Saudi alumna’s gift launches new Global Health Program

Published in Around the O. 

A significant gift from Aisha Almana, a UO graduate, hospital executive and prominent feminist, will create new international opportunities in education and global health at the University of Oregon.

The Aisha Almana Global Health Program will provide scholarships for Saudi women to study global health at the UO, fund seed grants for faculty research, help implement an annual series of speakers and workshops, and support internships for UO students in the Saudi kingdom — the UO’s first fully funded international internships in global health.

Almana is her country’s leading activist for justice, equality and respect for women. In 1990, she led 46 women in a historic protest against her country’s ban on women driving. She currently directs the largest group of hospitals in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, bordering the Persian Gulf.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the UO in 1970, when few women in her country had any formal education. She said she sees her gift as a way to give back and create hope for the future.

“The University of Oregon gave me the opportunity to recognize that I am a human being equal to anyone else,” she said. “Through this new center, we will promote and help women, for if you educate a woman in the health sciences profession, you save a family.”

“Aisha Almana’s generosity will help empower the next generation of Saudi women to receive an education and become leaders in global health,” said UO President Michael Schill. “This incredibly brave woman transformed her life and forged a path out of oppression, and now she is paving the way for others to follow. We are incredibly grateful and proud to call her our alumna.”

The new program establishes a permanent bridge between the UO and the Middle East, built on one of the UO’s most rapidly emerging areas of student interest and cross-disciplinary faculty expertise.

It will be housed in the Center for Global Health, the newest research unit in the Global Studies Institute, a branch of the Office of International Affairs. The center gathers university expertise in areas such as molecular biology, health metrics, developmental neuroscience, disease prevention and epidemiology.

“This will directly benefit the thousands of UO students interested in global health,” said Josh Snodgrass, associate vice provost for undergraduate studies and the new center’s codirector. “It will connect them to fellow students from Saudi Arabia, broadening everyone’s perspectives. Aisha’s generosity marks a significant contribution to global health education here.”

“Aisha Almana has made an important international investment in the UO that sets the precedent for our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” said Dennis Galvan, vice provost for international affairs. “It will help Saudi women, foster UO-Saudi research collaboration and bring UO interns to Saudi Arabia.”

After graduating from the UO, Almana went on to become the first woman from her region to obtain a doctoral degree, which she completed in 1980 at the University of Colorado. The first female hospital director in Saudi Arabia, she has led the Almana Group of Hospitals for more than 23 years, transforming it into one of her country’s leading medical providers with operations in four cities across the kingdom.

Forbes magazine named Almana eighth on its list of 200 Most Powerful Arab Women of 2014. She is profiled in the winter 2015 edition of Oregon Quarterly.

An Arabic translation of this story also is available.

—By Melody Ward Leslie, Development Communications