She’s Merecedes Inaugural Event in Abu Dhabi

She’s Merecedes Inaugural Event in Abu Dhabi

She’s Mercedes is a platform that honors the story of Bertha Benz, who was the “driving” force behind the Mercedes brand. Not only was she Karl Benz’s wife and the mother of his children, she was also his first investor. In addition to being the first person to validate his car concept, by undertaking the first long distance car ride. It was Bertha’s “drive” and courage that paved the way for her husband and the Mercedes-Benz success story and today she continues to inspire people through the She’s Mercedes movement.

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It was an honor to be among one of the 30 women invited to the FIRST ever She’s Mercedes networking event in the region hosted on November 7th at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr Hotel in Abu Dhabi by Mercedes Benz and Emirates Motor Company. The aim of this exclusive networking event was to build an Inspirational Circle; a place where women could connect with one another other, share their business stories and inspire each other on their respective journeys to self-fulfillment.

The She’s Mercedes event was MCed by public speaker and digital influencer, Shereen Mitwalli, who guided us through the inspirational stories of Sara Al Madani, Sarah Abudawood and Mariam Yehia. Through the evening, these three UAE-based fashion designers shared with the female audience their failures, successes, stories, and most importantly, their hard-earned lessons on how to build a brand, finance a business and stand out in a saturated fashion ecosystem.

After sharing their stories and designs, each guest speaker sat in one of the three “Inspirational Circles” in the room and rotated, so they could continue sharing their professional and personal wisdom with all the guests in attendance. These mini-networking sessions were truly special to me, because they allowed all the women in the room, who were from all walks of life, to connect and learn from each other in a safe space.

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Mariam Yehia speaking to our Inspiration Circle

Thank you Mercedes Benz and Emirates Motor Company for creating this platform to celebrate Bertha Benz’s tenacity and entrepreneurial vision and empower a new generation of women in the MENA region, like me, to be the “drivers” of success in the future. I look forward to attending many more events soon! Now, it’s time that you learned more about the She’s Mercedes guest speakers:

 Sara Al Madani ~ Founder of Rouge Couture

Emirati fashion designer Sara Al Madani is the definition of hardworking. Not only does she run her own innovative abaya fashion empire, Rouge Couture, she is also the youngestsara-al-madani
member of Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a partner in a restaurant, a brand ambassador for Beiersdorf and Natura Blisse and a mom! This American University of Sharjah graduate in Film Directing and Mass Communication is a dynamic woman and social influencer who is not afraid to speak her mind and is always willing to share her knowledge with her peers. Especially her fellow countrymen and women.

My favorite quote from the Abayanista herself:

If you have a “car accident” you don’t stop driving, so why should it be any different for a business?

The Abayista’s three pieces of advice for the audience

  1. Be kind to each other
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail
  3. Don’t look for empowerment look for inspiration. [Al Madani believes that women are already powerful, she just feels they need to work together and be inspired by each other’s successes]

Sara Abu Dawood~ Founder of Yataghan Jewellery  

Saudi designer Sara Abu Dawood is an inspiration for anyone who wants to fight to pursue their dreams. In fact, she called her jewellery brand Yataghan, which sara-abu-dawoodmeans sword in Turkish, because she feels it denotes fighting for what you believe in. As a GCC woman, she often feels that women from the region are marginalized and pressured to conform to a certain stereotype. But this is not true for this woman! Not only does Abu Dawood have a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Arizona State University, she also has a master’s degree in Business Administration and International Marketing from the American University of London and she is an internationally certified gemologist!

My favorite quote from the Sultana of Jewellery herself:

My biggest secret for success is that I never take being a part of people’s special moments [through my jewellery] for granted.

The Sultana of Jewellery’s three pieces of advice for the audience

  • Find inspiration that truly inspires you.
  • Find something that makes you want to get up in the morning and work passionately every day.
  • Know who you are and what your product will be.

Mariam Yehia ~ Founder of Mrs. Keepa

mariam-yehiaEgyptian-French fashion designer Mariam Yehia is a true global citizen. Raised in Egypt, she was educated in a French school and received a bachelor’s degree in Advertising, Marketing and PR from the American University of Cairo. She eventually moved to Dubai to work in digital marketing and brand development, where she headed prestigious projects, such as the Emaar Malls Group Project for several years. In 2015, Yehia decided to leave the corporate world and start her own fashion brand called Mrs Keepa, a nickname given to her by her husband’s friends, who referred to him as Keepa. Since he played the position of goal keeper in his football team.

My favorite quote from Mrs Keepa herself:

Don’t do something to make people happy, do something that you believe and don’t wait for an applause.

Mrs Keepa’s three pieces of advice for the audience

  • Be kind.
  • Don’t focus on your competition, because it will consume you.
  • Believe in yourself.

Like what you see? Join the Soukie Speaks email list and follow my TwitterInstagram, Facebook accounts, so we can enlighten, support and empower the Arab leaders and entrepreneurs of the future together. 

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How to Establish a Global Culture of Community Building

How to Establish a Global Culture of Community Building

Two weeks ago, I launched the #InMyBurkini Photo Series initiative, where I shared pictures of myself doing funny and mundane things in my Burkini for 5 days to promote inter-cultural dialogue and understanding.

[Pssst: did you miss the photo series? No worries! You can check out all the pictures right here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5]

When I announced the initiative, I didn’t really know what to expect, which is why I have been so overwhelmed by the response that I have received. Not only was I lucky enough to have friends in my personal and entrepreneurial circles sharing the #InMyBurkini message, I even had the honor of having a surprise feature in Emirates Woman by Emma 14963414_10154503383861839_1848392047_oHall. It was truly an exhilarating experience, especially since when I introduced my #InMyBurkini intiative I said:

“ I don’t know if this photo series will change anybody’s opinion of Muslims or Muslim women, or any minority for that matter. However I am determined to step out of the stereotype that is attached to my identity and be exactly who I am for myself, and others….”

After completing my initiative, I received a message from a dear university friend from the U.S.A, which only confirmed how important it is to be positive, vocal and open to dialogue with others, because it really can have a lasting effect on the people around you. The message read…

Lovely Lady,

I just saw someone spewing garbage and painting Muslims into the same category as extremists. And while it made me angry and upset I realized that for every comment like that I see, you probably see 5 more.

So, I wanted to give you a ray of sunshine and risk redundancy by telling you things you already know. I wanted to let you know how wonderful and special you are, how wise and reasonable every post is that I see from you. That you made a lasting impression on me the very first time we met 7 (!!!) years ago and have continued to do so ever since. Keep the faith in humanity that you seem to always be able to carry, even on the worst days. The world needs more people like you.

Your sister in Abraham ,
Kayla

When I read this message from Kayla, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for being surrounded by people like her, who value me for who I am and strive to promote tolerant attitudes to make feel included wherever I am. But this is not the first time that Kayla has extended her hand to me and made me feel accepted. On September 11th 2011, the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, our university, the University of Delaware, hosted a candlelight vigil that I was hesitant to attend as a visibly American Muslim. Despite my hesitation, I went and Kayla, a speaker at the memorial, asked me to light a candle for the victims. A small action that turned my fear of exclusion into a powerful “moment of inclusion” that still resonates with me today.

[You can read my full account of the event here]

These moments, and many others, give me the courage and the drive to continue creating “moments of inclusion,” because I know from personal experience how powerful it can be for someone to create a safe space for you to be who you are. I know that there are many people out there who live in communities where xenophobia is on the rise, which is pushing them to isolate themselves. But we can’t allow “cultures of isolation” to become a part of the fabric of our societies, because we are stronger together then we are apart. So, the questions remains, how can each one of us proactively create “moments of inclusion,” like Kayla, to promote community building in our respective communities?

1) Host an Event or Activity

Whether you choose to host a public campaign like my #InMyBurkini Photo Series or you choose to host a culture night in the privacy of your home, make sure you try to regularly create “safe spaces” for different people to learn about and understand each other. Not only do “moments of inclusion” promote positive dialogue and co-existance, they also promote a sense of global citizenry, which will make community building a vital building block of our increasingly globalized world.

2) Participate in Inter-cultural Activities

If you are not hosting “moments of inclusion,” make sure you attend events or activities where you can experience a “cultural aha” moment. If you find an event to go to, make sure to take a friend or a colleague that you think would be interested in sharing your “cultural aha” moment, so you can help others experience the powerful impact that a “moment of inclusion” can have on an individual or a community. If you can’t attend an event or activity yourself, make sure to “share the love” by sharing it with your network via social media or email.

3) Share your “Moments of Inclusion”

Unfortunately, nowadays, it seems like any video or photo that portrays social injustice goes viral instantly. While it is important to be aware of these injustices, so we can change them, it is also equally as important to share acts of empowering solidarity. So, next time you experience a “moment of inclusion” share it with your community, if only to remind yourself, and others, that being stereotyped doesn’t justify stereotyping. We all play a role in perpetuating stereotypes and we can all play a role in dismantling them too.

I would like to take this opportunity again to thank all the people who supported the #InMyBurkini Photo Series and continue to help me create and participate in “moments of inclusion.” I look forward to hearing how you will promote cultures of community building in your communities.

Like what you see? Join the Soukie Speaks email list and follow my TwitterInstagram, Facebook accounts, so we can enlighten, support and empower the Arab leaders and entrepreneurs of the future together. 

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As a society, we are always forced to question our self-worth. Am I thin enough? Am I tall enough? Am I curvy enough? So on and so forth. For years, I also struggled with these questions, and the approval-seeking tendencies that came with it, until I realized that it was nobody’s business. My Islamic dress, burkini or otherwise, doesn’t it keep me from people. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It has liberated me from the people, and the judgement, that might keep me from being the most authentic version of myself. I have found myself in myself and I have been very fortunate to find so many people along the way who support and appreciate me exactly the way I am.

This photo captures one of the best moments of my senior year of college. My friends and I went to Ocean City, Marlyand to enjoy an amazing day at the beach where we ate funnel cake, crabs and other “terrible” things I can’t remember. As this picture proves, friends are the people who make your crazy seem normal.

Photo Series Day 4: Having a Sense of Humor #InMyBurkini

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Photo Credit: The Relaxed Photographer

As, you might have noticed already, this is not me, but the Rachidi family dog Eva. Eva believed the #InMyBurkini initiative so much that she decided to wear my Burkini in solidarity. Yes, I am goofy like that, which is why I’m always amused when people meet me and are surprised by the fact that I have a sense of humor. I know in their heads they’re thinking “I didn’t think Muslim people were allowed to laugh.” That being said, I do understand where this stereotype comes from. How many times have I been faced with “religious” people who had a permanent scowl on their faces, because they felt it “made them more religious?” The irony of the fact is, is that there is an Islamic hadith, a narration of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), that equates smiling in the face of your fellow human to an act of charity. So, why aren’t more people smiling? Let’s just say that I’m very charitable.

Be inspired: I’m not the only Muslim gal with a sense of humor! Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and a prominent civil rights activist in the U.S.A, was recently featured in a funny Huffington video titled “The Struggles of Fasting in a Non-Muslim Office.” Make sure to check it out here!

14697221_10209560369700056_398173611_oPhoto credit: The Relaxed Photographer

The day I received my driver’s license was one of the most memorable days of my life. In fact, I was so excited to get it that I couldn’t decide where to go first. So, I decided to drive my mom to the closest Lebanese restaurant and I bought her a shawarma! Being able to drive has been such an empowering skill for me, because it has given me the freedom to go to events and meet with people, who have helped me grow immensely as an individual and a professional. The ability to drive is a privilege that not everyone or every woman has, which is why I am very grateful for it.

Be inspired: Check out the inspiring TED Talk that Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, founder and Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), did on how she is “driving change” (you see what I did there? Punny no?) and empowering women, and other disenfranchised communities, in Afghanistan by providing education and health services to thousands in rural and poor urban areas

Photo Series Day 1: Surfing #InMyBurkini

Photo Series Day 1: Surfing #InMyBurkini

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There is nothing more exhilarating than gliding on a perfect wave and then plunging into the cold water of the Atlantic. For me, surfing is all about learning how to overcome failure, because when you wipe out you don’t get out of the water. You go back in and you catch the next wave with determination. I love this sport because it reminds me that standing up isn’t nearly as important as learning how to fall and get up again. A lesson that resonates in every part of my life.

Be inspired: Check out the teaser of the documentary “The Most Fearless” which shares the powerful story of Nasima Akter, Bangladesh’s first female surfer, who is challenging her community’s conservative social norms and making waves!

Changing the World #InMyBurkini

Changing the World #InMyBurkini

This fall, I spent 6 weeks in Morocco in my family’s beach home in Mehdia Plage, where I got to surf, swim and catch up on my reading. Every day that I sat on the beach in my burkini, I couldn’t help but think about how this simple act is currently considered a major political statement in some places. In fact, in some countries, it’s actually a violation of the law. Sometimes, I struggle to understand how wearing a lot of nylon could be offensive or even illegal. But then I remember that it’s not about the glorious amount of nylon that I wear when I swim or the fact that I cover my head. It’s about the lack of constructive dialog about these topics in our global communities. It’s about people’s insatiable desire to take offense to everything and shut down or to make hasty judgements with incomplete or inaccurate information. Neither side is doing justice to themselves, or others, and yet both sides feel justified in their incorrect behavior.

That being said, this post isn’t an analysis of why global Muslim populations are facing challenging situations with the rise of xenophobia or extremism. It’s about a 5-day photo campaign that I’m hosting on my blog called the #InMyBurkini 14359649_10209289652892305_1366761221_oPhoto Series. This series will depict me doing mundane things, dare I say funny, in a burkini to remind people that nothing we wear, or don’t wear, should deprive us of our humanity or humor. Why am I doing this? I’m doing this because I believe that the first step to creating meaningful dialog between people is to make sure that they can connect with each other and that can never happen if we’re not willing to let our guard down. Unfortunately, many of us are raised with the “us versus them” mentality, especially in minority communities. However, we live in a global village, which is made even smaller by technology and social networks, and we simply don’t have the luxury to shut down anymore when we hear critical comments about who we are and what we believe.

No one said that creating dialog was easy. It is the ultimate act of vulnerability, because there is no guarantee that the wrong that was committed will be made right by the conversation. Having said that, it is the only way to move forward. More often than I would like to admit, I meet people who are conditioned to believe that “things never change,” but in my experience this is not the case. It is a convenient lie propagated by a few who benefit from the discord that comes as a result of this “social insolation” of our world’s diverse communities. I don’t know if this photo series will change anybody’s opinions of Muslims or Muslim women, or any minority for that matter. However, I am determined to step out of the stereotype that is attached to my identity and be exactly who I am, for myself and others, in the very thing that people seem to misunderstand and fear: my burkini. If we want change, we must have the courage to be vulnerable, the patience to listen and the wisdom to speak with compassion.

Starting tomorrow, make sure to comment, like and share the #InMyBurkini Photo Series on Soukie Speaks’ Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, so we can start more meaningful conversations, connect with people and be the change we want to see.

Special thanks to my very talented cousin for the pictures that she took for the #InMyBurkini Photo Series! To see more of her phenomenal photography check out her Instagram account: The Relaxed Photographer and DM her for inquiries!