The Firefighter

Sara Akbar was born in an oil field in Kuwait. She was one of ten children. Her father was responsible for drilling oil wells so it was natural that she followed in his footsteps. She earned a degree in chemical engineering from Kuwait University in 1981. All of her siblings earned college degrees including four engineers and a medical doctor.

When she graduated from college, Sara went to work for the Kuwait Oil Company as a petroleum engineer. She was responsible for maintaining the wells. When Saddam Hussain’s army attacked Kuwait, they set the oil wells on fire. Sara and a team of petroleum engineers, acting against orders, decided to douse the fires. Over a span of 45 days, they were able to bring 42 of the fires under control.

Sara co-founded and became the CEO of Kuwait Energy, the first woman to be in a leadership position in petroleum in the Middle East. When asked whether she had to work twice as hard as men to show her worth, Sara responded: “It is the case for most women. It is not specific to the oil business, or even to the Arab world. It is the same wherever you go.”

Sara has become an advocate for women’s rights, including education, business, and political rights. She believes that it is the cultural heritage of the Middle East and not the Islamic religion that limits women’s rights. She is also a humanitarian and has supported 200 women as small business entrepreneurs.

Hidden heroes must often overcome stereotypes that limit their roles in society. In Sara’s case, she had to overcome the stereotype of women aren’t good at engineering as well as the stereotype of women playing a leadership role in business. She was able to bust these barriers and has supported other women who aspire to run their own businesses.

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“I’ve never thought of myself as a female engineer, or founder, or a woman in tech. I just think of myself as someone who’s passionate.” – Leah Busque (Co-founder of TaskRabbit)

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