Samira Harnish

Samira Harnish

January 16, 2020
The Great Hall

Reflection | Podcast | VideoPhotos

Samira Harnish came from her native Iraq to America to study engineering. After getting her degree from Utah State, she worked for 17 years as an R&D engineer at the largest domestic manufacturer of semiconductor memory.

Samira founded Women of the World to fulfill a lifelong dream of helping women achieve self-sufficiency and her leadership has enabled WoW to become the preeminent women’s refugee service organization in Utah. The women that WoW serves have gotten advanced educations, continued to be promoted within their companies, formed their own small businesses, and even returned back to their home countries to teach some of the lessons that WoW has taught them. Samira’s life-saving efforts truly have a global reach.



January 16th, 2020 marked the beginning of another great season for A.P.E.X. Events with a presentation and conversation with Women of the World founder, Samira Harnish. Harnish is the president and founder of the women and immigrant refugee and asylum seeking non-profit organization, Women of the World, and has received both local and international recognition for her outstanding efforts, the most recent award being the 2019 American Red Cross Hero for her “extraordinary Heroic act of Global Citizenship.” Her presentation was given on Thursday, January 16th, 2020 in the Great Hall at 11:30 am, and she was introduced to the stage by SUU Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Jean Boreen.

Samira began her presentation talking about her organization, Women of the World, which is based out of Salt Lake City, Utah and helps immigrant and refugee women in the United States achieve their goals through teaching self-reliance and other skills necessary to succeed. She commented on the time she spent with students throughout the week and the biggest question they kept asking her: why did she start Women of the World? Samira also talked about her own experiences with inequality, as a young Iraqi girl, and how she refused to stand down from everyone who told her to “go back home”. Through hard work, resilience, and much studying, she eventually graduated from Utah State, earning a degree in engineering and working at the largest domestic manufacturer of semiconductor memory. Between 2007 and 2009, many Iraqi refugees began to come to Utah, and Harnish saw this as an opportunity to help them to achieve their goals, become self-reliant, and hear words of encouragement to pursue their dreams, just as she did; thus, Women of the World was born. 

Along with giving more information about the organization, Samira spoke of some of the stories of the women her organization had helped; a young woman suffering from PTSD with her daughter had reached out to Samira and asked her to help by adopting her daughter and giving her a better life than she herself could give, as she felt there was no hope left for her after watching her husband’s death. Samira offered to arrange meetings with a counselor to help the woman cope with her PTSD and other resources to help her, and three years later, as Samira tells the audience, she was so happy, she could not recognize her. Another woman, through Samira’s help, was able to acquire a job and go to college, all while supporting six children as a single mother.

“We are building a community for refugees, immigrants- they are our new neighbors,” Samira says. Samira talked about the support and influence her organization has had on the lives of these women and concluded her presentation by showing a powerful video showing the lives and many of the women who have been greatly impacted by this incredible organization. Dr. Lynn Vartan joined Samira on stage afterwards for an extended conversation about some of the things Samira had talked about, such as specific memories and experiences that impacted Samira and the annual fashion show that the organization holds, where women are free and encouraged to embrace their culture and the ethnic clothing styles of their homeland, and Utahns are encouraged to meet and network with these women on their path to self-reliance. 

- By Emily Sexton