The inspiring Shereen Allam, after 15 years of being an entrepreneur, started AWTAD, a nonprofit which has been a change-maker since its beginning in 2008. The NGO has supported artisans, many of whom are women, ever since then. Promoting Egyptian crafts, supporting artisans and empowering women, AWTAD’s work has reached far and wide across Egypt. We speak to Shereen all about her exciting work.
Tell us about AWTAD and how it empowers women.
AWTAD was the first to introduce Mentoring as a tool to help personal and professional change. We were the pioneers in bridging the gap between those who have experience and those who need it, so that they can speed start their life and businesses. This later on became our main development tool in our “UP” entrepreneurial program.
Through our program, and now product brand, Anamel, we started the journey of providing artisans with the necessary tools to be street smart.
AWTAD’s last pillar is training for employability and we also lead through introducing career testing so a person can choose wisely the career that make it happen for them. Then we designed the program “Job Ready”, where we linked market needs with skills and made sure through a rigorous process that job seekers are ready for what the employers need and made sure they are hired too.
All of those programs were designed and implemented with a main aim to support women in their quest to advance in any of those fields. We have a special add-on program for women called “GLOW- Giving Leverage to Women” which works on their personal needs in developing and honing their decision-making and communication skills in addition to boosting self-esteem for those who need it.
What prompted you to start AWTAD? And how did it materialize?
AWTAD started because of my own personal experience. I was an entrepreneur myself for around 15 years before I started AWTAD. This was in the early 90’s when the ecosystem was not as advanced and interlinked as today, and starting a business was not a common thing. My own dilemmas, challenges and learning journey were enough to prompt me to want to share with other ladies who were interested.
What were the biggest obstacles you faced as you were starting AWTAD?
Some of the biggest obstacles that I faced in AWTAD and in business is the system, needed documentation and official steps. Another obstacle is funding. When you start you do not have achievements or a history, and thus securing funds is harder and requires a lot of work. But as you grow and have records of all which you have done, and with your widening network, your life starts to become a bit easier.
Anamel Masrya is a program by AWTAD which empowers local artisans. How has that program helped female artisans in the Egyptian community?
We designed special rounds for female artisans called artpreneurs which is at the start-up stage, which dealt with their personal and cultural challenges as women, next to their business needs.
How willing is society to accept women empowerment? Are things better now than they were a few years back?
We came a long way and now it has become a possible path. When we started, it needed to be whispered about in some sectors. But society today has heard enough about it to be more ready to talk about it and do it. Also, there is a political will to make it happen which puts air beneath the wings of women empowerment and makes it harder to scorn.
What is your ultimate dream for AWTAD and what it can offer the women of Egypt?
We are creative program creators, and my dream is to see us doing that with other NGOs. We would love to bridge the isolated islands in our development society and create programs that can innovate change for women all over Egypt.
We would love to create mega consortium that can be big enough to attract the big players in financing and in PPP partnerships, so that women of Egypt can really feel the power of growth.
Most Egyptian women have had to answer the question “Hanefra7 Biki Emta” before in reference to marriage, despite any accomplishments they may have already made, what would you say in response to that question?
I would say when you see me satisfied with my personal and professional life, when you see me walking with my head held high, when I do not allow anyone to take advantage of me personally or professionally, when I am doing what I want to do, then definitely “Hanefra7 Biki”!