DUBAI // From intern to executive director in less than seven years, Muna bin Kalli, 27, has risen rapidly at the Dubai Ladies Club. And her success is no surprise to those who know her.
Growing up, Ms bin Kalli watched her mother hold down a job as headmistress at a local school while caring for her and five siblings. That, she says instilled in her a strong work ethic.
But Ms bin Kalli's success is also a sign of the times. "When my mum talks about her experiences, even though she studied abroad, the older generation was much more conservative," she said.
Her mother's generation, she says, were "more dependent on the men, the fathers, husbands and brothers."
"The way women think is changing," Ms bin Kalli says. "They're becoming more open-minded and are very independent. Women today are lucky. They have more chances. They have a real voice and a privilege that generations before did not."
Howard Reed, the director of the Dubai Women's College, Ms bin Kalli's alma mater, proudly recalls a student who was no stranger to hard work - and whose success was "easy to predict."
"She always tried to get the most from her college experience by taking advantage of every opportunity, especially the ones that involved lots of work," he says.
"When other students tried to avoid journalism, she chose it for her specialisation. She did her two-month work experience at an Arabic newspaper that was known to be a difficult but meaningful assignment.
"She was the editor of the college magazine, Desert Dawn; she went on an international study tour to Perth, Australia; and she was the organiser of her graduating class exhibition. To say that DWC is proud of Muna is an understatement," Mr Reed said.
As an intern in the marketing department of the Ladies Club in 2003, Ms bin Kalli would start work at 9am each day, and then rush to lectures that began at 3pm.
By the time she graduated, in 2006, she had impressed staff at the club enough to land a full-time job as an events manager. In 2008 she was appointed general manager, and in 2009 executive director.
Even before her promotion, it was clear she was destined to be a leader. "She's such a hard worker," says Reem Beljafla, a fashion designer who counts herself a friend.
"Whether it's artists or designers, she encourages young women to do so much. People admire her."
Ms bin Kalli still puts in long hours, meeting local charities to organise fund-raising events, meeting the club's "inspirational" patron, Sheikha Manal al Maktoum, and bringing together local artists.
Thanks to her efforts, the club hosts a range of charity projects and art and fashion shows, providing a springboard for many local women who previously had no outlet for such activity.
"It's unique," says Ms bin Kalli. "It's the only place that's run by women, for women."
It has been rewarding, she says, to see the club grow. When she arrived eight years ago, there were only 25 staff members; today there are 90.
During that period the club helped launch some of the emirate's biggest names in design. For example, Reem and Hind Beljafla's abaya design firm, DAS, took off after the sisters won the club's Oriental Red Carpet fashion competition.
"It's not just about the facilities, but about accomplishing something when you come here," says Ms bin Kalli.
She has passionately supported the club's philanthropic projects, such as the Al Murjan coral reef rehabilitation project, which seeks to create a new reef by gluing pieces of "seed" coral to 40 giant rocks off the Jumeirah coast near the Dubai Ladies Club.
"This project lets us give something back to the environment," she says.
"Women in the community can become [involved in] something they might never have been involved in ... because we have the all-female diving centre that gives them the unique opportunity."