On the opening day of the HMN Accelerator retreat, the energy permeating Dubai’s light-flooded office room had been tangible from the very start: the conjunction of both depth of humility and fierce courage. Each of the women present had a story to tell, disclosed through a dignified bearing, the sunshine of a smile, or the sharpness of gaze. I have been fortunate to have had a candid conversation with them on the last day of the retreat, and here are their stories.
Lamis Akouch has created Sanabel, an arabic mobile application for young children between 3 and 10 years old that provides interactive educational content in a safe Environment.
Can you tell us about that moment when the idea for your SE first emerged?
I don’t believe that it was one moment, it was a collective of moments. I was thinking all the time that I needed to do something with NGO’s & social work. I had the idea that this educational system needs to be changed somehow. Actually, I took the decision after my nephew started to watch all the Youtube channels and the apps on internet and started to download the apps. Then after a while he started to change his behavior. We are all into his education and mental growth. He is the first nephew so the whole family with his mom and his dad were concerned, so I wanted to do something. At that moment, I took the decision that this is what I will do and started with Sanabel.
Why did you choose to apply to HerMeNow specifically?
I was looking at HMN program a lot of times. I thought it is the same with other accelerators that after sending an email then they won’t just reply. But I noticed that they are so persistent, and they are sending many emails. I went through their website and I was actually surprised because it’s focus is on women empowerment.
I found out that this could be the chance that they will understand the obstacles and challenges that I am passing through. Let me give it a try. Once I opened the application, the first question was the most appealing question to me and it was a mind opener. I need to figure it out. It was the first application I applied to and the question is what motivated me. But I felt at the same time that you guys are different.
What keeps you going everyday?
Maybe it’s gonna be a cliché but it's very, very personal - It’s about feeling grateful.
Sometimes I just drive my car and I see some people & I’ll just talk to God how grateful I am to be in this situation. I’m feeling grateful and blessed every day, having everything, having this opportunity to meet these wonderful women. I am grateful for everything in my life. The ups and downs they are the stepping stones.
Can you tell us what brings you the most joy in being a social entrepreneur?
If I had been asked a question being an entrepreneur like in 6 years or 7 years ago, I wouldn’t think the same way. Now I’m just shifting my whole mindset toward the social enterprise because I saw that I can fit in this place. Because I was always talking about the social impact and people around us who are in power, they wouldn’t listen, since they care about something else.
I have luck actually and I have an edge because I’m not thinking about money. You know, but I need to balance, I’m just thinking about the social life, thinking about impact and the need for balance because even people around me they need financial health. But I think that I’m stable enough, I can afford my life now and my expenses, so I need to proceed to social enterprise.
I feel proud that I am in a stage that a woman entrepreneur in a social enterprise that would just lead the whole project to a social target and beyond. I am being offered many opportunities to others so let me shed the light of this and to highlight it, to clarify it for you. I found out actually that even my family, my zone, my close zones actually, they are feeling proud now by just seeing what I’m doing. Which maybe years ago they didn’t trust. They didn’t have this clear idea that I had so I am feeling so proud actually. It does give me joy; it does give me the purpose.
Conversely, what are the biggest challenges you face?
The funding and having aligned mindset from the investor’s side. This is what I kept thinking. Meeting with all the people this week, I had something in mind that if we are not alike, I really need to find the people who are having similar vision. Even if I didn’t find them now, they will come in the right moment.
What legacy do you wish to leave in your community?
I think that when everything goes on the right track in our community to having access to Sanabel, it will become available in our schools, and it will boost their emotional intelligence. They will be like also grateful for everything.
So, when those kids will reach my age now, they will be thinking of how they can pay back on what they have gained from this. They will think about who’s the owner of this project and what to do. To not just do the same but be inspired by.
What does "women’s empowerment" mean to you personally?
I always think being a man or a woman, we need to treat ourselves as human and we have the opportunities to just communicate with each other, collaborate, spread the kindness, the peace.
Working for Sanabel for example, empowering others just to be more independent. They are just sharing ideas as they have potential. I feel that I have potential, why would I just keep it? Working or leading Sanabel as an action plan first, and then being surrounded by women as such and being involved in such communities is contagious.
So, once you started doing it & if it is done right, people around you won’t focus on whether you are a man or a woman. You are doing something as a human being with the question of being a man or a woman. It will be the norm.