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Carla Harris: Navigating Wall Street Through Sponsorship & Authenticity

Carla Harris is a gospel singer who has sold out 5 concerts in Carnegie Hall. She is also a Vice Chair and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, the global investment bank – and is responsible for increasing client connectivity and penetration to enhance revenue generation across the firm. Over her 30 year career, Carla has worked across numerous industries and executed many IPOs, from UPS to Martha Stewart Living.

In August 2013, Carla was appointed by President Barack Obama to chair the National Women’s Business Council. She is the past Chair of the Board of the Morgan Stanley Foundation and of The Executive Leadership Council, and currently sits on several NGO boards. Carla is the author of two books, Strategize to Win (2014) and of Expect to Win (2009), and has been named on lists like:

  • “The 50 Most Powerful Black Executives in Corporate America”
  • “Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Finance”
  • “Top 75 African Americans on Wall Street”

We talked about the obstacles Carla faced rising through Corporate and how she overcame them – lots of practical tips here! We discussed how to identify and approach a sponsor, and how to be one yourself. We talked about owning one’s power and voice, and how one must always speak up for themselves and others.

My favorite quotes of the episode were:

  • “Nobody can be you the way that you can be you”, and
  • “I demonstrated that I was listening – and everybody values being heard”

You can find Carla on social media at @carlaspearls or at her website . A huge thank you to the 2020 Global Women’s Forum Dubai for making this interview possible.

We would love to hear from you! Please drop us a note or take this 1-minute survey to propose topics or guests you’d like to see on future shows.  Thank you!

Kristalina Georgieva: Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)

How did a woman born into communist Bulgaria rise to lead one of the most powerful institutions on earth? This is the question I asked Kristalina Georgieva, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and the first person from an emerging-market economy to head the world’s crisis lender with its $1 trillion in resources.

I had the pleasure of spending time with Kristalina at the 2020 Global Women’s Forum Dubai, and we delved into her personal story, the forks in the road and the choices she made that led to this role. I asked Kristalina for advice to women on the rise, as well as the key takeaways from the IMF’s recent report on the power of diversity.

Prior to the IMF, Kristalina was the CEO of the World Bank for two years, before which she served as European Commission Vice President for Budget and Human Resources, overseeing the EU’s €161 billion budget and 33,000 staff. In that capacity, she was deeply involved in efforts to address the Euro Area debt crisis and the 2015 refugee crisis. From 2010-2014, Kristalina was Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, managing one of the world’s largest humanitarian aid budgets – during our chat, she referred to this experience as a formative one. In 2010, she was named “European of the Year” for her leadership in the EU’s humanitarian response to crises.

My favorite quotes of the episode were:

  • “We gain nothing from anxiety… And a smile opens more doors than a shout”
  • “I saw what real tragedy is, and I saw how people who have nothing can be generous and kind and supportive to each other… I learn from them”

We did not talk about books, but Kristalina did recommend a movie called Bridge of Spies. We ended our chat with a call to action: the IMF is looking to hire women from the MENA Region with a strong background in economic policy… “Don’t be shy; please apply!”

You can find Kristalina on Twitter and LinkedIn. A huge thank you to the 2020 Global Women’s Forum Dubai, where this episode was recorded.

The team at When Women Win would love to hear from you… Please drop us a note or take this 1-minute survey to propose topics or guests you’d like to see on future shows.  Thank you!

Elissa Freiha: An Entrepreneurial Pivot That Brought Success To Purpose

Elissa Freiha is an entrepreneur, investor, public speaker and women’s rights advocate. At the age of 24 she started an angel investment network – and when the business tanked, she pivoted Womena towards an accelerator that promotes female inclusion in the Middle East’s tech start-up sector.

As a prominent speaker on women’s involvement in entrepreneurship and active angel investor with over 30 investments between North America and MENA, Elissa has been frequently recognized in various media outlets, appearing on BBC’s 30 under 30, Arabian Business’ “100 World’s Most Influential Arabs”, “Entrepreneur of the year 2019” by One Young World, and the 2020 Forbes Middle East list of power business women.

This episode explores two main themes… The first is the entrepreneurial pivot (what it looks like, why pivot, how pivot, what are key success factors)? For those of you who aren’t sure what a pivot is, it’s when somebody starts a business and it is NOT going well (ie most start-ups), and instead of shutting down, they change tack and test a new business model. Successful turn-arounds are great to learn from, whether you’re an entrepreneur, aspiring entrepreneur or investor. The second theme? We took on the patriarchy – of course!

My favorite quote of the episode was: “What’s interesting about success is, when it’s perceived it often manifests.” And Elissa’s book recommendation was The Greater Freedom by Alya Mooro.

You can find Elissa on Twitter and Instagram.

Please do get in touch with the team at When Women Win and let us know what you think of this episode or the show in general. You can reach us via InstagramLinkedIn – or the web contact form. Thank you!

Nadine Mezher: Owning Your Financial Independence

Most women on earth will have to make financial decisions on their own at some point in their life, due to divorce or longer life expectancy. We therefore need to educate, enable and embolden ourselves – as well as our children – so that we can all own our financial independence. This episode is for people who want to learn about investing cheaply and/ or people thinking of entrepreneurship.

Nadine Mezher is the co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of award-winning Fintech start-up Sarwa, the first automated investment advisory platform in the Middle East – one that’s accessible from all over the planet. Sarwa is trying to make investing more accessible to the masses, through low minimum investment amounts and extremely low fees. Like other robo-advisory platforms, they’re democratising investing. And there is clearly demand: just 2 years into its existence, Sarwa has won loads of competitions and raised 3 rounds of funding…

Nadine co-founded Sarwa after years of being a retail consultant to large public and private sector clients. Prior to that, she was in fashion management and marketing across various industries. Nadine was named MENA Achieving Women 2019 by Entrepreneur Middle East Magazine.

What did we talk about? Initially, it was trees… I know it sounds weird, but this bit is going to interest & surprise you. It takes us a few minutes to get into investing: the mistakes that people typically make, and how we can avoid them using the 4 rules of investing. She had some data to back up what I knew anecdotally: that most everyday “financial advisors” underperform the market. We discussed her experience as an entrepreneur and the challenges she faces every day, both in business and as a mom. And finally, we talked about the ingredients of success as well as the failures along the way.

My favorite quotes of the episode were:

  • “You only incur the loss when you pull out of the market”
  • “I’m not someone who thinks that there’s one career path per person”
  • “Failure is part of the learning process for me”

You can find Nadine on LinkedIn or at

As mentioned on the show, we’d like to highlight some young women-owned start-ups over the 2019 Christmas holidays… Please email between December 16th & 23rd a 30-50 second video telling us about your business. Two videos will be selected per week – four in total. Please keep the video snappy – and if you’d like some help creating it, check out my new YouTube video on crafting a badass Elevator Pitch.

Do keep an eye on our social media platforms as some changes are planned for 2020! If you enjoy the podcast and are an iTunes user, dropping us a rating and review would be the best Christmas present ever 😊

The team here wishes you a glorious festive season – you need it and deserve it. We’ll be back on air on Monday January 6th. Happy Holidays!

Arlan Hamilton: Built a Venture Capital Fund While Homeless

This episode was recorded in front of a live audience at the 2019 Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival, an incredible get-together that’s been running for 3 years… Each of those 3 years, I’ve been invited to do a When Women Win interview live on stage. It’s when I first met the Melltoo founders, a hilarious husband/ wife entrepreneurial team; where I interviewed Donna Benton – one of Dubai’s most successful entrepreneurs EVER, and this year’s guest was a remarkable human who flew over from Los Angeles to join us…

Arlan Hamilton built a venture capital fund while homeless. She is the Founder and Managing Partner of Backstage Capital, a fund that is dedicated to minimizing funding disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders from underrepresented groups.

Started from scratch in 2015, Backstage has now invested nearly $7m into 130 startups led by underestimated founders. Arlan has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, Fortune, Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, and was recently named on Fortune magazine’s 40 under 40 list.

We talked about Arlan’s journey, from sleeping rough to building a multi-million dollar fund. We discussed the underrepresented founders she invests in and what she has learnt from them; advice for entrepreneurs and investors; and the two factors she has found that often differentiate the more successful start-ups from the rest. We talked about looking after yourself as well as others, and how to cope with the immense stress of having others – families – relying on you. We talked about Arlan’s podcast “Your First Million”, her upcoming book “It’s About Damn Time”, the meaning of failure and the impact of success.

There were so many fantastic quotes – here are just two:

  • “Investors should invest in start-ups led by people who have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder”
  • “The seed doesn’t see the petal”

Arlan had two book recommendations: her own book which is available on pre-order, to be released in May 2020 😊 “It’s About Damn Time”, and The Memo by Minda Harts.

You can find Arlan on Twitter and Instagram @arlanwashere.

Please do get in touch with the team at When Women Win and let us know what you think of this episode or the show in general. You can reach us via InstagramLinkedIn – or the web contact form. Thank you!

Dima Ayad: the Business of Inclusive Fashion

Dima Ayad began her career in hospitality, developing restaurant and entertainment concepts for leading hotel chains like Kerzner, Raffles and Jumeirah. During her 15 year tenure, she launched restaurants like Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen, and award-winning music festivals like Sandance.

Whilst still working full-time in hospitality, a difficult personal experience led Dima to address a problem that she had struggled with for years: her clothing size (12/14 US) just wasn’t available. She began making her own evening gowns, and eventually created her eponymous label (Dima Ayad) for women of all shapes and sizes. A few years in, the brand took off and Dima left hospitality to devote herself entirely to her mission: to make luxury fashion accessible to women of all sizes.

We talked about how she was essentially forced to address the market gap, and how she has scaled her business – failures, challenges, and tips for success. We discussed what “plus size” and “luxury fashion” actually mean, why clothes are not available in sizes that would fit more than half the population and how the global idea of beauty has morphed over time from Marilyn Monroe to Kate Moss. We also touched on sustainability in fashion and how wasteful it is as an industry. Maybe the biggest lesson I took away is the massive impact that clothes can have on your mood and your day, how clothes can be empowering or the opposite. Dima gave a fantastically relatable example – I hope you’ll listen to it.

My favorite quote was “There’s something so beautiful about being yourself”. And Dima’s book recommendation was Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie.

You can find Dima at her website or on Instagram.

Please do get in touch with the team at When Women Win and let us know what you think of this episode or the show in general. You can reach us via InstagramTwitter, LinkedIn. Thank you!

Anne-Marie Slaughter: Journey to Parity For Men and Women

Anne-Marie Slaughter is the CEO of New America, a think and action tank dedicated to renewing America in the Digital Age. She has been a law professor at Harvard, as well as a professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and has written or edited 8 books. From 2009–2011, Anne-Marie served as director of policy planning for the United States Department of State. It was this experience that led her to pen a ground-breaking article in 2012: “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”.

Anne-Marie’s point of view was a shock to the corporate system. Here was one of the most powerful women on planet earth saying that combining family and career in today’s work construct was just not possible. In the first four days after publication, the Atlantic article attracted 725,000 unique readers, making it the most popular piece ever published in that magazine.

I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Anne-Marie recently, at the Nexus Summit in New York. I wanted to know whether her views had changed in any way over the past 7 years. We also talked about how people react to businesswomen taking time out for personal reasons and how organisations need to level the playing field. We discussed the role of men and what they need from the parity movement. We talked about her latest book, The Chessboard and the Web; and Anne-Marie shared a sure-fire tip on how to get more done in a day.

My favorite quote was a sobering one: “Life happens… somebody has to make the choice for care over career, and our society is structured such that people who do that are radically devalued”.

You can find Anne-Marie on Twitter and at

Please do get in touch with the team at When Women Win and let us know what you think of this episode or the show in general. You can reach us via InstagramTwitter, LinkedIn – or the contact form on the home page. Thank you!

Supercar Blondie: the World’s #1 Reviewer of Supercars

Alex Hirschi, otherwise known as Supercar Blondie, does video reviews of the world’s fastest and rarest cars. She is an Australian woman living in Dubai, and has 16 million followers across multiple social media channels.

Alex & I talked about her journey from small town Australia to becoming the world’s most popular supercar reviewer: the challenges in starting a side hustle while having a full-time job, working with your spouse, trying to break into a male-dominated world, coping with bullies, how blonde she actually is – and much, much more! Hundreds of fans sent questions in via the When Women Win Instagram page, and many of them were answered.

This show was raw and real. One of my favorite quotes was her advice to women who are struggling in male-dominant worlds: “keep showing up”. Supercar Blondie’s book recommendation is I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes.

You can find Supercar Blondie on Instagram and YouTube.

Why not get in touch with the team at When Women Win and let us know what you think of this episode or the show in general? You can reach us via InstagramTwitter, LinkedIn – or the contact form on the home page. Thank you!

Mona Ataya: Being a Serial Entrepreneur

Mona Ataya is one of the Middle East’s most prominent entrepreneurs, having built two hugely successful online businesses in the last 18 years: Bayt and Mumzworld.

Mona Ataya founded Mumzworld in 2011 to fill a void for mothers that she herself faced twice: firstly while preparing to become a mother of twins and couldn’t find local resources, and then later in trying to buy her children quality, affordable toys. Prior to Mumzworld, Mona co-founded Bayt, the first online search engine for jobs in the Middle East. Mona actually started out in the corporate world and spent 10 years working for FMCG giants Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson.

We discussed Mona’s career drivers and how her desire for social impact shaped her path. We talked about lessons from the corporate world like resourcefulness and accountability. We addressed the challenges of e-commerce and how to overcome them, and how to build a company culture that is ìcustomer obsessedî. I asked about support and coping mechanisms – because none of this can be easy! Finally, we discussed what to look for in investors, given her experience raising 5 rounds of funding for Mumzworld. (Hint: it ain’t just the money!)

This episode was extra-special as it was recorded in a Careem! For international listeners, Careem is the Middle East’s leading ride-hailing app. So yes: this was my first ever WWW interview in a taxi – and we had loads of fun. A big thank you to Careem for making it happen. You can find them at or @CareemUAE on Twitter.

If you would like to follow Mona Ataya you can find her through or @Mumzworld on Twitter and Instagram.

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 has built two hugely successful online businesses in the last 18 years. Mona Ataya found in 2011 to fill a void for mothers that she herself faced twice. Firstly, while preparing to become a mother of twins and later in trying to buy her children quality affordable toys. Prior to Mumzworld, Mona coounded, the first online search engine for jobs in the Middle East and that was after a corporate career working for FMCG, Giance, Procter & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson. We discussed Mona’s career drivers and how her desire for social impact shaped her path. We talked about the challenges of ecommerce and how to overcome them and how to build a company culture that is customer obsessed and we discussed what to look for in investors, given her experience raising five rounds of funding for Mumzworld. Now this episode was extra special as it was recorded in a Careem. For international listeners, Careem is the Middle East leading ride hailing app. So yes, this was my first ever interview in a taxi and it was so much fun. A big shout out to Careem for making it happen. Now let’s get into it. Mona, I’m so happy to have you on When Women Win. Thanks very much for taking the time.


Mona Ataya: (01:22)

My pleasure.


Rana Nawas: (01:24)

Awesome, and on Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day.


Mona Ataya: (01:26)

Thank you very much. You too.


Rana Nawas: (01:27)

Which is really apt for a Mumzworld interview, isn’t it? Right, we have so much to cover. So I might just do this chronologically.


Mona Ataya: (01:35)



Rana Nawas: (01:36)

So you’re the second child of five. How has that shaped you?


Mona Ataya: (01:40)

As number two of a large family, you fight for your time and you fight for your achievements. So they always say that the first child gets over the trial and error of the parents. So the parents are kind of testing their way around parenting. With the second child, the parents are much more relaxed. So I got the benefit of very relaxed parents who essentially believed that a child needs to be let free to kind of discover and as a young child I was, I think by nature, a very energetic, very competitive, very athletic, and I was let free to discover what I liked, what I was good at, and what I wanted to eventually achieve.


Rana Nawas: (02:28)

And you had to probably speak a little louder. Cause, five children in the house, how’d you get heard?


Mona Ataya: (02:33)

So the five of us were very close. The first three siblings were very close in age, the younger two were, there was an age gap so there was less kind of interaction. We really were three growing up, if you like and we were very close both in personality and kind of respect for each other. So we got the same attention from our parents, but we’d obviously went our different paths.


Rana Nawas: (02:58)

Got it, okay. So you started your career at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, US. A big corporation and then you moved to another big corporation, FMCG, as well. Johnson & Johnson, first in the Middle East and then in Switzerland. So how many years in all were you in FMCG Corporate world?


Mona Ataya: (03:16)

Too many years to admit. I was in the corporate world for 10 years.


Rana Nawas: (03:23)

Ten years and why did you go into FMCG?


Mona Ataya: (03:26)

When I graduated as an undergrad, my initial plan was to go back to Kuwait, which was home for me back then, get a couple of years of experience, and then go back and do an MBA and that was the time of the Kuwait invasion. So in the summer, we woke up one morning and we were


Rana Nawas: (03:46)

This was 1990.


Mona Ataya: (03:46)

This was 1990. We were told that, you know, Kuwait is no more. That we didn’t have a place to go back to, essentially. So we had to reinvent our future. So our parents and ourselves, we moved to the United States. I applied to grad schools and the intent was to go back to grad school for a couple of years and then start working. As fate would have it, I met in a career fair, the career head for Proctor & Gamble and I applied. It was an unplanned application and one thing led to the other and I got the job offer very shortly after the application and that’s when I started my career.


Rana Nawas: (04:30)

And what did you learn from your experiences at Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson as a corporate environment?


Mona Ataya: (04:36)

My very first project at Procter & Gamble was creating a continuity plan for a baby and child product, for baby detergent actually and I remember my first day on the job, I was called into my bosses office. She was about to leave on a two week vacation and she sat in front of me and said, I want you over the next two weeks while I’m away to develop a continuity plan for these two products.


Rana Nawas: (05:03)

Did you know what that was?


Mona Ataya: (05:04)

So I had no idea what a continuity plan was. I didn’t know anything about the product and I certainly didn’t know anything about the systems, the processes of the organization. So I was thrown into the deep end on day one and that for me was probably the best crash course early on to figure it out. So I had to be resourceful. I had to talk to the right people, figure out the right network that would allow me to succeed and two weeks later when she came back, I presented my continuity plan and my entire journey in my early career was really about learning accountability, learning ownership, learning how to be resourceful and to figure it out and I remember one afternoon I actually was at the printer making photocopies for a presentation that I had and a manager passed from behind me and tapped me on the back and I looked back and I said, good morning and the manager said, I am so happy with what I see because what you’re showing me is that you’re taking basically A-Z responsibility over everything. So you don’t just delegate the small or the big things to others, but you are doing essentially the entire A-Z so you’re learning what it takes to make a project come to life and this is something that I’ve taken into my career throughout.


Rana Nawas: (06:29)

Okay. So what advice would you have for women in the corporate world?


Mona Ataya: (06:35)

So again, I think the advice I would give a woman would be the exact same advice I would give a man. Each of us has to determine what it is that we a are passionate about. What is it that we want to achieve and every person’s journey. Again, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman is different. So what is it that I want to achieve? What’s my passion, what am I good at, and what do I want to develop? And follow that regardless of your gender. Now, given that we’re Mother’s Day I will maybe add a little snippet about mothers because for the mother it’s a little bit more difficult because a mother at the end of the day has a different level of responsibility. She is ultimately the first point of call for her children. She’s like go to for her children first and foremost. I believe although a father can be and is oftentimes very hands on and very involved and certainly is a partner in parenting, but at the end of the day the mother is at the frontline and so for the mother who chooses a career, particularly an entrepreneurial career where she is pulled in every direction, she needs to make some tough choices and you she needs to get into the buy in of her family, her children, her husband. That’s it. Do you accept that I’m making sacrifices in time? Do you accept that I’m making sacrifices and priority? Do you accept that I’m not always going to be with you and supporting you because I’m going to be pulled in other directions and then so far that the family unit buys in on that, then it’s an easier path.


Rana Nawas: (08:12)

So you need the support. You can’t do it on your own.


Mona Ataya: (08:15)

You definitely need the support of your entire network starting with a family. So again, I think I answered you in a long winded way. So the advice I would give again is follow your passions, follow your skills, and make sure that what you’re doing you’re doing for the right reason, and I keep saying this, make sure what you’re doing is for the right reason. If you are commercially minded and you just want to make a lot of money and that’s your motivation, then great. Find something that’s going to drive you in that direction. If your motivation is a social impact footprint in your life then follow that path and regardless of what comes your way during that journey, it becomes almost secondary because you are moving one step closer to that journey that you want to put for yourself.


Rana Nawas: (08:59)

So it sounds to me like your advice for women in the corporate world is actually quite similar to advice you would give entrepreneurs.


Mona Ataya: (09:05)



Rana Nawas: (09:05)

You know, about the support network, about the balance. Well, I don’t want to use the word balancing but could you tell us, I mean you’ve talked very openly about working 365 days a year and you know, sacrifices you had to make, you just mentioned. So could you share perhaps some coping mechanisms over, like specifically over and above the support of the family, which is absolutely essential.


Mona Ataya: (09:27)

So again, when I read, when I read sentences like Mona worked 365 days a year, I almost cringe and I’ll tell you why. Because at the end of the day, we all choose our path. What is it that we’re trying to achieve for ourselves and for our surroundings and work per se is everything we do is work. Whether you decide to work at home taking care of your children, whether you decide to go into the office. In so far that you are doing something that has a end goal, it is work. Regardless of what you say. So yes, I’m in constant mode of productivity. I’m in constant productivity. Whether it’s with my children, in the office, in my community, in my family, etc. Productivity for me as Mona that is absolutely central to who I am as a human being. You ask me about coping mechanisms. First and foremost, in order for you to give your maximum, you need to be healthy.


Rana Nawas: (10:32)



Mona Ataya: (10:32)

And healthy, by the way. Physically and mentally and emotionally. So how do you as an individual make sure that you are equipped physically, mentally, and emotionally? Many of us are healthy physically, but emotionally and mentally we’re drained. So it’s very important to have these checks and balances constantly. I do that all the time.


Rana Nawas: (10:49)

How do you check them? How do you check in?


Mona Ataya: (10:52)

So for me, one of my coping mechanisms, my emotional and mental health is really time with my children. It really is. So my time with my children, it sounds almost cliche, but my switch off when I go home every day and I spend some time with my youngest, for example, that really is an emotional release. It’s an emotional release that takes everything away and puts it, pushes everything to the side and put that smile back on my face and makes me remember why I’m doing what I’m doing.


Rana Nawas: (11:21)

Why do you say that makes you remember why you’re doing.


Mona Ataya: (11:24)

What I’m doing?


Rana Nawas: (11:25)

What’s that got to do?


Mona Ataya: (11:25)

Again, it’s again teaching my children productivity. Teaching the kids to take life full on and to contribute to life.


Rana Nawas: (11:34)

Because you have three sons, right?


Mona Ataya: (11:36)

Yeah. To be proactive in their life. To be proactive and when I see my children and their happiness, I remember that it’s all about I’m teaching them the right values. So coping is again, find the things that allow you to reconnect with yourself. It could be spiritually, which is very important. So prayer is a very important aspect for me. You know, the occasional spa time, the reading time. Music is for me a big release and just family time. Family time really is magic.


Rana Nawas: (12:09)

Let’s go back to your career if we could, Mona. You moved from the corporate world into entrepreneurship. You cofounded


Mona Ataya: (12:17)



Rana Nawas: (12:17)

The Middle East, I thin first online job search engine.


Mona Ataya: (12:21)



Rana Nawas: (12:21)

Why did you leave Johnson & Johnson, the corporate world? What motivated you?


Mona Ataya: (12:25)

Okay. So I believe that life presents to you opportunities when you’re ready for them and I believe that you prepare yourself over months or years with knowledge, resources, data points, and when you’re ready for a tipping point, opportunity presents and you have a choice. You either take that opportunity or you walk away from opportunity and life is about choices. When I was with Johnson & Johnson in Europe, I was, I consider to be at the peak of my corporate career. I loved every moment of it. I was based in a wonderful part of Europe, surrounded by very smart people working on projects that I was obsessed with. As faith would have it, I was ready for that opportunity to knock on my door and my brother at the time who was a serial and continues to be a serial entrepreneur, had an idea and he wanted to revolutionize recruitment in the Arab world. Back then in 2000 internet penetration was very low. A lot of great talented Arabs were leaving the region and not coming back for perceived lack of opportunity and connecting employers and job seekers was very difficult. You need a network to allow you to reach the right employer and employees couldn’t find the right talent. So Rabea’s vision at the time was to create an information flows and resources to allow better connectivity of job seekers and employers and he called me one afternoon while I was in Switzerland and said, would you like to do this with me? And I told him I am in a brilliant job, making a lot of money, living in europe, as free as a bird. Why would I want to do that with you? And then when I shut the phone, I realized that what I wanted in the next phase of my life was to be empowered to make decisions that would create impact. Not only for me as an individual but for my surroundings and ultimately my family. And I knew that once we made a business like Bayt successful, and it wasn’t if we made it, it was once we made it successful and we empowered job seekers and employers to connect, we were really creating a regional impact story and that was so important for me. And that’s when the decision was made to kind of let everything go and jumped the ship, jumped into the ship of entrepreneurship.


Rana Nawas: (14:54)

Okay. So you were driven by the desire to have social impact.


Mona Ataya: (14:57)



Rana Nawas: (14:58)

In your region.


Mona Ataya: (14:59)



Rana Nawas: (15:00)

Okay. So can we talk a bit about what has taught you about online recruitment? So let’s get technical now cause some of our listeners will be using these online platforms to look for jobs and others will be using them as recruiters.


Mona Ataya: (15:13)



Rana Nawas: (15:13)

So what tips do you have for job hunters to make their profile more attractive?


Mona Ataya: (15:18)

Sure. So is really a safe environment for job seekers to showcase themselves to the largest network of employers in the region. Like putting their CV up there and their cover letter and being very specific with what skills they have, what experiences they have, what talents they have, and really bring these to life. Employers can connect with them through the base platform. So for example, if I’m an employer and I’m looking for a marketing manager and I’m specifically looking for PPC and SEO skills. So with a simple click of two buttons, which is PPC and SEO, I can find a portfolio of candidates that I kind of am able to then tap into very quickly and seamlessly. So Bayt is that environment.


Rana Nawas: (16:04)

How effective is online recruitment? How much do you, how much success do you have?


Mona Ataya: (16:09)

So Bayt currently houses over 55 million job seekers and has worked with tens of thousands of employees across the region and employs 350 employees across the MENA region. So how successful it is, it has been very successful for now 17 years, 18 years and it’s growing from strength to strength. So again, safe environment, confidential environment, and a no intermediary environment for job seekers and employers to engage effectively and cost effectively.


Rana Nawas: (16:44)

Great. So you were going to come to the tips for people to make their profile more attractive.


Mona Ataya: (16:50)

So again, they can do it themselves by really bringing to life their skills and experiences or they can hire help. Now I know that Bayt, for example, has resources internally that guides and assists job seekers who want help in positioning their CV in a more articulate way.


Rana Nawas: (17:07)

And any tips for people using your platform to recruit?


Mona Ataya: (17:09)

So again, we have tens of thousands of employers who post their jobs and job seekers apply to these jobs. Alternately they can just go into this database of hundreds of thousands of job seekers and search based on criteria that they’re looking for. So for example, at Mumzworld we have hired 85 percent of our staff within four five days through Bayt.


Rana Nawas: (17:33)

Oh wow. So let’s talk a little bit about Mumzworld. You decided to leave or you’re still involved somewhat.


Mona Ataya: (17:39)

I’m still a, I’m still a shareholder.


Rana Nawas: (17:41)

You’re still a shareholder but you’ve left the day to day?


Mona Ataya: (17:44)



Rana Nawas: (17:44)

And set up an ecommerce website called Mumzworld. Why? Why did you Mumzworld?


Mona Ataya: (17:49)

In 2004, I became a mother of twin boys. At the time I was still at I was the VP of marketing and business development and for the first time in a very long time I felt that I was stuck. I actually did not know where to look for information and resources about preparation for the babies. I was expecting twins. What do I buy? Where do I find it? How do I keep them safe? How do I, how am I going to prepare myself to be a good parent? The questions were endless and here I am an entrepreneur, a businesswoman, who thought of herself as very resourceful and for the first time ever I actually realized that I wasn’t resourceful at all, that I had no answers to endless questions and that’s when basically I turned to the internet to educate myself on how to prepare myself for children and the reality is all the content that I absorbed in the nine months of pregnancy was international content. It wasn’t local content. It wasn’t about what mothers in Dubai faced or what mothers in Saudi faced or mothers in the Middle East faced. It was all about what international, US, or european mother’s faced and I wanted localized content. I wanted mothers that I could relate to locally and that didn’t exist. Similarly, products while I found a lot of information about products internationally, I didn’t know how to tap into them locally.


Rana Nawas: (19:29)



Mona Ataya: (19:29)

So Mumzworld, the seed for Mumzworld was so because I experienced firsthand the frustration of lack of quality choice of products. When I went into the stores to find the products, the prices were very high in the world is very transparent. So when you compare local prices to international prices, you know very quickly that there’s a big discrepancy or big variance in local versus international prices. So prices in the region was super high. Information about these products was nonexistent, particularly Arabic information and a network of mothers or community that I can tap into that can support me. Particularly again, in my case, I was expecting twins. I wanted to tap into a community of twin mothers that can guide me and support me and give me advice and none of that existed. So Mumzworld was built to empower mothers to make the most informed decisions for their children. How do we do that? By giving mothers access to the widest quality choice of product under one umbrella that they can search, compare, and buy. By giving moms access to everyday low prices, so no ups and downs of prices, but letting the mother know that we’re giving you the best value for your money 365 days a year. Third, information about these products in arabic and english that’s comprehensive that allows you to make informed decisions. Fourth, a community that you can tap into that can support you and guide you and share information with you and last but certainly not least is getting you the product that you want, when you want it, as quickly as you want it. So again, if you want to buy a bicycle or a stroller, finding the widest range under one umbrella that you can search, compare, and buy and get it delivered to you within 48 hours.


Rana Nawas: (21:17)

So you have a story about bicycles. I remember when we met you had a great story. Can you share, and I think that was a real eyeopener for you. Can you share that story?


Mona Ataya: (21:26)

Sure. So the business plan from Mumzworld was written in the summer of 2011. At the time, I was fully entrenched in Bayt. I was a mother of three children. So starting another startup was not something that was on my agenda at all. I wrote the business plan out of a sheer need to bring to life something that was so important for the region without an intention for me to launch it and then when I shared it with my partners at Bayt, they were very excited and they encouraged me to start the business. I paused the business plan again until a faithful afternoon and I said this earlier, I said how dots are crossed and the opportunity presents itself and so here’s another opportunity that presented itself and I decided to take one way versus another way and basically it was one afternoon with the business plan parked in a closet that’s locked and my boys had been asking me for bicycles for many, many months. I know nothing about bicycles and my husband’s an athlete. He has his super duper bicycle that he rides every weekend. So I asked my husband, please take the boys and buy them bikes. Now, every weekend we would postpone to the next and the next and one afternoon I was looking down from our, from our window into the community garden and my twin boys, seven at the time, were standing there hand in hand looking out at about a dozen children in the community who are riding around in their bikes and my two boys were standing on the sidelines.


Rana Nawas: (23:09)



Mona Ataya: (23:09)

Basically watching and at that time I felt like the worst mother. I felt that I was failing my children and I thought to myself, you know, this is terrible. I’m going to solve this. I put the boys in my car, drove to the nearest mall in mall of the emirates, and went to the only shop there that had bikes. 1900 dirhams later I walked out feeling like I’d been ripped off, robbed.


Rana Nawas: (23:36)

1,900 dirhams.


Mona Ataya: (23:37)

For two bikes.


Rana Nawas: (23:37)

That’s like $500.


Mona Ataya: (23:39)

Yes. For two bikes. For two bikes for seven year olds.


Rana Nawas: (23:42)

For seven year olds.


Mona Ataya: (23:42)

Complete rip off and I knew at the end of the day, you want to, you want to make your children happy but at the same time you feel that you have just been cheated, essentially. So my boys got their bikes, that lasted them another six months and then we threw the bikes away, but that’s when I knew that if I did nothing but create a place where mothers truly feel empowered with choice, great prices and information and I can empower other mothers like I want to be empowered then I’ve made an impact and that’s really when I took the business plan out of the closet and said, I’m going to do this regardless of how hard it’s going to be.


Rana Nawas: (24:21)

Wow. I love that story. So let’s talk about how hard it was, how hard it’s been. Ecommerce is tough. So what challenges have you faced in building Mumzworld and how have you overcome them? Let’s talk about the challenges first.


Mona Ataya: (24:34)

Okay. So ecommerce is, for me, a very difficult industry. Probably the hardest industries I’ve worked in and the reason it’s difficult in the Middle East particularly is because there are so many touch points that need to be perfect for the customer experience to be perfect and ultimately it’s about the customer experience. The reason we get up everyday is to empower mothers to make informed decisions and to make their lives easier. That’s why we do what we do and in order for us to achieve that, we need to have products that are perfect. We need to have an online experience that’s seamless. When the order is placed, we need to have pickers and packers and quality checkers and last mile couriers and payment gateways and customer care. There’s about 21 touch points that have to be perfect for that customer experience to be perfect.


Rana Nawas: (25:29)



Mona Ataya: (25:29)

The reality is it’s easy to get one, two, three, even five customer touchpoints perfect. But you want to get 21 touch points perfect is a challenge. Maybe the packer that day is having a bad day. He might put a plastic box underneath a metal one and then bend the plastic box. Maybe the customer care when she called the customer wasn’t smiling at the time. So any of these touch points, unless they are really buttoned up and perfected, can create a bad customer experience and destroy the experience. So that’s the greatest challenge. The challenge is about how do we as an organization become so customer obsessed that everything, everyone in Mumzworld does is ultimately directed at making the customer’s experience perfect. Not good, not great, but perfect. So that’s one challenge. Another challenge is talent. So finding talent that can survive and contribute in an entrepreneurial environment in the Middle East is not easy because you work harder than ever. You get paid less than the corporate world and expectations towards excellence are tremendous and customer centricity is as, is everything. It’s a no compromise and you need skills and you need skills that are ecommerce specific. So how do you find that equation and that equation is difficult to find in this part of the world. So you have to building it. You have to build it internally.


Rana Nawas: (27:05)

Gotcha. Okay and so is that what you’ve done?


Mona Ataya: (27:07)

We have.


Rana Nawas: (27:08)

So how have you addressed both those challenges? One of the seamless process and the other of the hiring.


Mona Ataya: (27:14)

Okay. The, the ecommerce ecosystem has come a long way in the past seven years, so payment gateways. When we started there was one payment gateway, sweet. Now there’s a handful last month career services, there was two or three that were used to slower deliveries. Now there are more to the ecosystem is shaping up which has made again our touch points or some of our touchpoints much easier. And we have also, we as an organization, very customer obsessed. Everything we do is about empowering our staff to empower the mothers. And so we hire a certain dna. We highly dna that’s obsessed with mothers that are typically parents themselves too. They get it so with customer care or mothers themselves, they get the urgency that the mother feels on the other line, so we have been able to create a culture or dna within mum’s world that is customer obsessed and that has helped us and again, the ecosystem because it’s had shaped up, has also helped us. We had built our own warehouses, so we in the past used to rely on last mile on a third party logistics providers, probably warehousing that. We do everything internally, so we have our own warehouses here in dubai. We’re building our own warehouses and saudi and that gives us much more control over every touch point, which is important.


Rana Nawas: (28:30)

Yeah. I think I read that in Tony Hsie’s book, the founder of Zappos.


Mona Ataya: (28:34)



Rana Nawas: (28:34)

I think he went that way as well and ended up buying his own warehouse. So I read somewhere that if you knew back in 2011 when you started Mumzworld, if you knew then what you know now that you would have done, I think, 90 percent of your decisions you would have taken differently. Why did, what made you say that?


Mona Ataya: (28:50)

I think that the challenges of ecommerce in this part of the world and the sacrifices and the compromises it requires of an entrepreneur are tremendous and I think I went in there recognizing that it was going to be an uphill battle, but not knowing how difficult that uphill battle is and I think that if I had known back then I would have prepared myself perhaps emotionally and mentally to cope with it more. So at the end of the day as a mother, you typically compromise yourself and your time versus your family or your staff, etcetera. So that’s one thing that I would have kind of gone in with wider eyes. The other one is really about the people and hiring talent that fits the DNA. It took us a while to really understand that equation, that DNA equation that will fit within the entrepreneurial environment in the Middle East. It took us awhile. But once we cracked it, we were able to look out for certain professional character traits that even though they may not have the skill set on day one, they have the character traits that we knew would allow them to figure it out and succeed.


Rana Nawas: (30:15)

So are you one of those hiring managers who believes more in character than scale?


Mona Ataya: (30:20)

One hundred percent.


Rana Nawas: (30:21)



Mona Ataya: (30:21)

One hundred percent. Top A players all have similar character traits. All of them have similar character traits.


Rana Nawas: (30:28)

And do you have men and women on your team? Are there men who work at Mumzworld?


Mona Ataya: (30:31)



Rana Nawas: (30:32)

Oh, okay.


Mona Ataya: (30:32)

We have diversity in gender, in age, in backgrounds.


Rana Nawas: (30:37)

Mona, you’ve received many awards and you’ve achieved so much. Could you just highlight two or three achievements you’re most proud of?


Mona Ataya: (30:45)

Endeavor is an achievement. Endeavor approached us six years ago, five years ago.


Rana Nawas: (30:51)

Can you just tell us what endeavor is?


Mona Ataya: (30:53)

Ok so Endeavor is a group of global entrepreneurs that are handpicked from around the world and they are entrepreneurs that are considered to be on the tipping point of great impact. So they are businesses that are expected to create great global or large global impact. For us to be approached by Endeavor very early on was a great privilege and a great honor and we were actually the first women led business in the region to be part of Endeavor so I feel very proud of that. I’m also very proud that our selection process with Endeavor took two months. Usually it takes up to a year. So we were literally selected and in Endeavor in a record amount of time. So and endeavor has opened a lot of doors for us. It has opened doors to a global network of phenomenal entrepreneurs who are really shaping the world’s ecosystem, as well as resources for mentorship and resources for just building the business. So it’s been a fantastic experience from day one. The other, the other thing that I’m particularly proud of is mentorship. So what this role has allowed me to do is to engage with entrepreneurs whether they are women or men and say it as it is I am, I think I’m known to be very, very open and very honest and I will kind of share the good, the bad, and the very ugly. So I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of entrepreneurs and mentoring them.


Rana Nawas: (32:39)

So you have mentees right now?


Mona Ataya: (32:41)

I do.


Rana Nawas: (32:41)

A few. Let’s talk about fundraising because you’ve raised, I think five rounds, which is a lot considering you’re only not even seven years old.


Mona Ataya: (32:50)



Rana Nawas: (32:50)

That’s incredible. Can you tell us a bit about that, how you did it, and what lessons you’ve learned along the way?


Mona Ataya: (32:55)

Sure. So fundraising goes hand in hand with building large businesses, particularly ecommerce. So ecommerce needs heavy capital to grow and to grow fast. We’ve been doubling and tripling our top line since we launched. So we are in hyper growth mode and hypergrowth mode is expensive. You need to build your infrastructure, you need to build your staff, etc. We’ve been proud of every touch point of funding. The seed round was us, the founders. The A round was institutional a brick and mortar investors from the region. We wanted brick and mortar investors in because we gave the online kind of experience and they would add value on the brick and mortar experience so that was a great kind of a marriage and then we raised a women only round back in 2012 and the objective there was to open a funding round at a discounted rate only to women who wanted to come back to the work environment and feel like they’re contributing to the region. So these women investors would help shape Mumzworld. We’re a business built by mothers for mothers. So what better investors than mothers to add value. We sent out a press release about the women only led funding and within two days we had, I think over 300 women who came in to meet us. These are your women who want to create impact. So you had stay at home moms who were doctors before, but decided to stay at home with their kids, which is fantastic. You had business owners, you had entrepreneurs. So out of this large selection we selected seven women who came in on the funding round and these seven women are very diverse. They Include an MIT grad and a venture capitalist owner, a stay at home mother who used to be a media manager, but now she decided to take care of her four children. You had a woman who heads 85 broads. So very diverse and these women meet with us regularly to help shape the future of Mumzworld and they are the eyes and the ears of Mumzworld in the market. We then raised our A round, which was our first really large round led by Wamda Capital couple of years ago. Wanda brings a lot of richness in resources and information and a great portfolio of other investment companies that we’ve tapped into, including I believe Careema and then we recently closed our biggest fundraising to date with six of our existing investors who came in again, which I think is a great testament to their faith and trust in the brands projectory and we also bought in three new, very large Saudi investors and these large Saudi investors are all FMCG giants in Saudi. Tamir group is one example. They are the distributor and manufacturer program with Johnson & Johnson products and Nestle. So they are the perfect for a perfect fit for a brand like Mumzworld.


Rana Nawas: (36:08)

So when I hear you saying all of your rounds actually you weren’t just after money, they had to bring the investors had to bring something else to the table.


Mona Ataya: (36:15)

One hundred percent.


Rana Nawas: (36:16)

Like the women brought, you know, motherhood, their experience and they’re your eyes and ears as you say or Wamda Capital brought a lot of connections and experiences in their investments in tech companies like Careem you’re right and also the last one, the last round is that because you’re planning to expand into Saudi.


Mona Ataya: (36:36)

Saudi will be our biggest market by the end of this year. It’s our fastest growing market, it’s a, we started kind of driving in Saudi early last year and it’s overtaking every other market by leaps and bounds. It’s a very exciting market for us. We’re already the leaders there. We’re the leaders in the region for mother baby and child and in Saudi we have very quickly kind of anchored our leadership and, you know, much of the scale is coming from there. So this, these two strategic partnerships in investors opens a lot of doors for us both into brands as well as into infrastructure in Saudi as we build warehouse capabilities, infrastructure capabilities, hiring talent capabilities to super, super exciting times for us in Saudi and really across the entire region.


Rana Nawas: (37:20)

Yeah. Well I wish you the very best of luck with that move. Mona, I’d like to shift away from the business section and move to some personal rapid fire questions. Just a few. What’s a book you’ve recently gIfted someone?


Mona Ataya: (37:31)

The Why Engine. It’s a book about identifying your why and your motivation. What is it that gets you up in the morning every day? and this relates not only to individuals but also to organizations and this is something that we talk about at Mumzworld all the time and that is why are we doing what we’re doing when the, it gets tough and the challenges are tremendous. Let’s remember what we’re trying to do from others and that why is what allows us to maneuver through the maze.


Rana Nawas: (38:03)

Great and do you have a morning or evening routine that helps you get through the day?


Mona Ataya: (38:09)

So my morning coffee is absolutely essential.


Rana Nawas: (38:12)

Okay. And if you could have coffee with one person from history, who would it be and why?


Mona Ataya: (38:18)

So look, I mean, I’d have to say, I know it sounds a bit cliche, but I’ll have to say it’s my grandmother. My grandmother had 13 children and my father being the eldest of 13 children and she raised them all in Lebanon and they’re all leaders and winners of their own accord. They all are creating impact. So you know, for me a true, a true winner is the mother who is blessed with the privilege of raising a human being and allowing that human being really to create impact, to fly, to do something that’s useful, to use their time wisely, and she was a very kind grounded human being who believed that life was easy in so far that you followed your passion because all of the challenges that come in your passion journey becomes irrelevant because you’re getting to that end goal. So what happens in that journey is secondary to that end goal and in her raising 13 children who each has five children. So my father, the oldest of 13 has five children. We are all very connected, we are very.


Rana Nawas: (39:32)

That’s lot of cousins, Mona.


Mona Ataya: (39:33)

It’s a lot of cousins and many of them live around us. So as a family we are very connected. We’re very united and we cherish that and we value that.


Rana Nawas: (39:43)

Your grandmother sounds like an incredible woman.


Mona Ataya: (39:45)

She was.


Rana Nawas: (39:45)

Now it’s very new agey to talk about following your passion and she was doing it, you know, back then. That’s amazing. Wonderful, Mona. Thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you on this show. If listeners want to find you, how do they do that?


Mona Ataya: (39:58)

They can reach me easily through Mumzworld social media. So we have the insta pages, we have snapchat, we have twitter, linkedin, through all of the social media I can be reached.


Rana Nawas: (40:11)

Great. Thank you again, Mona. This was fabulous.


Mona Ataya: (40:14)

My pleasure. Thank you. Thank you, Careem.


Rana Nawas: (40:17)

A special thanks again to Careem for making this interview possible and in your cars. It’s been a lot of fun. Much appreciated. I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. You can check out show notes and more episodes at or search When Women Win on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. I’d also love to hear your feedback and ideas for who I should bring on the show. You can find me on instagram at @RanaNawas. Thanks and have a great day.



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