ACCESS extends an enthusiastic congratulations to newly appointed President and CEO Maha Freij on her selection by Crain's Detroit Business as a 2021 "100 Most Influential Women” designee. Throughout Maha’s 30-year tenure at ACCESS, she has led numerous efforts to help empower her community. She is a principal visionary within the Arab American community, notably with regard to philanthropy and the establishment of robust institutions that work to strengthen the voice of Arab Americans in American civil society.
Feature published by Crain's Business Detroit on November 8, 2021:
President and CEO, ACCESS
By Leslie D. Green
Career trajectory: Maha Freij grew up in a small village in Palestine. Her parents, she said, were simple workers, her mother the breadwinner.
Raised a Muslim woman in a Jewish state, she recognized inequities in and outside of her community. She knew boys were treated better than girls and that Arabs and Jews lived very different lives. While justice was important to her, she hadn’t thought of it as a career.
Instead, she listened to her mother, who advised that education was the only way out. As a result, Freij was the first woman in her village to get a university degree (from The Hebrew University) and the first Arab woman to earn a CPA license in Israel. After immigrating to Michigan from Palestine at age 26, Freij took a job as a senior accountant at public accounting firm Laventhol & Horwath.
In 1991, Freij, 58, became fiscal officer at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS). She pursued the job because it closely aligned with her values.
Power metrics: ACCESS has about 500 employees and serves more than 70,000 people a year. The human service provider also partners with 27 Arab American organizations around the country. It also makes $1.5 million to $2 million a year in grants to between 200 to 300 organizations through the Center for Arab American Philanthropy.
Biggest career win: Making ACCESS a national organization with the Center for Arab American Philanthropy, National Network for Arab American Communities and the Arab American National Museum, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate.
Community connections: Freij serves on the boards of Detroit Future City and was appointed by the governor to the Michigan State Board of Ethics, by gubernatorial appointment.
Special skill: “I am very patient and have the focus and the tenacity required to develop the steps and build something difficult, which requires clear vision.”
Definition of an influential woman: A woman with humility, vision, focus and authenticity.
Biggest career influence: “My mother and my grandmother are the biggest influence on my career. Although they are not career people, they made me who I am.”
Advice to her younger self: “Take a deep breath. One day you will look back and thank God for going through what you went through, because it was important to making the future you. Instead of wasting time being upset about something, get up and build strength from that experience.”
This exceptional award is only given out every five years. Learn more here