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Sara Al Madani on How To Succeed In The Face of Demoralizing Adversity

She started her first business at the age of 15, and her fashion label is still running today. Sara Al Madani is a well-known Emirati fashion designer, partner in a tech company and owner of a creative consultancy. She is the youngest board member at the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce & Industry and also sits on the board of the UAE SME Council. Sara has won numerous awards and is a passionate advocate for women in business.  We met at Dubai’s bustling Youth Hub for this recording. Sara started her first business at the age of 15 after declaring financial independence from her bewildered parents. She amassed enough money to start a fashion label by doing odd jobs and selling her belongings. She bought and resold goods and, against her parent’s wishes, did promotional work for soft drinks companies in a mall. 17 years later Sara is still running her fashion business to provide stylish and unique abayas (traditional wear of Gulf Arab women) as well as turning her hand to many other businesses. But it hasn’t all been easy. Sara has faced opposition from the start and has suffered setbacks along the way. Her determination and faith have helped fuel her success as she’s struggled with stereotypes, bankruptcy and divorce. “I take ownership of failure,” is her approach. Sara’s optimism and energy are highly contagious. We discussed her thoughts on “women empowerment”, on how to raise boys and on the positive impact of women in boardrooms. My favorite quote was “I am a mango tree. I only want mango-lovers to come to me.” You can find Sara on Instagram @sara_almadani and LinkedIn.

Read the Transcript

Note: While When Women Win is produced as an audio recording, we are delighted to produce transcripts for those who are unable to hear. Kindly note that these are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Media is encouraged to check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Rana Nawas: (00:00)
Hello ladies and gents, my guest on today’s show is a leading Emirati entrepreneur who started her career at the age of 15 by building a fashion label that is still running today. Sara Al Madani is a well known Emirati fashion designer, partner in a tech company and owner of a creative consultancy. She’s the youngest Board Member at the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and also sits on the board of the UAE SME Council. Sara has won numerous awards and is a passionate advocate for women in business. We sat down at Dubai’s bustling youth hub and discussed Sara’s early experiences and how her grit and patience helped her overcome bias and resistance. We talked about traditional expectations and how Sara departed from them both at work and at home. I learned about her faith and her commitment to optimism in the face of adversity. We explored the importance of raising boys as feminists and debated perhaps the only thing that Sara and I disagree on; the word empowerment. So let’s get into it.

Rana Nawas: (01:10)
How wonderful to have you on When Women Win.

Sara Al Madani: (01:13)
Thank you for having me. I’m so excited.

Rana Nawas: (01:15)
Yeah, me too. We’ve been planning this for a long time.

Sara Al Madani: (01:17)
I know, I know. Long ago.

Rana Nawas: (01:19)
Tayeb great. So stupid, lazy, irresponsible. These are words that your teachers use to describe you at school. Why?

Sara Al Madani: (01:29)
It wasn’t only teachers. It was classmates, teachers, friends, sometimes some family members just because I’m dyslexic, but I did not know that I was dyslexic. Reading, numbers, studying and understanding things was completely different for me than for everybody in class, which made me like the purple elephant in the room and everyone realized that Sara does not see or act or think like us. And slowly I started actually believing that because everyone was saying it. So you start questioning: am I normal? Is my brain different? Am I really stupid? Am I really? Why can’t I just love everything in class and do everything the same way everyone did? And that’s how it started. But later on, I think when I was 12, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and it was, you know, it’s conditioned. It’s not really fully understood in the region. So I knew I had it. I thought it was a disease at the beginning because I was like, I was a kid, the doctor was like, you were dyslexic. And I was like, okay. They’re like, so you see things differently than everybody else and that’s all they said. And I had to live with that idea. And every time I’d go back to school or back to class… I actually switched schools for that reason as well to another school because I would tell them, you know what, I always say this to my friend as well, I wish I could show you how things are when I look at them in my own eyes, but I can’t describe it and I can’t show it. So I used to tell my teachers that letters keep jumping around and words keep shifting when I look at them. I can’t focus. And they are like, if you want to go home, if you don’t want to be educated, it’s okay. If you’re lazy, it’s okay. You don’t have to make up stuff. So yeah, even numbers were crazy. And I remember the worst experience ever was math class because we would have a math exam and usually you’d have to write the formula of the question and then the answer. I used to write the answer only and they used to think I always cheated.

Rana Nawas: (03:25)
Oh my gosh.

Sara Al Madani: (03:26)
And then I would try to tell the teacher; my brain cannot write the formula for you but it did it in my head. And he would not believe me and he would always call me a cheater and would kick me out of class.

Rana Nawas: (03:35)
And so this must have done wonders for your self-esteem.

Sara Al Madani: (03:38)
It did. And I lost interest in studying. Slowly my interest started dying. Yeah.

Rana Nawas: (03:44)
Do you think this was a gift or a curse as dyslexia?

Sara Al Madani: (03:50)
After understanding what it is and why, I think it’s an amazing gift because I was never left out. Yes, I didn’t fit in, but I was never left out. I was always in my own bubble and my own world, my imagination was, was wide. Everything was visual for me. So I would imagine things right away, like, you know what I mean? I was in my own la-la land. That’s what I call it. My head was in the sky. I was happy. I was not in a bad place, but people made me feel bad about it.

Rana Nawas: (04:21)
I love what you say about being different because this is how I feel. You know, I was also a misfit at school, for different reasons. And I really… I always say that being different is your superpower.

Sara Al Madani: (04:31)
It is.

Rana Nawas: (04:32)
I really feel that.

Sara Al Madani: (04:33)
It is. I mean, when you think about it, we didn’t come out of one cookie cutter. We don’t have to look the same, act the same, although this is what the society is trying to do with the pressure in the media and everything happening. They want to make you feel like if you don’t look like that you’re missing out or you don’t fit in. But when you realize that there’s so much beauty in being different and we’re not supposed to fit in and we’re not supposed to be trends slaves…

Rana Nawas: (04:55)
There is nothing to fit into.

Sara Al Madani: (04:57)
No. I, I always tell women I reject and I will always and never accept to be a trends slave. Yeah. I liked.

Rana Nawas: (05:04)
A translate?

Sara Al Madani: (05:06)
A trends slave.

Rana Nawas: (05:06)
Trend slave. I like that. I’ve never heard that term before.

Sara Al Madani: (05:08)
So I’m not a trend slave. I have my own trends and if there’s something I like out there that’s trending, I’ll take it. But I’m not a trend slave.

Rana Nawas: (05:14)
Well, I mean you are definitely not someone who, you know, and I quote “fits in,” right? I mean Emirati lady, serial entrepreneur with piercings. Yeah, I mean sneakers and piercings. The thing is I love being me and I would never want to be or apply any other thing than me.

Sara Al Madani: (05:35)
Yeah. I love being me. And there’s so much beauty and so much really happens when you give someone the freedom to be themselves. And, to be honest, I am a mango tree. I just want mango lovers. I don’t want people who love oranges to come to me.

Rana Nawas: (05:48)
What does that mean Sara?. Does that mean you look chimpanzees? I mean, I don’t understand.

Sara Al Madani: (05:54)
It means that if you are a mango tree, would you want an apple lover to come and eat from you. No. You want someone to appreciate you. I just want mango lovers and I don’t have to tell any… like, I always say, do you have to tell people that you’re a mango tree if you were one? No, because you have mangoes. It’s obvious who you are. I don’t want to put an effort into proving to people who I am or what I am and I just want people to appreciate me, to be around me. I don’t want anyone else. I don’t want to pretend, I don’t want to be fake. I tried that for a while because being in the fashion industry and stuff like that, people sometimes force you and you have to do it to fit in, but then I was like, damn it, I don’t want to fit in. I don’t even care. Even if this was the end of my career or whatever, I don’t want to fit in.

Rana Nawas: (06:37)
Well, let’s talk about the fashion industry. How and when did you get involved?

Sara Al Madani: (06:41)
I started my whole shebang when I was 15. I started my first business, which was fashion. I never studied fashion. I was clueless about it, but if you want something you can easily learn. It’s all about wanting and believing. Yeah, and I started. I opened a store when I was 15. It was a beautiful journey. Grew so fast.

Rana Nawas: (07:02)
Sorry. How did you open the store? I mean, how did that happen when you were just 15?

Sara Al Madani: (07:06)
So when I was 15 I went up to my dad and I was like, I want to be independent, and he laughed. He was like, you’re a 15 year old. Not out of disrespect, but when a 15 year old tells you I want to be independent while other 15 year olds are playing outside with barbies and in the sand and all that… I was like, dad I want to be a business woman.

Rana Nawas: (07:25)
And what did you mean you wanted to be independent?

Sara Al Madani: (07:27)
Like I don’t want money from you.

Rana Nawas: (07:28)
You told him, dad, I’m 15, I don’t want any more money from you.

Sara Al Madani: (07:31)
Yeah, and he laughed. I remember they were sitting on the couch and he looked at my mom and my mum was like, no, no, no. He’s like, don’t get mad, she’ll come back, she’ll need us. My dad was like go. Do whatever you want. And I was like yay green light. So what I did is I sold all my toys, my computer, I bought electronics and resold them. I did promotional jobs on the side like as a sales girl for, for like so many soft drinks and the malls, you know, when you stand in the mall and you give out drinks for trials. But I did it behind my parent’s back. Right. Because in our culture, you know, it’s not okay to do that at that age. I did it so many times, but once I was caught. I denied it. There was a picture, I still denied it. So I was like, it wasn’t me. My Dad’s like, okay.

Rana Nawas: (08:18)
I know that song.

Sara Al Madani: (08:19)
Exactly. Shaggy. My dad was like but that’s you standing with your friends giving out Pepsi. I was like, dad, that’s not me. And then like I gathered 20, I think it was 20, 25,000 dirhams. Back then that was like a fortune. We’re talking about 2000, 2000-2001. I found an immense tailor store in the middle of the industrial area, which means no women, but I was like, this is the start. I will start anywhere as long as I start. Right? Yeah. So I found one and the guy wanted key money. He’s like, you pay me 19,000 dirhams, here’s a rent for a whole year. Take my staff, take my license. It’s all yours. So you want to keep money to leave basically. And he’s like, good luck. It’s an industrial area. I was like, I’ll take it. Paid the money. Had the store for a whole year. Got it with its employees. It was two guys and I remember for a whole year they wouldn’t work. They were like “I will not do lady clothes. I do my clothes, I do men kandora. I do traditional clothes.” So I was like sitting in the store, being a boss with them and we were drinking coffee and tea everyday, eating together and slowly, slowly they started like, you know, liking me more and accepting me more. And that’s where the walls broke and our guards dropped and they started actually working and bouncing off ideas and all that.

Rana Nawas: (09:35)
And so you started in, I mean you had an idea when you were 15 that you wanted to go into fashion?

Sara Al Madani: (09:40)
I wanted to change the way Arab woman looked in their traditional wear because it had no silhouette. It had no shape, no design. It made them look as if they’re hiding, as if they’re supposed to hide behind it.

Rana Nawas: (09:53)
So we’re talking about that a’abayah and the shaala?

Sara Al Madani: (09:54)

Rana Nawas: (09:54)

Sara Al Madani: (09:54)
So I wanted to empower her through her traditional clothes and for her to be part of what’s happening out there not under it; under the a’abayah, but outside and be proud of it.

Rana Nawas: (10:06)
Yeah like why not wear a stylish a’abayah? Why not do fashion? Even if you’re modest and trendy.

Sara Al Madani: (10:11)
You know what I mean?

Rana Nawas: (10:11)
Yeah, I like it.

Sara Al Madani: (10:12)
Yeah. And that was my vision. That’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t know how, where, why, and I just started. Okay. And you got these two guys to help. Yeah. And then slowly, slowly we grew into so many branches from the industrial area. It’s because when you don’t quit, things happen. When you’re, when you have the strength, you have the passion, things happen no matter where you are as long as you start. So we grew to three branches. Four branches. My staff went up to 125 people. So we started growing gradually and it was a very happy journey. I grew up with the brand, which was fun.

Rana Nawas: (10:47)
And then 2013 came along. What happened?

Sara Al Madani: (10:49)
2013 I was bankrupt. I lost everything… It was… I’m not going to say…. It was a bad partnership, but I’m not going to blame anyone. I’m going to blame myself because you take ownership of failure.I cannot change people if they were bad, I cannot change the way they think or their ethics or anything. I cannot go shopping for ethics for them. So what I do is I…I stopped looking at their mistakes and I started looking at mine because it takes two to tango. Fine. I lost everything. But where did I go wrong? What did I do wrong? And that’s when I realized, damn, I’m learning because I’m looking at my mistakes and my mistake was that innocent mistake a lot of women do in business that when you partner up with family or friends or anybody you care about, you don’t do the paperwork.

Rana Nawas: (11:36)
Oh, so your contracts weren’t tight.

Sara Al Madani: (11:39)
My contracts were never tight, so it was, it was a very loose end contract. Very casual. Casual. I love you. You love me. We’re friends kind of counter contract.

Rana Nawas: (11:48)
So it was a friend who was your business partner?

Sara Al Madani: (11:50)

Rana Nawas: (11:50)
Okay. So the money disappeared.

Sara Al Madani: (11:52)
Just everything. Everything.

Rana Nawas: (11:53)
Listeners’ benefit. So how did you just go bankrupt overnight?

Sara Al Madani: (11:56)
Everything gone.

Rana Nawas: (11:57)
Like as in I packed a bag and left the country?

Sara Al Madani: (11:57)
No, no, no. As in like I woke up, there was nothing in the bank.

Rana Nawas: (12:03)
Nothing in the bank. So she drained the bank account?

Sara Al Madani: (12:05)
Yeah. I don’t know how. I don’t know where, why. I did go to courts for awhile. I got nothing out of it. And then I realized that at a certain point in court, I had to let go of the case because it was just draining my energy and money and there was no money to come back. It was gone. It was all gone. Since I don’t have any contracts that were good enough to protect me, I was gone. That was gone as well. So, but you know what? The beauty of what happened is I’ve learned something so important and I got so close to God because of that experience. Usually people lose their faith when they fail. And they keep saying, why me? Why me? I sat down and I thought about it all. And I realized that God sends you messages sometimes through people, through signals in the universe. What I realized is that sometimes you need to be slapped like God gives you that slap and tells you to stop. But the minute that problem happened, it was a door that closed, like I would not say a door, I would say a huge, huge bridge that was burnt because it was my dreams, my hopes, everything I put into life was there. But then I realized that you should not be attached to things. And the minute God closes a door, He opens another window. So the minute that happened, I was assigned as a Board Member at the Chamber of Commerce; an amazing achievement.Two women, nineteen men, chosen by His Highness.

Rana Nawas: (13:25)
So invite the ruler out of a massive pool of potential women.

Sara Al Madani: (13:29)
Exactly. After that, I was chosen and selected to be a Board Member in the SME Council in the Ministry of Economy. Big achievement. Slowly, slowly, businesses started opening, opening up. Pathways started opening up. It’s like as if my energy was blocked and God took that block away and things started happening. I mean if you look at me back then, I was doing good. Business was good. I was very known. One of the best designers in the region, making a lot of money every month. But I was comfortable. After the problem hit me, I produced and I bloomed and I opened up even more. The minute the problem happened to me, I came back and I opened six companies.

Rana Nawas: (14:08)
Six companies! In what? Not fashion then?

Sara Al Madani: (14:11)
No, no, it was an FNB Tech Consultancy and now I’m opening three new companies on the pipeline. So it just showed me how strong I am and I couldn’t have seen that if I was still there, still doing what I did. I would have still been the designer and nothing else. So that showed me my potential. It showed me who I am, who I really am. And God’s delays are not God’s denials. So you see it in the pipeline. You see it later on. Maybe a year, maybe two, maybe 10 minutes, maybe 10 years, but it will come. Now the other lesson I learned is that you should never let pain make you a version of the person that hurts you. Pain should not make you bitter, full of hate, angry, ungrateful, and unkind. Just because someone did that to you, you should not be another version of them. Now I am kinder, stronger, sweeter, nicer. I even have more partners that I work with. I trust people even more after that experience. One lost soul is not going to make me believe in humanity.

Rana Nawas: (15:12)
Yeah, you’re not gonna lose your faith in humanity because of one bad apple?

Sara Al Madani: (15:13)
Hell no! There are good people. And the only lesson I learned is that when I start a business now I should do it more carefully – select people carefully and have better contracts. And my problem was solved.

Rana Nawas: (15:25)
Yeah, invest in a good lawyer basically.

Sara Al Madani: (15:26)
Exactly. It costs a lot, but it saves you forever.

Rana Nawas: (15:31)
And that isn’t the only difficulty you faced at that time. I think there was something else that you went through that was a big challenge.

Sara Al Madani: (15:39)
Right. You are right. So while I was going through that, I got divorced as well. So it was a big challenge.

Rana Nawas: (15:46)
Was it a messy divorce?

Sara Al Madani: (15:47)
I would not say messy, but I would not say… It wasn’t easy.

Rana Nawas: (15:53)
Of course it’s not easy because you have a son, you have a child.

Sara Al Madani: (15:54)
Yeah but it wasn’t easy because like you know when you’re in love with someone it’s not easy to let go.

Rana Nawas: (16:01)
And you’ve been married for how long?

Sara Al Madani: (16:02)
I separated a year after marriage but I’ve studied with my husband in university, at my ex husband’s university. So I’ve known him for seven years, as a friend, as a colleague before that. So this is what made it harder; that he was a friend way before getting married. And it wasn’t easy because, you know, as I said, like separating emotions and all that, but I knew it wasn’t meant for us but I learned a lot from him as well. He learned a lot from me as well. And I believe everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t have had my son if this didn’t happen.

Rana Nawas: (16:36)
Yeah. Exactly.

Sara Al Madani: (16:36)
Yeah. So it happened all at once. And I think this is the breaking point where you should either quit and give up or just fight for it and go. Imagine that, I don’t know, if I actually, after that problem in 2013 with the divorce, with a messy divorce, with everything that’s happening with the bankruptcy, imagine I just sat at home and told my parents to help me out financially. I would have been at home right now doing nothing, you know?

Rana Nawas: (17:02)
You certainly wouldn’t be on When Women Win.

Sara Al Madani: (17:04)
Exactly. But it just tells you that every shortcut, every journey, every path you choose to take in life will change the end, the outcome completely. So if I just changed my thought that day, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now with you or owning everything I own. So it just tells you that, you know, don’t give up. This is the time where you’re challenged. This is the time where you prove and you come out and you actually break through.

Rana Nawas: (17:30)
Yeah. I think who was, I think it’s Eleanor Roosevelt who said “a woman is like a tea bag. You only know how strong she is once you dip her in hot water.” Yeah. It’s so true.

That’s my favorite. One of my favorites. So true.

Rana Nawas: (17:41)
And I also, I really do believe that everything happens for a reason.There’s bad news. Sure. Like when I was diagnosed with cancer, that’s bad news. But then look for the opportunity in that, because again, it’s like that slap that tells you there’s something going wrong in your life, you know, and you need to fix that fundamental issue.

Sara Al Madani: (18:02)
But I love how you are Rana because out of everything, you’re a positive person.

Rana Nawas: (18:05)
And it’s a choice. Back to another point you were making earlier, the way you look at whatever comes your way is a choice.

Sara Al Madani: (18:14)
It starts and ends in your head.

Rana Nawas: (18:16)
Yeah, exactly. We need more and more people to believe this I think.

Sara Al Madani: (18:20)

Rana Nawas: (18:20)
Right. We’re going to switch gears a little bit to talk about something, I think, is possibly the only area where you and I, you know what I’m going to say…

Sara Al Madani: (18:30)
I know where we are going…

Rana Nawas: (18:30)
So the only area I think, Sara, where you and I fundamentally disagree… All right, so we’re going to go there because this is how boss ladies are, we are allowed to disagree.

Sara Al Madani: (18:41)

Rana Nawas: (18:41)
So let’s talk about empowering women. What does that mean to you?

Sara Al Madani: (18:47)
I am against the word empower. I believe in the word inspire. Women are strong. We give birth, we start homes, we take care of husbands, we take care of families. We do a lot of things: financials of the house, everything. We are strong. The only problem is that we don’t know we are. So if you inspire me and show me that I can, I’ll do wonders. Empowerment, I think, we maybe disagree on the term empowerment because we have a different definition for it. For example, I remember we were sitting down with the councils, the businesswoman councils in the country and they’re all complaining about women, but they are women councils.

Rana Nawas: (19:26)
What do you mean complaining about women?

Sara Al Madani: (19:26)
Complaining about women saying that okay we gave this girl the opportunity to start a business. We wavered off her license. We gave her the capital to start. We did, we did, we did. Now she failed and she’s coming to ask for more. I was like, that’s your making. When you give someone everything and give it in their hands, you slowly kill their self-esteem. You slowly kill everything inside of them without them even noticing that. That’s why they come back for more instead of finding solutions. So my term of empowerment is handing everything to women for free because they need it.

Rana Nawas: (20:00)
That’s what you think, that’s what empowering means to you. So you’re coming at it from a government perspective.

Sara Al Madani: (20:06)
Not a government. It’s a business. Basically, like when you say…like women walking together, holding hands and saying, empower us. Ladies, you don’t need empowerment. Do you see men holding each other’s hands and saying empower us?

Rana Nawas: (20:18)
No, because it’s a men’s world. All the rules are made by men for men.

Sara Al Madani: (20:21)
Who made it a man’s world?

Rana Nawas: (20:23)
They did.

Sara Al Madani: (20:23)

Rana Nawas: (20:23)
Thousands of years.

Sara Al Madani: (20:25)
Thousands of years. What if a woman made it a man’s world?

Rana Nawas: (20:29)
What do you mean?

Sara Al Madani: (20:29)
Who raised these men? I’ll tell you something. I sit down with women and I hear the way they talk to their children, to their boys. When you grow up, we’ll find you a beautiful girl. She’s going to cook for you, she’s going to clean for you. She is going to do that for you. She’s going to be under your feet. She’s gonna be like how I am to your dad. She, she will. She will. What happens to that man when he grows up? He wants a woman like that. He thinks that he is the dominant creature and he thinks he is the person in charge of everything.

Rana Nawas: (21:00)
The good news, Sara, is that there are actually not a lot of mothers like that.

Sara Al Madani: (21:05)
There isn’t.

Rana Nawas: (21:05)
So we’re talking about for sure they exist but we can’t like take them and say oh moms are like that because certainly I don’t know a single woman like that.

Sara Al Madani: (21:15)
No, it’s not. I’m not saying everyone. I’m saying there are moms like that, but the thing is when a man like that grows up and he’s in power, he influences everyone else to be like him. So I always say it takes two to tango. It’s not just men’s fault. It’s women’s fault as well. Well, for even letting it happen, for even accepting it, for a lot of other reasons. That’s why you see the difference happening now. Women now are standing up for their rights. A lot of people are saying the divorce rate is growing. I’m like, good. You know why? Because women back then will stay in relationships that are abusive, that are bad just because the culture doesn’t accept it, just because she’ll be left out in society, just because she won’t fit in. Just because she won’t get a job. Now women are saying, you know what, I’m not going to sit in a bad relationship and end up being sick and emotionally suppressed because I deserve to live and things are changing now and it’s beautiful. And another thing I’ll tell you; every time people call me to give women empowerment speeches, I always say men back then, as a Muslim, the Prophet Muhammad was working for his wife, who was older than him and was an entrepreneur and he married her and he worked for her. So I don’t know if entrepreneurship is a new thing or a thing that existed and died. So all these empowering thing…women were so strong, they were always strong. What went wrong? I don’t know. We can blame both. We can blame men, we can blame life. We can sit down and play the blame game. But it’s time for us to say, you know what? That’s enough. Life is genderless.

Rana Nawas: (22:48)
Life ought to be genderless. Ought to be.

Sara Al Madani: (22:50)
And we’re not competing. We are completing each other.

Rana Nawas: (22:52)
Well, I don’t want to say genderless. I mean, what’s the right term? I mean, you know, gender neutral. It should be gender neutral. And it isn’t, because as we know, only about five percent of fortune 500 CEO’s are female, most global political leaders are male and it’s not because women don’t care or women aren’t smart or women aren’t ambitious…

Sara Al Madani: (23:11)
They’re so smart and scary and ambitious.

Rana Nawas: (23:14)
Right. So something is happening that’s keeping these women out of leadership positions in business and in politics all along the way.

Sara Al Madani: (23:21)
It’s control.

Rana Nawas: (23:22)
And I’m not saying it’s any one gender’s fault. And actually, I’m one of these people who does believe we shouldn’t say, all right, it’s man versus woman because it isn’t. And there’s something else that I do agree with you on, which is boys and girls are socialized the same. Our parents tell us the same things. We go to the same school, we get the same messages, you know, we watched the same shows on tv, so boys and girls grow up with the same biases and these are biases that are sort of engendered in us at a very young age. And we grow up with the same ones. So it isn’t men versus women. It is people, in my view, it is people who understand and agree that women are suppressed and are not achieving their full potential. And we want to fix that. And that’s men and women. There are women who don’t support…there are women who are not feminists. And there are men who are. So we need to divorce this – like being pro-woman doesn’t mean being a woman.

Sara Al Madani: (24:22)
Yeah, it’s true. But if you want to implement change…I mean I love the movement that’s been happening in the world for the past 5-10 years when it comes to women. But if we want to change, we have got to go to the foundation of all of this: education system. Our books sought cooking in the kitchen, Mohammad is outside playing with his dad. John is fixing the car with his father. Tina is preparing lunch with her mom. It already brainwashes you from a young age.

Rana Nawas: (24:56)
100 percent and now that’s a problem. It is. That is a huge part of the problem and that’s why there are all these new books coming out, which I’m buying and reading to my sons because I have two sons and you have a son and we have to be very careful because the men we want to raise are men who are equal partners with women and men who believe that women should have equal opportunity, equal pay. Men who believe that they should share the responsibilities of child care and home care. And so the burden’s on us, really, the mothers of sons.

Sara Al Madani: (25:28)
It’s true and I remember I was sitting with a woman a while ago and she was like, why do you drag your son everywhere with you? She’s like, is it because you’re busy and you feel guilty? I was like, no. She means because my son goes to all my meetings. When I give a speech, I carry him sometimes. He’s with me at all my events. I was like, no, I’m developing a character. I am showing my son how hard I work to provide, how hard I work for the toys I buy him and he needs to see that it’s okay if it’s not a man doing it and he needs to know that it’s fine. It’s equal. So yeah, she was like, well, keep your son at home. I was like, would you rather I get a nanny and throw him at home? And then you will come to me and tell me why is your son always with the nanny? Why isn’t he with you? I was like, society never gets satisfied, so I’m not living to satisfy you guys. I’m living to satisfy myself. I want to send a lot of messages to my child and whatever I’m doing in life, I’m going to keep it for him when I’m gone. I don’t take it to the grave and I need him to appreciate and love what I do at a young age. I try so hard to show him that. Even when my dad goes to work in the morning, my son asks me, he’s like, where is grandfather going? I’m like, work. He’s like but you go to work. I was like, we both work because we both provide and I keep talking to him about how we are all equal and he might not get it, but it settles down and grabs a seat in his subconscious mind and it stays there. That’s 100 percent true.

Rana Nawas: (26:49)
And he’s inspired by you. You know, women like you don’t just inspire women, you inspire men too. You know what? Shockingly. Yes. I got shocked when men were like, you really inspire us, although some of the content that I write about sometimes, especially like my strongest platforms, Linkedin, I target women and my replies are also men and how inspired they are with all of this. That’s when you realize that the whole world wants to be inspired. Everyone needs it.

Sara Al Madani: (27:17)
Everyone is looking for it.

Rana Nawas: (27:17)
Exactly. And actually we have a lot of male listeners When Women Win.

Sara Al Madani: (27:21)
That’s amazing. What’s the percentage? Do you know?

Rana Nawas: (27:23)
About 20.

Sara Al Madani: (27:24)
Wow. Yeah, that’s a big number.

Rana Nawas: (27:26)
It is. I’m so happy and that’s why we start every episode with ladies and gentlemen because we want men in this conversation. You know, we are giving access to female role models who even they don’t have access to just because there are so few women at that level.

Sara Al Madani: (27:41)
It’s true. I said it and I’ll say it again: we don’t compete, we complete each other. It’s not a competition.

Rana Nawas: (27:48)
Are you a reader Sara?

Sara Al Madani: (27:51)
I’m dyslexic, so no, but I wish I was. Because when I look at a book, I’m always tempted to dive into the book, but then my brain just stops me so I don’t read. I watch the movie.

Rana Nawas: (28:03)
There’s audio books too.

Sara Al Madani: (28:04)
I do.

Rana Nawas: (28:04)
You can listen to podcasts.

Sara Al Madani: (28:04)
I love podcasts, but I’ll tell you something about dyslexic, about being dyslexic. Your mind is moody. And I am very good at painting, but only when I have the mood. If I don’t have the mood I draw like as if a chicken ran across the paper with ink in her feet. But when I’m in the mood, I create masterpieces. It’s the same with even podcasts. Like if it’s something I love, my brain would open up and make me hear it. But if it’s a long reading, long book, my brain would shut down and would like switch off. We use the creative side of our minds – so easily distracted, gets bored easily and always searching for other things.

Rana Nawas: (28:42)
Well, this is what I find super interesting about you. You say that you’re easily bored and you’re looking for new things, but you’ve managed to build businesses and you’ve sustained settlement and fashion for like 15, 18 years now?

Sara Al Madani: (28:55)
No, 17 years.

Rana Nawas: (28:57)
17 years!

Sara Al Madani: (28:58)
Because Rana I do not invest at a drop of tear or sweat or money in something I’m not passionate about. Passion is your glue to everything you do. That’s why when you’re doing business, they say, do something you’re passionate about because the minute you hit rock bottom, business is about going up and down, it’s not about making money constantly, so if you’re not passionate, the minute you hit rock bottom, you’d walk away, you’d lose interest. You make wrong decisions. But if you’re passionate, then you hold on because passion is your glue to what you do. You would wait and then you’d rise again. You know, I did enter businesses where a month or two or three in the business I’d apologize to everyone I am working with and say I can’t do this. It’s not my thing.

Rana Nawas: (29:43)
You nip it in the bud quite early.

Sara Al Madani: (29:44)
Yeah, I can’t do this and even if there was money spent, I’ll say keep the money, I owe you this because I was part of this and I need to leave now, so if there was any money spent on expenses, keep it, but if there are any other investments I need to put in, I won’t, because I’m not interested. So you have the right to walk away and not feel bad about anything, if you know and you feel that this is not your thing. A lot of people stick and I’ve seen women stick to businesses, Rana, where they’re not happy just because they felt bad to withdraw and they felt like they owe someone something or they felt like they were obliged or they have to prove a point. You don’t have to prove anything.

Rana Nawas: (30:21)
I think it’s this guilt thing. It is the skill that really affects women disproportionately. I don’t know why. It’s like an inbuilt guilt mechanism. I want to touch a bit on your experience being on that board in Sharjah because 2 women, 19 men, and this is because we have a lot of international listeners for When Women Win. We found out today that we are listened to in 129 countries.

Sara Al Madani: (30:45)
That’s amazing.

Rana Nawas: (30:45)
Yeah. One, two, nine.

Sara Al Madani: (30:46)
A big shout out to everyone listening.

Rana Nawas: (30:48)
Seriously. Exactly. And, and so, you know, their impression of the Arab world, the Middle East, the Gulf States, Sharjah, if they know it, you know, would not be one that has two women on the Sharjah Business Council Board. How did that happen? What’s been your experience and what are you guys trying to achieve on that board?

Sara Al Madani: (31:12)
So basically being a board member in the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, your job is the commerce and industry. You are the ones that make decisions financially and put strategies to serve the commerce of the city. And you are a lobby between foreign business and the city as well. And you are the landing pad for both and vice versa.

Rana Nawas: (31:34)
You mean trying to get foreign businesses to invest?

Sara Al Madani: (31:36)
So if you’re a foreign company who wants to invest in Sharjah, you would go through the Chamber because we are the ones that facilitate and do all that. So we are your lobby basically. When you join the board, you have to be…you have to understand that conflict of interest is a big thing. So you have to be unbiased.,You have to go in understanding that you are doing this completely voluntarily for the sake of the wellbeing of the city. That’s it. Which is hard because we all have, all the board members run businesses, and some of them are similar to the things we do. So when to draw the line and when to stop – you need to learn all these things, right?

Rana Nawas: (32:10)
Alright because then you’re all business people who might be welcoming in competition for example.

Sara Al Madani: (32:14)
Exactly. Competition, we might, for example, offer things you know, and it’s a very shaky ground. You got to be very careful and it teaches you a lot of discipline. And it’s beautiful because I’m the youngest. I was never ever treated or mistreated in any way. I am treated as if I’m the eldest in there. I am listened to and my voice is heard and respected. My opinion is always asked for. It’s very amazing and even Sheikh Sultan emphasizes on the fact that you only have two women, so you got to, you know, take care of everything they say, you are responsible and they are just like every other man sitting here. And it just touches your heart because I know we should be more, like more women involved, but it was only one. Now it’s two. Hopefully it’s going to grow more. Yeah we’ve been re-elected. It is a blessing. I learned a lot from the government and realized that when there is power and it is used for good, I love it. It’s a passion of mine. Having that power and using it for the wellbeing of others for doing something good just shows you how beautiful power can be if used the right way.

Rana Nawas: (33:27)
And I really would encourage the listeners to go on my instagram Rana Nawas, or to see Sara, you know. I mean, she’s someone, she’s a lady, for most of you, you won’t guess this from the way she’s speaking, but she is an Emirati lady in a a’abayah and a shaala and she sits with these men in their kandoras and, you know, you got to see this lady.

Sara Al Madani: (33:49)
I love it. You know, I’ve never felt left out. I sit with them. They’re like my brothers, they’re like my colleagues.

Rana Nawas: (33:56)
Even if they are 20 years older than you?

Sara Al Madani: (33:58)
They are family. They are all my family. Yeah. It’s just fun. We even look forward to our meetings. You know what I mean? And it’s, it’s interesting, but I’ll tell you what women add to boards because a lot of people say, so why should we have women on boards if we have enough men that are smart enough to do all these things? Well, women add color to the board. And what color means is ease. Comfortability. Usually men, when they are in boards, and I’ve heard that from previous board members even our chairman’s, they would say men would always fight, always be angry, always argue. When women are there, men don’t do that. And they’re more in touch with their emotional side. So they’ll watch what they say. They will watch the choices they make because there are women sitting with them. So women bring that balance.

Rana Nawas: (34:39)
Well hopefully they bring much more than that.

Sara Al Madani: (34:40)
Oh no, much more of course. You wouldn’t be selected to be on the board unless you’ve got the brains for it, you know, but internally between the members.

Rana Nawas: (34:47)
You mean at an interpersonal level?

Sara Al Madani: (34:49)

Rana Nawas: (34:49)
Okay. So they bring a different perspective. Obviously they bring the brains and the experience, all of that. But at an interpersonal level, they create a safer space, don’t they? Emotionally safe.

Sara Al Madani: (34:59)
Emotion and balanced space. It’s not just rational and it’s not cut-throat anymore. There’s like more of a human element to it. And men like that. I like the board members, like we like that.

Rana Nawas: (35:11)
Well, I mean they say the magic number is 30 percent of board should be women and that’s because more women means more perspective. It’s not about gender, it’s about diversity. It’s diversity of thought and diversity of perspective. And so just by being a different gender, by being a different race, by being a different age, you bring those different perspectives.

Sara Al Madani: (35:33)
And you know, I believe in the fact that we as women, there are things we can do that men can do better than us and there are things that a woman can do better than men.

Rana Nawas: (35:43)
Yeah. Like have babies.

Sara Al Madani: (35:44)
Exactly. Oh my gosh. That experience.

Rana Nawas: (35:48)
I wish I could outsource that to my husband, but yeah anyways.

Sara Al Madani: (35:51)
I wish we could order them on eBay. But it’s a beautiful procedure. We give life.

Rana Nawas: (35:59)
I’ve always wondered Sara, is there a woman in particular who has influenced you?

Sara Al Madani: (36:05)
To be honest, like I know you’re expecting a name right now, but I am my biggest inspiration.

Rana Nawas: (36:12)
Wow I love that!

Sara Al Madani: (36:12)
Because I started young and it was a man’s world at that time. I was young. Every time I’d ask someone for help, they would ask for something in return. I scratch your back. You scratch mine. Back then there was no such thing as role models. The world was different. There was no social media and all that. So the accessibility to these names and these influential people wasn’t there. So I am my own role model. I am my own inspiration and I’ve been through so much and I’ve made it. I survived it and I’m strong. So women should not be shy to say “I believe in me and I am my inspiration.” So I am my role model. But I’ll tell you what moves me. Every successful woman I meet, you know, I don’t look at her from an envy perspective or jealousy. I honestly get moved, like I get so happy when I see a successful women that it makes me so happy. There’s a term that I have for it, but it’s inappropriate. I’m not going to use it on your podcast.

Rana Nawas: (37:05)
I just, I love what you just said and and you know we did create When Women Win to give women everywhere access to role models. And I think it’s amazing that you’re your own role model and I wish, I wish more women would feel that way and maybe we’ll help them get there.

Sara Al Madani: (37:25)
Enshallah. Yeah. Of course.

Rana Nawas: (37:25)
This is a great place to end, Sarah. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Sara Al Madani: (37:29)
Thank you Rana.

Rana Nawas: (37:31)
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. I’d love to hear from you. So please head over to whenwomenwin to give feedback. While you’re there, you can find all episodes and show notes and sign up for our monthly newsletter. Wherever you’re listening right now, do remember to hit the subscribe button to be notified of future episodes and please write a review when you can to let others know what to expect. Thanks, and have a great day.

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