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.
Marwa Hussein has created Vumogo, a data driven online platform seeks to provide female driving instructors for female learner drivers in a transparent, easy-to-use environment for driving practices sessions.
Can you tell us about that moment when the idea for your SE first emerged?
Well, the idea came from a friend of mine that was coming from abroad. She has been living all her life abroad, and she's coming to Egypt, and she needs to learn driving. So, she asked me before she came to find her female instructor. So, I said, why? She has her reasons, but she wants a female instructor. In Egypt all traditional driving schools are dominated by males. The trainer is male, the owner is male and they are the ones that dominate the scene and the industry. So, I told her I'll search for you, but it will be more expensive. She said let's see when I come back to Egypt how everything will be. Then she came and we agreed on an instructor and ran the first session. She didn't like the instructor; she didn't like the whole process and she didn't like that this program was more expensive than the normal one with the male so she said she doesn't want to continue. I said, yeah, that's okay, let’s see other alternatives. We were trying to find an independent one that can then accommodate her time and her schedule accordingly based on my friend's requests. So, we found an independent one and things went well. And after this, she said, why don't we do it? I said why? You already get into driving and get into the license and things are getting along. She said, why don't we create a solution regarding our problem? It was very weird to me because I was working, I was having my lifestyle. It wasn't really applicable and this is idea what I'm going to do with the driving training and practice. She said let's tap into this problem and find a solution. And already we did the solution by getting an independent instructor. There is a gap in the market and there is a high demand for the female instructors. We talked with the instructor, she said she's working independently and there is a lot of clients and so forth. So, she said, let's make our research and see if there is a demand or not. But there is a demand, I can assure you, and fill in the gap through finding a way online to connect the female instructor with the learner, without a traditional school, without the male dominated instructors, without all this hassle. And I said, why not? Let's see, let's try. And we tried with a couple of other friends that's coming from abroad and things worked out. And here started I started to find out that it's. It's gone great. And we are empowering women, I really have burning passion to empower women to create a change. I help other connecting if someone wants a service, I connect them with an acquaintance of mine or help out here, or help with the NGOs or other community and memberships and so forth. I did it on my own. So, I was really having this passion to make a change. Empower women and empower people as well. Yes, men and women. Because we need men as well in the debate and on the ground. And have an impact. So, I took it from this dimension. And tapped into this with her. She was the beginning with me. We tapped into this solution in order to create the business itself. This is the beginning of the journey. And we started it and actually we in Egypt have lots of other issues because we have the sexual harassment- some people or families don't like their girls to be in one car with strange men. We have a long waiting list. We have a list of issues that needs to be dealt with. And she doesn't have to ask any of them to drive her here or there or take decisions for her or take decisions at what time. It's more flexible. I believe it's a basic skill that everyone, even in the marginalized community, should have access to it. And definitely give access to job opportunities. For example, we will have a potential partnership with ride hailing applications like Uber and so forth in order for the instructors to work in ride hailing. And there's a lot of partnerships coming.
Why did you choose to apply to HerMeNow specifically?
Well, actually, I was searching for a program that's for women-led Enterprises and startups because I needed someone to have the different perspective for what women need in their business. HerMeNow, I believe, have a different program that's tailored to each and every one’s needs. They did their homework and dug deeper into each and every person’s needs and what they need at each stage and what's tailored for them. It's a very different value proposition that is positioning them in a different place compared to other accelerators and incubators and so forth. So, I was looking for this kind of training, capacity building, this kind of environment that could work with women according to their needs. We do have a website that aggregates all the programs in Africa and the Middle East. I browsed each and every one, more than100! Can you believe it? I found out that HerMeNow is the most suitable for me, and this is the one I'm looking for.
What keeps you going everyday?
What keeps me going every day….Well, I believe what keeps me going is waking up every day realizing that I have a new opportunity to create a more sustainable world. More added value for other people, more joy and more love to the people and the world. And what I'm doing providing added value and impact for other people and for myself as well. Because when I provide help to other people, it gives me a great feeling. So, giving back and having a two way communication with other people and with nature, with all the environment that’s all around us, this is actually something which is very important, I believe, as a driving force.
Can you tell us what brings you the most joy in being a social entrepreneur?
Yes, it would be the same answer, actually as it tells you making change, empowering women and people and feeling through giving back. I'm a big believer of the power of one - that one action, one person can make a difference in the world and this can create a ripple or multiply effect that can go to a thousand people. And I have only myself. This is the one that I can control and I can make something which will come to be repeated and have a great impact on others.
What would be the biggest challenge you think is the fate of being an entrepreneur?
Definitely there is a lot of challenges. Being a female founder is a great challenge in itself. In the Arab world and worldwide as well, it’s 2% of the women that get funding. So, we are striving every day find funding and to find a place in the society and in our country and in the world as well. Maybe we can say, but also, we need to have an action. The talks have been going on a lot for almost more than ten years and come and see the effect of entrepreneurship scene and so forth. We have to stop the talks and take an action. I'm a doer. I'm a practical person. If I want something, I have to do. And my action speaks louder than your words. And I believe we the women should have this mindset. And stop the debating and stop the talks because it took a lot of our time. You want things, just do it. It will change the world dramatically if only ten from each and every society stick to what I'm saying. It will change the whole thing. So, we are responsible. I'm not blaming any male. We are the responsible one. Women - just do it! And what if you do it wrong? I'm just trying. I might do something wrong. The next time will be better. So don't fear anything, fear is keeping you standing still.
What legacy would you like to leave in your community?
Be yourself. Just be yourself. Don't imitate anybody. You are one of a kind in this whole world. Even identical twins, they are not the same. So be yourself. Try to find your strength and work on it and excel in it. This is number one. Number two for me is very important - Be kind to people and lead by kindness. Regardless of the people's social status, regardless of anything, just regard them as a human being. Have the same feeling, have the same everything. So be kind to your people. And for me, nothing is impossible. Even ‘impossible’ is ‘I am possible’. This is actually what I do believe in. I might succeed. I might sometimes fail. And give back. Try to give back. Try to be always giving back. There is a quote, “God gave the earth and we take from the earth and we give back.” always flowing and always renewing like a river. And if you stop, everything stops. So, we keep the well going by giving back, actually.
What does "women’s empowerment" mean to you personally?
Well, women empowerment for me, is this sense of self-worth. It's very important because when you have a self-worth, you can feel you are able to do so and so and so and you have a self-confidence in yourself. This is number one and for me, the right to have and determine the choices. I believe that women should be independent and free to have different choices according to her needs, according to her status and not obliged to do anything out of fear or out of suppression or whatsoever. And also, the right to have their own control over their own lives, either inside or outside the home. She has to have this right. And the right to have access to opportunities like men. Or like any other creature in the world. And resources as well. This is what actually I believe women's empowerment is about because it directs the social change, it directs and it's essential for the social development of the families and raising the children. When women are safe, fulfilled with a productive life, they can reach their full potential. Contributing to the skills of the workforce and there is a happier and healthier children and more productive generations. So, everyone benefits actually, see one woman how she can provide for the whole family, and then the bigger circle the society, and then the bigger circle is the country and then generations and then the world. So, it's evolving. Unhappy woman unself-fulfilled, what she has to give to her children? She will be the miserable and I believe an unhappy person would not being able to provide any sense of happiness to anyone in the world around them.