which guests to interview?
The Nida’a Show is dedicated to social and cultural issues that impact the daily lives of women in the region. This includes a diversity of subjections from sexual harassment, to fashion, to relationships and men. Any subject that impacts the daily lives of people, we talk about it in The Nida’a Show. Each show has 4 segments. The guests and the segments are from different countries and are of different topics and all shows comes with international or regional celebrities as well. In each show we literary laugh, cry, have fun, and get inspired. In one segment we can have a Saudi woman, in another an Egyptian one, or Moroccan or Palestinian. The whole goal of Nida’a is showing the commonality of our humanity, our aspirations and struggles, and the creative and courageous ways individuals are pursuing their dreams despite all odds.
As for how we decided on the topics, I have an amazing team that combines the best of American executive producers who came from 20 years of working with The Oprah Winfrey Show—Katy Davis, Lisa Morin and co-executive producer Suzanne Hayward—and a wonderful team of young Arab women producers from all over the Arab world led by Tima Shomali as the supervising producer. It’s a joint effort that includes a team of 9 where we review, research and decide the topics and the guests to feature.
Why do you think this type of show can ultimately be successful?
My belief is that when people hear the truth, they will feel it in their hearts. The show is refreshing and groundbreaking, honest, heartfelt, truthful, and even daring in terms of the kinds of conversations we may have about taboo issues. As a guest you will see me crying, laughing, dancing, singing and a full range of all the emotions I am going through. It is exactly the same with my guests. I am incredibly inspired by their courage, their willingness to talk honestly, and their sharing without filter. If one has a desire and interest in real conversation to see various perspectives and realities and to see people for who they are and not what their stories suggests of them, then The Nida’a Show aims at doing just that.
When you think about the ambition and vision of the show, how would you define success in 5 or 10 years?
That the Nida’a Show will contribute in positive ways, opening people’s hearts and shedding away prejudice and stereotypes of women’s voices that both the region and the world has of both Arab women and men. That the show will contribute to real and authentic conversation in a way were we can listen to each other and hopefully accept each other with the diversity of perspectives and lives.