Entrepreneurs and their startups make a positive impact on any society, from the services they offer to the financial and economical contributions they make. But their stories lie not in their financial success as much as the inspiration they give to others. This is Sahar’s story.
By Sara Romany
hen the word ‘entrepreneur’ comes up in any conversation, the picture that pops into my head is one of a 17-year-old whiz kid with a new technological start-up company that makes him billions every hour. But that’s not always true of entrepreneurs; they are actually all around us building their small businesses, leaving their mark on society. Whether it’s the small supermarket on the corner of your street or the big brands you use every day, everything started with an entrepreneur somewhere who was willing to take a big risk and build their own company.
Risk-taking is nothing new to Egyptian women, for just venturing outside their comfort zones and safety of their own homes seems a big risk in these days of spiraling harassment on the streets and discrimination at the workplace.
Which is why it’s always refreshing to find a woman who’s broken all the barriers with her entrepreneurial spirit and not only managed to get a decent job, but also succeeded in starting her own business. Sahar, the owner and manager of my beauty salon in Heliopolis, is the perfect example of a female entrepreneur who is not a university graduate but can still put most university graduates to shame. As I was sitting at her salon one day hearing a few clients complain about not being able to find a job, it struck me that Sahar, who is from less fortunate upbringings, has defied the circumstances we are all facing in post-Revolution Egypt.
For Sahar, the success story started with a great passion — and a great passion is always a prerequisite to any successful entrepreneur. Hers started at a very early age, as she was only nine years old when she began in the industry. The little girl loved playing the beautician so much that she used to put make-up on her little friends at school using coloring pens. She went to school in the morning and then worked at a small salon in her neighborhood of Old Cairo in the afternoon.
In her late teens Sahar moved to a bigger salon in the upscale neighborhood of Heliopolis where after finishing high school she was faced with a big decision: Go on to university or call it quits and focus on refining her talent. To her the answer was simple and clear: she would pursue her goal of succeeding in the salon business. All she had to do was believe in herself and follow her dream.
By the age of 20 she had mastered her art. She had become so good at styling, makeup and hairdressing that she had a long list of clients who would deal only with her, and it wasn’t long before business partners started approaching her. Another salon owner proposed that she join his shop and bring along her clients in exchange for a percentage from the income her clients brought in. Sahar jumped at the opportunity and quickly accepted the offer.
By 22, Sahar was already married and had a baby. It was getting harder juggling a job, a house, an unsupportive husband and a baby. But she didn’t let any of that stop her, refusing to accept becoming a stay-at-home wife. On the contrary, it pushed her to take another leap to secure a better future for her baby. So she opened her first salon with a friend and a tiny staff of two or three beauticians.
It was a very bold move, with plenty of challenges: another year came with another baby, and another problem when Sahar’s friend and partner decided to drop out of the project. Yet again Sahar rose to the challenge; with her partner gone she hired more staff and took on an even bigger workload. A year later she got a divorce from her unsupportive husband.
Now a single mother of two and a salon owner, Sahar had even more to juggle. She tells me how when the kids were young she would send them in the morning to daycare and then bring them to the salon as she had nowhere else to take them. Family members refused to help with the children because they didn’t believe in what she was doing. But like many Egyptian women, Sahar didn’t let it stop her from moving forward to reach her dream.
Now at only 29, Sahar has rented the shop next door and redecorated her salon so it is twice as big. She has a fleet of 17 beauticians working with her and has already bought her next salon in the New Cairo. Sahar is looking to rent another one so that she can start building her own chain of salons. Knowing Sahar I’m certain that her chain will only grow bigger and better.
Perhaps what is most inspirational about Sahar’s story is that she has managed to overcome all the obstacles and refused to opt for the easy way out as a stay-at-home mom. Even after becoming a single mother, Sahar found the strength not only to develop her career and secure a better future for her children, but to live out her dream.
A example of the silent female powers behind moving our society forward, Sahar is very humble when it comes to her achievements. “It all just seemed to happen,” she says. et