In the process of empowering the individual, all stakeholders are empowered themselves. Today, Empowering Through is being replicated in more than ten countries.
Dina is the mother of two boys, Hashem and Hamzah, whose existence constantly motivates her in her efforts to better the world for all children as much as for her own. Dina also proudly serves two of Her Majesty Queen Rania’s initiatives as a member on the board of directors of The Children's Museum and the board of trustees of the Royal Health Awareness Society."
Ogunte: Where does your story begin?
Dina Saoudi: I was seven years old when I saw an old man working as a janitor in my school. I remember thinking that someone so old should not be cleaning up after us. He was clearly tired and yet still had to pick up the garbage. How is it we live in a world where people this vulnerable still have to work? Or where people in need go hungry and go without help?
I just wanted to connect the pieces of the puzzle. To work with real people, to tell real stories, to have real conversations around real needs. And then I decided that I needed to connect people together, across the public and private spheres, and start building tangible change.
And that’s how Empowering Through was born. A model that empowers individuals economically and socially through connecting all stakeholders (aid agencies, the private sector, the public sector, academia, impact funds, and civil society). And then bringing them together to support the individual through seven enablers: know-how, access to markets, access to funding, generating revenue, self-expression, exercising civic responsibility, and channels to give back.
Ogunte: The stakeholders you bring together, and the ways you seek to enable the individual, sounds like strong systems-level change. What is at the heart of the system for you?
Dina Saoudi: Human beings are at the heart of my work. I believe that if I sat down with over 7 billion people, we would all have something real to talk about. I believe that change makers are everywhere and our job is to find them.
Ogunte: How do you measure your impact?
Dina Saoudi: I can give you the standard assessments, which of course we have. But ultimately, I need to be proud of the decisions I make even if in the end they turn out to be the wrong ones. I have to continue to move even on bad days. To keep moving. To do it anyway.
Ogunte: What elements of your life story contributed to the woman and the social entrepreneur you are today?
Dina Saoudi: Every single moment. I believe we are shaped by the bad and the ugly and the beautiful. We need to accept it all.
Of course, there have been a series of difficult days in my life, but then I come back to the people that inspire me. Those like Aya Aghabi - who got into a car accident in the summer of 2009 and was left with a spinal cord injury that disabled her permanently. I think of women like her. And I have been a part of her life for years, I’ve watched her make Jordan more accessible. People like her teach me to become a social entrepreneur.
Ogunte: Aya Aghabi is an inspiring person! What was your own pivotal moment as a woman and as a social entrepreneur?
Dina Saoudi: Pivotal moments are continuous, there has to be agility and adaptability. The norm has to be change. The roads towards one goal are a million - the first path may not get you there but you have to keep going. That’s why I try to be as accepting of change as possible.
For Empowering Through, the original idea was an app that feeds everybody in the world. It ended up being a cookbook. But that cookbook has become a best seller and is being replicated globally. It has now turned into workshops and videos. So the app never happened... but we definitely fed.
Ogunte: How do you close the gender gap in your day to day activities?
Dina Saoudi: I don’t see a gender gap, I see a system that celebrates some over others. The patriarchy created a world in which women have to choose between professional and personal lives - why can’t we change the entire paradigm around how women are engaging in the workforce, continue doing what they love to do and get paid to do it?
I want to simply be a part of a system that celebrates women in the comfort of their own skin and their own lives.
Ogunte: What is the biggest challenge of the work that you do?
Dina Saoudi: When we asked people to share their stories, asking the private sector to work with the public or academic sectors, we received a lot of rejection at the start. But that feedback and that resistance was our opportunity to iterate. We are what we are because of rejection. Our stakeholders taught us a lot along the way, so the “challenges” were in fact opportunities in disguise.
Ogunte: But it must have been hard to keep going after facing such moments?
Dina Saoudi: People give excuses as to why they don’t want to do anything; but the truth is, those who have accomplished anything are those that fought, those that continued to work anyway, to show up to the meetings, to knock on new doors.
I don’t struggle with confidence, period.
Ogunte: Are there areas of your business that you still struggle to be confident in?
Dina Saoudi: I don’t struggle with confidence in my business. I don’t struggle with confidence, period.
I’ve made my peace with the fact that I won’t always be the person who is always sure of herself. I am real and vulnerable and I’d like it to stay that way. If we’re not real, people can’t relate to us. I never want to be too confident that I forget my own vulnerability - it’s a driving force.
But I can still show up in front of the camera and not have my heart beat faster. I can learn to accept what I have and who I am and that’s the image I project in front of a camera, in front of a large audience, in front of my team.
I know that the confidence I have is enough and when I feel confident in balancing everything, I no longer need to strive for it. I can live it.
Ogunte: What do you know now that you wished you had known from the beginning?
Dina Saoudi: I could see it all from the beginning. It’s actually because I saw it, that it happened. If you don’t see it, it won’t happen. But if it doesn’t happen the first time, it will be ok.
Ogunte: Where do you draw your energy from?
Dina Saoudi: My energy comes from service.
To feed and to heal and to shelter and to inspire and to give from what I have and who I am.
Also, knowing people who have been so through so much, a death of a loved one, losing a child, after an accident, after it felt like they had lost it all… Those stories remind me that there is no reason why I shouldn’t wake up in the morning and continue moving.
Ogunte: What does your world look like in ten years’ time?
Dina Saoudi: A world in which we are able to spend more time with our loved ones, have enough, do what we love to do and do it from the comfort of our own homes and spaces. I want a world where we are all celebrated, each one being who he or she is, and to be loved in that truth unconditionally, without judgement. No loans, no three jobs at a time, no exhaustion. In summary, I suppose the goal is peace, balance, and a whole lot of love.
Ogunte: Who are women in social enterprises that inspire you?
Mary Nazzal Batayneh - Barrister, social justice activist, founder of Landmark Hotels Company, brand ambassador at SEP ... and only recently a founding partner at 17 Asset Management, an impact investment firm that is committed to making Jordan and the world more sustainable. Simple put, through all her accomplishments, she remains real and a big support to the work that we do.
Lana Batayneh; an inspiring woman who has ALS. She communicates with her eyes and writes her blog - Loofy Online. I love to read this! Link:
Oprah Winfrey - watching her speak of her pain and her vulnerability is what I was most attracted to. That she was not ashamed of her story and in sharing, she gave others permission to share too. She did not come from money, she made it. She made her own legacy and her own impact.
Websites to explore:
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