Women Empowering Women: The Founder of Lucky Saidaty on Changing the Game for Women in the Middle East
March is Women's History Month; a time for recognizing and reflecting upon the achievements of trailblazing women across the globe. I had the honor of speaking with one such disruptor: Saphia Cadet, Founder and CEO of Lucky Saidaty. Lucky Saidaty is an online community that allows women in the Arab world to connect through its three-pronged approach (business networking, online stores, and social networking) to reaching one glass ceiling shattering goal: helping women advance their careers in order to realize financial independence. With Lucky Saidaty, Saphia is shining a light on the multitude of hardworking, talented, and historically overlooked Arab women – offering a seat at the table that never before existed.
Our Digital Experience team recently rearchitected Lucky Saidaty (originally built with Laravel) on Drupal Commerce, providing a more complete solution for Saphia's business needs with extensibility for future endeavors. As a Function1 customer, we've had the privilege of working closely with Saphia to understand her business objectives from a project perspective. However, during this interview we were able to dive a bit deeper to learn more about her struggles as a female entrepreneur and the motivation behind Lucky Saidaty, which was completely eye opening and awe-inspiring – I think you'll agree...
CG: Let's talk a little about your vision behind Lucky Saidaty; what made you want to start an organization to empower other women?
SC: My vision is for Lucky Saidaty to be the leading platform for networking for Arab women. In the Western world, there are various networking platforms that women can use in order to improve their lives. At the same time, there are so many intelligent women in the Arab world and it’s almost as if we are forgotten because of politics – and sometimes society’s perception. We are a very talented minority group that, with a little help, can accomplish great things. It doesn't make sense that these talented Arab women need to learn different languages and adopt a Western lifestyle in order to advance their careers. We’re talking about 200 million potential women in the Arab world that don’t communicate in their own language. When I recognized this potential, I thought, why not give them the tools necessary to succeed?
CG: Have you faced any challenges thus far as a female entrepreneur?
SC: Of course, everyday [laughs]! I will start with my own society. The minute that I began working on the Lucky Saidaty project, I was told that I was crazy. At the time, I had a good management position with fringe benefits (car) and a good salary, so why would I take the chance after almost 20 years to open my own business? The answer was simple. I felt that as a woman I have limitations that most men don't. For example, I always need to prove myself, not double, triple – just because I’m a woman and on top of that, an Arab. As a result, I am always needing to prove that I’m qualified for certain jobs. It doesn’t make sense. I know that I’m talented, I know that I have the leadership skills to succeed – because I managed more than 200 people for years – but still, I felt this ceiling on top of my head that I always needed to triple my efforts to prove myself. So, the minute that I said I’m going to start my own business, all of the people that I love called me crazy, which was very supportive – in a sarcastic way.
I organized group meetings with women to ask them about what they need in order to succeed, and the idea for Lucky Saidaty started to evolve from there. I had also taken a couple of journeys overseas with a humanitarian social club called Desert Queen. The mission focused on helping other women, and to learn how they live their lives in poverty and with limited resources. Surprisingly, they were happy, and were achieving a lot of goals. These trips made me realize that there are many women in need. In the Western world, we have access to smart phones and different technologies that make our lives easier. So, why not help disadvantaged women by connecting them with each other, while providing them with the tools to achieve financial independence.
The idea behind Lucky Saidaty is for women to help each other with the knowledge, the experience, the opportunity to increase their income while they are inside of their homes because of certain limitations. The minute a woman has financial independency, she will be able to make her own decisions. Not only in the Arab society; in China, South Africa, India, women work and they work very hard to put food on the table. However, men for some reason in certain societies are still making decisions for those women because they don't have the financial independence to make decisions for themselves.
CG: What has the response looked like from both women and men about Lucky Saidaty?
SC: Men have been very supportive. However, I’ve had a lot of interviews overseas, especially in the Palestinian area, where the men managing those TV and Radio stations have wanted to flex their muscles. They saw a very confident Arab woman and so after every interview those managers told me in private that it is the woman's fault that we are such underdogs. That it is the woman's fault that she doesn’t go into the workforce. It’s not the man's fault.
I’m not blaming men, it's society’s responsibility - as a man, if you listen to a woman's needs, you'll understand that they are looking for opportunities to better themselves. However, society empowers men to decide not to let their daughters finish high school, to get married at 14 years old, not giving her an education. Yes, these men support women being independent, but for very specific jobs – to be a teacher, but not a businesswoman. They take offense to women traveling overseas or becoming independent. This is hypocritical to me.
Further, for the women who endorse the idea of being independent, it is clear that fear still occupies their minds. This has been driving me crazy as an entrepreneur – one of the biggest challenges is this fear that controls their lives. However, when I gave them the tool [Lucky Saidaty] and told them: "You’re already selling stuff in your area, now you can put your store online” their response was uplifting. I understand their challenges, that they don't have their own bank accounts. Therefore, I'm taking responsibility by helping to promote their products. I was told by some women that they need the permission of their husbands or the head of their household to make a decision. And, that's what kills me. Why do you need permission? You're an adult, you have your own store. To tell you the truth, it doesn't only exist in the Arab world. I have had women of other cultures tell me that they need to consult with their husband or their son. These women are very interested and are very active on social media – we are almost at 45,000 followers on Facebook. But, helping them to conquer this fear remains a challenge.
CG: Which seems completely understandable, especially since you are working against societal norms. So, what have you learned so far about the importance of female relationships from your time building Lucky Saidaty?
SC: The main thing I've learned is that I thought I had an idea of how many talented women there are out there, but there are actually more. It’s like a diamond that isn’t getting polished enough to be the priceless diamond. And, as an Arab woman who is choosing this entrepreneurial path. It's not common, it’s very unique, but I'm here to say: "Enough." Enough with being the victim. Enough. Because, this is my choice – to be a warrior, not a victim.
I know hundreds of other women out there are warriors as well, but they are afraid that someone will say something about them. I’ve learned that there are many women in elite positions at the UN, at TEDx, leading actresses in Egypt that are doing a lot of NGO work to help others; opening free schools for girls, awarding scholarships to underprivileged girls. This is the kind of work that inspires me, but most of these women are working behind the scenes. It’s our time to be on the stage. It’s not enough to be behind the scenes.
In the news, what do you hear about Arabs? Only the negative. And, what do you hear about female Arabs? Only that she’s the victim, always suffering in silence from mistreatments. I’m not saying that this doesn't exist, but it’s not the only story that exists. It’s time that women are investing in other women. In Dubai and the Emirates there are female sheikhs that have millions of dollars – hopefully they will be investing in Lucky Saidaty [laughs] – these women have very powerful positions politically and financially in their countries, unfortunately not many people in the West know about them.
CG: So you’re really reframing that narrative.
SC: Yes, and it’s about time. That’s why the website is in two languages, for now – in Arabic and English. There’s a lot of talent in the West and they already have access to tools like LinkedIn and other social media platforms. However, I wasn't seeing networking platforms between the West and the Middle East or the Far East.
Every woman has their own story. And, it’s time that our story is heard and it's time to communicate it without fear. As women, we are inherently multitaskers, so let’s focus that energy on communicating with each other to improve our financial security. Because, the minute we achieve financial security, we will be more independent to make our own decisions.
CG: When you’re thinking about future plans for Lucky Saidaty what makes you the most excited?
SC: To hire more employees and reach 200 million users. Based on my research, there are 200 million educated women that have cell phones, at least a bachelor’s degree, and they know that they're independent. So, that’s my biggest goal, to achieve that 200 million.
But, for this year, it is just to activate Lucky Saidaty's three platforms. One is the blog – whatever women think – no one can change what they write. This is very unique because 99% of blogs in the Arab world are managed by men. Most of the time, these blogs don’t feature women – even if she is the author of an article. This is why we allow woman to create their own blogs independently. The second stage is the store, giving women the ability to sell their products online. The third gives women a platform to sell services online.
CG: I know you already mentioned you’re inspired by all of the women working so hard behind the scenes – but is there anyone in particular that you admire most or consider a mentor / role model – since we’re celebrating women all month long in March for Women’s History Month?
SC: One in particular was Princess Diana. As a young girl, she was a very inspiring figure to me; to watch how she helped humanitarian organizations, in spite of the challenges and the protocol of being part of a Royal family.
I like that she wasn't afraid of what the Royals or what people controlling her country thought of her behavior as long as she knew in her heart that she was doing good for humanity. This is my message to try to help others; I believe that God created me for a reason and if I have the power to help other women to get out and voice their opinions – I am achieving my goal.
CG: You’re doing just that with Lucky Saidaty which is truly remarkable. Is there anything else you want to touch on before we end our conversation?
SC: I would like to add something small, it’s not connected to Lucky Saidaty but it's part of my message. To be here, in the United States, and to register the business to the U.S. gave me the opportunity and the tech advantage to open Lucky Saidaty to the Arab world. Nonetheless, I am a Palestinian descendant born in Israel. The name “Israel” alone is a headache for such a project because I'm targeting the Arab world, and Arabs in general will not want to be associated with Israel. As a result, a lot of planning, logistics and strategy was involved behind the scenes. It took a great deal of brainstorming on my part just to make Lucky Saidaty neutral. And, it's not political – because I’m talking about business – but politics and business sometimes find each other unexpectedly. This was a major challenge at first. The second, which is personal, I was able to choose my husband – in my culture that’s not very common. This is actually a blog I'm planning to write. It’s about empowerment as a female Arab who decided to marry an American against my family's wishes...but that’s a different story.
Many thanks to Saphia for sharing her path to becoming the pionneering woman in technology she is today. I look forward to having a front row seat to Lucky Saidaty's revolutionary journey to building better lives for women all over the world. Questions about this interview? Comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.