Twitter Facebook



The Story of May Rihani

May Rihani is a pioneer in girls’ education and a tireless advocate of women’s rights. She served as co-­‐chair of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI)  between 2008 and 2010. Her seminal book, Keeping the Promise, is a framework for advancing girls’ education that is used by global organizations.

Her knowledge on the subject is drawn from years of experience designing and implementing programs in more than 40 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East for a range of donor agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, UNICEF, the World Bank, as well as private and corporate foundations such as GE and ExxonMobil.

With reports of abduction and assassination of girls in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries for the sin of seeking an education, May Rihani’s work could not be more relevant or timely. She has faced and firmly talked down hard-boiled Afghan leaders and respectfully argued with uncompromising male community elders in African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries using their values to gain their support for programs that would improve educational opportunities for girls.

In the U.S., she has played an important part in increasing our awareness of the challenges young women around the world face by testifying on Capitol Hill, and by contributing to the docudrama, Girl Rising produced by Ten Times Ten that aired on CNN in 2013.

In early 2016, May accepted an invitation by the College of Behavioral Change and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park, to serve as director of the George and Lisa Zakhem Gibran Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace. A copy of the press release can be viewed here.

Born and raised by remarkable parents in Lebanon during that country’s “golden years,” May Rihani is a woman whose full life is dedicated to helping girls and women take charge of their lives. She is able to do this while remaining feminine and in love with life and beauty. She is recognized in her country and the Middle East as an out-of-the-box thinker and poet with three volumes of poetry to her credit.


“Every country I work in, once you educate the girl, the life of the family changes totally,” [May Rihani] said. Nutrition and health improve, child and maternal mortality drops.

Washington Post interview with May Rihani, Judy Mann
October 27, 1999


The Author

May Rihani is the author of eight books – five in English and three in Arabic. Her English books address the issues of girls’ education, women’s empowerment, and global human development. One of her books: Learning for the 21st Century: Strategies for Girls’ and Women’s Education in The Middle East and North Africa was translated into French, Arabic, and Farsi. Her Arabic books are a collection of free-verse poetry that deal with love, language, Lebanon, and global common ground. Her latest book, Cultures Without Borders, is a memoir.



May Rihani’s work on behalf of women’s issues, global understanding, and poetry has attracted the attention of her peers and colleagues,
academic institutions, and the development community. She is the recipient of many prestigious national and international awards.



I have never met anyone who so adeptly mixes academics, philosophy, technical know-how, advocacy, and common sense like May Rihani. I have watched with awe as she has applied her unique set of skills and made a difference in the lives of women and girls around the world.

Stephanie Funk, USAID Mission Director Zimbabwe, 2012