With both her parents being doctors, some would say healthcare is in Sophie Smith's blood. While her father is currently the National Clinical Director of Diagnostics for NHS England, her mother, also a trained doctor, gave up practising when she had to 'embark on the most demanding, least publicly rewarding career of them all' - being a stay-at-home mum. Growing up, Sophie always imagined she would do the same. But when she started working at Accenture, after graduating, she felt an 'itch'. It was an urge to do something that had never been done before.
Enter Nabta Health. It all started in 2016, after Sophie had moved to the UAE. While five months pregnant, she was invited to speak at a conference in Kuwait by acquaintance Mussaad Al-Razouki, and they got to talking about the need for a women's health platform in the region. "The need for it seemed obvious: there was very little clinically validated information available in Arabic, and the existing tools on the market assumed a completely different cultural mindset," says Sophie. "For example, cycle tracking, pregnancy and parenting apps were set up to accommodate the Western average of 1.8 children per woman, not the 3.4 children that is the average in MENA. You can't simultaneously 'parent' a child in one app and track your cycle in breastfeeding mode in the next."
Sophie immediately knew this was the company she wanted to start. Today, Nabta Health aims to empower women to effectively manage their own health by integrating virtual components like mobile technologies and smart medical devices into traditional pathways. For example, they are looking to tackle PCOS - a rising issue in the region, and a leading cause of infertility - through the use of a personal health assistant Aya.ai, and a personalised health score (to launch this year) so that women can do the 'discovery work' themselves.
"The reason this model of care is important, especially in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region is because there is a 'culture of shame' associated with many aspects of health (and women's health in particular)," says Sophie. "Our at-home test kits which are launching next quarter, for example, will enable women to test themselves for a variety of deficiencies and hormone-related issues in complete privacy, from the comfort of their own homes, and for a fraction of the normal cost."
The ultimate goal is to become a trusted global leader in women's health and support women who wish to pursue careers alongside their families. It's also practises what it preaches; the organisation offers up to nine months' paid parental leave for men and women alike.
"I hope Nabta will also demonstrate to women that they can do and be what they want, whether that's working full-time at home, in the workplace, or occupying varied middle grounds," says Sophie. "We only have a single lifetime after all, and life is short. We are all, in our own ways, entitled or perhaps even obligated to make the most of it."
Social initiative has always been at the heart of Ferzin Irani's business. The UAE resident always had a love for fashion and wanted to start a clothing brand that created clothes that were not just beautiful but also comfortable. Hailing from Pune, India, means she also had a love for handicrafts. It felt only natural to combine the two to create Escale - a UAE-based online fashion brand - in 2013.
Ferzin started working with both male and female artisans in her home country. But, about a year later, she decided to change things. "I noticed that the female tailors were very grateful for the work, and also very loyal. If you treat them well, they stay longer. They also support their children and community, and are admired for being financially independent. Because of these reasons, we decided to proceed with female artisans alone."
Today, Escale has a team of five full-time employees while other artisans also work with the brand, on a per-day basis. In this way, the brand aims to give them the flexibility and freedom they require, as many are also primary caregivers. In the past, it has also collaborated with other organisations such as the Amar Foundations for the widows of war in Iraq. "Women need flexible employment opportunities, and it's something we understand," says Ferzin.
"We give them deadlines, or tell them to put in a certain number of hours a week. They need not come to the workshop every day!"
ON THE ROAD
It was this interest that led her to start her career in the British Armed forces where she would drive everything from cars to trucks. She later did a course in media while working at the local circuit on the side. She became a commentator at racing circuits and, later, a team coordinator and instructor. When she moved to the Middle East, 20 years ago, she dabbled in stunt driving and her experience - both in automobiles and journalism - led to her being headhunted to and train car salesmen in Europe.
It was during one of those trips that Alix saw a need to educate other women about vehicles. "I was training a sales team that was almost entirely male. And one person made a remark about how you didn't have to tell women anything about cars because they wouldn't understand. Sometimes, if sales people wanted to get rid of a product, they would target women, and many ladies would get ripped off at car garages."
Her experiences led her to start Miss Auto Know - a safe online space for women 'who'd like advice, help or information on buying a new car, trusted car dealers, information on manufacturers' and more. Their Facebook group - with over 760 members at last count - is also brimming with information, from video guides to discounts.
"Statistically, in countries like the US, there are more women than men applying for driving licenses. Girls are interested in driving. But, even today, if I go to a garage with my husband, and I ask a car-related question, the mechanic is likely to look at my husband while answering," says Alix.
Alix - who has been booked as a host for this year's Dubai Motor Show, and is also a judge for the Women's World Car of the Year - has ensured there's a lot of exciting things coming up for Miss Auto Know. The platform has courses for female drivers as well as fun-filled events. "Our recent offroading family event was a hit," says Alix. "It made people realise that their vehicle is something that can bring the whole family together."
"I've noticed that women tend to doubt themselves more than men," says Armin. "Sometimes, a woman just needs encouragement - and another woman can better understand what she's going through."
Today, It's Her Way has a number of success stories to speak of, from a stay-at-home mum who scaled up her business of making crochet jewellery, to enabling a fashion label to set up an online store. And just like these startups, It's Her Way has also been growing. The brand, which charges members a fee for its services, has also launched It's Her Store - an online space where the entrepreneurs' wares are sold and are looking to launch It's Her Skills, "a creative marketplace where shepreneurs can gain visibility for their services".
As Armin puts it, "We have common threads and emotions. For example, we can probably relate to the issues other women face - even if they are halfway across the world. That's why it's important to help each other out."
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