Meet our 2022 Finalists - Noor, of Nawat Health
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.
Noor Jaber Cheyaheb has created Nawat Heath - an integrated, safe, and secure women-centered digital platform that offers women from the MENA access to evidence based, customized knowledge and online counseling focused on sexual and reproductive health.
Can you tell us about that moment when the idea for your SE first emerged?
It is more of a process and not a specific point in time. Ever since I was in my early 20’s when I started my Red Cross volunteer life, I’ve always been passionate about sexual and reproductive health in general. And, at that time, I started giving the young volunteers with me in the center (because I was public health professional in the center) a one-hour session dedicated to discussing sex ed with those volunteers. They gave me their questions if they had something in mind, or we’d just talk about it in general. It started with all the people but then when I learned that women weren’t comfortable really discussing those issues with their fellow man volunteers, we ended up changing that to talks in the women’s rooms. It was a small room, maybe the size of this table, with two double beds on two sides. That’s where we used to sleep for our night shifts. And we put this carpet on the floor on the middle of those two beds and started talking about sexual ed. This experience stayed in my mind. And life went by and I worked in different things, including sexual and reproductive health before focusing on disaster management, the idea kept lingering in my mind. That there is something in this life for me to do on this topic.
And then life went by, and I was working in the weapons contamination sector, and I got to a point where I was just tired of feeling that I cannot see the direct impact of my work and I wanted to see that one-on-one experience with the people I was working with. At that point I was passing through rough times, trying to see if I wanna stay in my job, if that’s not the thing I want to continue doing, and then I started to say “you know what? Let me just connect with my true self and just see what I am really passionate about”. Then I decided to look for something that I can make an impact and that’s where it opened the doors to the journey.
Why did you choose to apply to HerMeNow specifically?
Actually, it was several things. I don’t know if you believe in incidents and how they happen, and how you meet people along the way. I was attending a ‘womanpreneur’ event in Beirut. In that event I met David from Bloom (David is a friend of my sister’s husband). I didn’t tell him that I am working on that start up at that time and then he invited me for dinner later that night. And I went out for dinner and Stephanie was there, the coordinator from Bloom, and they shared about HerMeNow. I had seen the announcement earlier on social media but I didn’t think I was eligible to the program because at that time I didn’t have a product yet. But then Stephanie told me to apply anyway, “you won’t lose anything, just do it“ And I did; and here I am! But I was really interested at that time to apply because it was women focused, focusing on female founders, and I already at that time acknowledged that there are specific challenges that we as women pass through within this journey. Knowing David and his passion for entrepreneurship and that journey, I thought it would be a different experience. And then this accelerator and other accelerator that I’ve been in.
What keeps you going everyday?
It’s the negative thing sometimes. I reflect on it as a negative thing. Sometimes it’s the fear of failure.
But now I am learning that it is not that, it shouldn’t be that. It took me time to realize that it was the thing that keeps me going in anything I’m doing, not only in the startup right now, because I realized that by the time, I reached the point where I wanted to do the start-up, I was already internally doing my cleaning process. So, before what sustained me was fear of failure - I have to keep going, I have to keep accomplishing things, I have to…. I cannot fail. But now really to think about it, what keeping me going in Nawat specifically because that’s a new phase - Really knowing the extent of impact that Nawat can have on the lives of women. Because I was there at one point myself, when I did not have access to this information. I had no one to speak to, there is no where I can go to these services, afraid of being seen. I had to change my name at some point to get services at certain clinics. So, knowing really that the potential that this idea, that this product can have on women’s lives is what keeps me going.
Can you tell us what brings you the most joy in being a social entrepreneur?
In addition to the impact which we’ve already discussed, It’s the challenge in a way like there’s excitement. Even though I fear uncertainty as well. But there is something about the uncertainty within the entrepreneurship ecosystem. And it’s like you are challenged and it’s either you stand up for yourself, you hit on the head and you go for it, or you say “it’s not my thing”. I find that a very enriching experience. It’s feeling the tremor and excitement at the same time.
What legacy would you like to leave in your community?
It’s really, that I’ve tried. I’d like to leave that legacy of that I didn’t go on a path and just stayed there because it was a comfort zone. That you can venture and you can fail and you can succeed at the same time. Being a risk taker and adventurer, you’re not conventional, that you jump on opportunities. You’re not bound by society; you can break barriers and prejudice.
What does "women’s empowerment" mean to you personally?
It really means that I have the ability to take informed decisions about my life, about my body, be it in career, be it in my personal relationships, be it where I want to live. That I’m empowered with the technical skills, with communication skills, and with the compassion that I need to take those informed decisions about my own self. Knowing that I have freewill as a woman in this world and having the ability to act on it. Because there are a lot of women who don’t know, who thinks that they don’t have this freewill.