This Arab Mother’s Day, meet the women juggling home, children, and work
As we celebrate Arab Mother’s Day, meet three mompreneurs who are building a business while managing their families and personal affairs, all at the same time.
Tuesday March 21, 2023,
10 min Read
Every morning is the same for most mothers. They are the first ones to greet the rising sun, prepare lunch boxes, sort out kids’ school uniforms, feed breakfast to family, and get ready for their jobs.
Managing the family, preparing for investor calls, and finalising deals—it’s all in a day’s work for a working mother. While the power of multitasking of mothers is not unknown, it takes a different superpower to do so when you are an entrepreneur.
On this Arab Mother’s Day, Yourstory Gulf Edition (YS Gulf) brings you the story of three Arab mothers, juggling their business, startup, and their families.
The musician who found her way back to music
Born to an Emirati father and a Lebanese mother, Tala Badri, Founder and CEO of the Centre for Musical Arts was introduced to the world of music at the young age of four.
Badri, along with her brother and sister, learnt the piano. Soon, she picked up the flute, and as she puts it, she fell in love with it.
“When I was 15, Susan Milan, a famous lady flautist had come to Dubai, and I had a masterclass with her. She was a student of James Galway—one of the most prolific flautists in the world. After that masterclass, I decided to pursue music,” she tells YS Gulf.
While there were challenges, Badri moved to the UK to pursue music. “None of the local schools, definitely none of the state schools, taught music. The expat schools had it, but they couldn't reconcile the concept of an Emirati with a music degree coming back to teach in Dubai,” Badri says.
Nevertheless, she went back and got a degree in management and languages and started working for Barclays Bank. She went on to work for the chocolate company Mars. While her corporate jobs were far from music, she says, she loved her job.
“I travelled the world, and I lived in India for some time. I went to Delhi and also helped set up a factory in Hyderabad. It was a wonderful experience. I learned so much about the business world, marketing, sales, and engineering. The only reason I left was that I got pregnant. I was travelling every six weeks, and it's difficult when you have children,” she says.
For her, it was impossible to spend a week in India with a baby, then come back, then spend a week in Morocco, and then come back again. It was then that Tala decided to quit her corporate career.
“That’s when the stars aligned and opportunities came, and I started teaching music on the side. A consortium was put together to build a community theatre in Dubai. Since I had an HR and finance background, they asked me to be on the board to build this theatre,” Badri says.
It was the first community theatre in Dubai. Unfortunately, around the same time, her daughter was diagnosed with autism. Badri couldn’t keep a full-time job and resorted to volunteering and teaching jobs on the side as she had to be with her daughter for her speech and occupational therapies.
“Then I met a lady who was doing music therapy. She was studying for her master's and wanted to use my daughter as her case study, and I saw what an incredible difference it made to my daughter. So, I started exploring more about delving back into music because it was my passion, and I always wanted to do it,” she explains.
Badri considered opening a music school at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre, where she had five studios and five teachers. Interestingly, her son was born a day before the institute’s opening day—September 14, 2006.
Around the same time, Dubai was seeing a large expat crowd. By 2007, her team had two sites and a large waiting list, but the global financial crisis hit.
“That caused a huge challenge for us because a lot of our students were expatriates, and many left Dubai. Almost overnight, we lost a good chunk of our student base. We couldn't afford to run, and I had to close down the site at the theatre and only keep the second site. I also lost a few teachers,” she recollects.
After facing many ups and downs, the music centre picked up.
Today, Badri juggles motherhood and her enterprise. “Everybody says it must be easy as it is my own business and money, and I have the freedom. However, they don’t realise that it is a 24x7x360 days a year job. It is like having another child to take care of,” she says.
“I'm very lucky both my kids are very musical, and they grew up within the music centre. My daughter is at a music college. If I was teaching, they would be here. It would be their second home. My son is here three times a week; my daughter was here every day. Now, I work with over 100 children, and I personally work with 25 children, I have found my balance,” she adds.
Founder of one of the oldest digital agencies in Dubai
Houda Naji is the owner of Younoh Media—one of Dubai’s oldest digital agencies.
As a mother of two girls, in 2014, she decided to quit her nine-to-five job, or as she calls it, “nine-to-nine” job and opened her own business. While she laughs and says she still does a nine-to-nine job, at least now, she enjoys it and loves what she does.
“We do everything that has to do with website development, online branding, marketing, social media management, SEO, Google AdWords, etc.—anything that has to do with someone's online presence,” she says.
Naji studied marketing in France and started her career in IT in 1999 in Dubai, where she worked for an American multinational. Sometimes, Naji would be the only woman in the meeting room or a small conference as she was the only woman who knew the technical, marketing, and sales side of the business.
“When I started in IT, I was 21 years old. They looked at me as a young person doing a man's work. They judged you based on your looks and age sometimes. But when they know that you are more qualified, maybe more than them, they respect you and start listening to what you have to say,” she adds.
Today, as a mother, she faces the challenge of her daughters’ school finishing early.
“We drive our kids to school and pick them up as they are not on a school bus. Once you are home, it's difficult to continue your work. But my husband is supportive and he helps me a lot. He goes and picks up the children when I need him to,” Naji says.
Speaking of being a role model for her daughters, Naji says, “I do not want them to be dependent on men when they grow up. I want them to have jobs to be powerful and earn their income. I don't want them to be at the mercy of a man giving them money to do what they want.”
Nonetheless, she feels guilty sometimes. What job allows you to be there all the time for your kids? There is no such thing, except if you're a stay-at-home mother.
Even then, if you have more than two kids, you cannot make it to all the school functions. The self-doubt of whether we are good enough always haunts her. You just have to stop listening to that, she says.
Naji adds, “What I'm giving to my daughters is the power to do what they want with their life and not being told what they want with their lives. That's how you should look at it.”
She says her children are of mixed backgrounds as she is an Arab from Morocco, and her husband is Danish. While women in Denmark are quite forward when it comes to equality, etc., those in Morocco are starting to be.
“Now, we have a lot of doctors, lawyers, and business owners. Dubai is an amazing place to be right now because you get the chance and opportunities that you might not get anywhere else in the world—to have your own business and be respected when you go and try to do a transaction with the government,” says Naji.
Making environmental sciences mainstream
A mother of two, Dima Maroun, Founder of Thriving Solutions, studied environmental sciences in 2000 and worked as an environmental scientist with engineering consulting companies in Jordon.
“I loved every minute of it—being on the field and meeting with people. I had long hours and would spend time on-site,” she says.
She married in her early 30s and soon became a mother. Thanks to a great support system at home, Maroun got back to work soon too. When her son was six months old, her husband got a job in Abu Dhabi, and the family moved to the UAE.
“I tried working as an independent consultant with the same company from home, and I wasn’t comfortable bringing help for my son and leaving him with someone I didn’t know,” Maraoun says, adding that she dabbled with independent projects.
The family had moved to Dubai, and soon, she had another child. During this time, Maroun tried part-time jobs.
“It was too much. People aren’t that flexible when it comes to understanding the needs of mothers. For example, my son isn’t feeling very well, I have to leave, or I need to go to an event in the school, aren’t understood much,” she says.
Nonetheless, she decided to get back into the workforce. She realised the struggle for mothers to get back to work.
For Maroun, an environmental scientist job needed to go on the field. “I have to be onsite to do assessments and see things on the ground. While the companies were impressed with my CV, and I would reach the last round of hiring, it would all come down to the point if I could travel at a moment’s notice,” she says.
Soon, she completed her post-graduate degree and realised that she liked environmental auditing, leading her to start Thriving Solutions—a UAE-based sustainability and circular economy consultancy.
The startup has signed a deal with UK’s climate action NGO WRAP to assist with its Food Loss and Waste in the UAE project. The project, supported by the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), is designed to increase knowledge about food loss and waste (FLW) in the UAE and develop capabilities within local operators to measure and ultimately reduce it.
The idea found momentum when her husband’s friend was looking to start up. They registered the company in 2022, with operations beginning in September 2022.
With a house help and home manager, Maroun can now juggle home and work.
“I am struggling to plan work and meetings in between my children’s school activities. Sometimes in a week, I am so busy at work, I feel that I am slacking with following up on their school work and the little things. Sometimes, I feel, I rush them when I have a busy time, and it isn’t fair. And most times, I am working on meeting timings as it may interfere. While I feel it isn’t something I feel guilty about, you don’t hear it much from others. Guilt is a common thing. But I still try to juggle,” she says.
The amount of time I have to binge-watch Netflix is also limited, Maroun jokes.
(Inputs by Pooja Rajkumari; Cover image by Chetan Singh)
(This story has been updated to rectify a few factual errors and omissions in the story)
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Edited by Suman Singh