So far, 2020 feels like a blur of negative news and depressing headlines – but as usual, we’re always on the lookout for positive and inspiring stories to counter the bad vibes! Today, we’re doing that by sharing with you five people who are truly making an impact on the world and living the true meaning of ‘influencer’ (and we’re not talking about how many Instagram followers they have!). These awe-inspiring change-makers are using their platforms – along with their vision, passion and determination – to empower communities and shape culture in the Middle East and beyond, and we’re so excited to share them with you!
Faiza – the ‘Arab Carrie Bradshaw’ – is a Palestinian American self-declared ‘Comedic Relationship Strategist’ who reaches hundreds of thousands of people through Instagram and YouTube. In her sometimes controversial – and usually hilarious – videos, Faiza deals with difficult topics and challenges faced by young Muslim women, with love and humour at the heart of everything she does. The very title of her platform, ‘Expired n Fabulous’, is controversial yet satirical, poking fun at the ridiculous cultural expectation faced by many women (not just Muslims!) that they should marry by a certain age or be rendered irrelevant.
She opens up to her loyal community of followers – who she calls her ‘penguins’ – about her own experiences of being in a relationship in a conservative society, sharing how she came back from heartbreak and social exclusion stronger – and more fabulous – than ever. Although her audience is predominantly Muslim, Faiza is a supportive and inspiring voice for women of every – or no – religion, empowering them to respect and love themselves regardless of what society tells them.
Maryam is a designer, hotelier, entrepreneur and humanitarian. She is the author of Marrakech by Design and owner of the Peacock Pavilions Hotel in Marrakech. She is also the founder of Project Soar, a non-profit which aims to empower adolescent girls in Morocco through art, design and movement to become leaders of tomorrow.
Project Soar, driven by Maryam’s vision, offers workshops to young women vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation, training them to become advocates for issues that are important to them. She recently expanded the project, launching workshops in Kampala, Uganda. Maryam’s artistic flair, entrepreneurial spirit and generous heart are inspiring her colleagues and followers in her beloved Morocco and beyond.
Fahad – otherwise known as ‘the Handstand Guy’ – is an Omani fitness coach, travel enthusiast and environmental activist. Last year, he started a movement called ‘Move Green’, rallying his Instagram followers to attend beach clean-ups across the Sultanate of Oman with his song ‘Matloob lil-Adala’ (Demand Justice). Despite the slightly serious tone of the title, this catchy tune – which Fahad strums on his ukulele – has attracted supporters to his movement from all over the Arab world and beyond.
Move Green combines Fahad’s multiple passions – the environment, Oman, and physical activity – by encouraging Omanis to be proactive and take responsibility for preserving their country’s incredible natural beauty. Outside of his efforts with Move Green, Fahad travels the world speaking to audiences about the importance of health, wellness and experiencing other cultures. His ultimate goal is to handstand in every country in the world.
Noora is a social entrepreneur and humanitarian of Palestinian origin, born in Dubai, raised Canada and now running social impact companies in Jordan and Palestine – in other words, she is the true definition of global citizen. Her companies, Sitti Soap and Bubu & Lulu Toys, focus on providing employment to refugees, particularly women and the disabled in camps in Jordan and Palestine. She also works with Hopes for Women, which helps refugee, displaced and non-status women to continue their education through scholarships.
Inspired by her own multi-cultural upbringing, Noora has used her companies to explore issues of identity. Through Sitti Soap, Noora hopes to help Palestinian refugee women ‘rise above the chaos’ and assert their own identity beyond that which is imposed on them. As a Palestinian women who grew up abroad and grappled with her own identity and societal expectations, she is the ultimate positive example of this. Through Instagram, she shares stories of motherhood and entrepreneurship, inspiring and empowering other women to channel their privilege and platforms into positive impact.
Although Leila is not from the Middle East and didn’t work in the region, I just had to share her story with you. I was devastated to learn of her passing in January at just 37 years old after battling a rare kind of cancer over the last year. Leila was the founder of Samasource, Samaschool and LXMI – three social enterprises using fair trade, education and impact sourcing to and empower communities in developing countries and in the USA.
Leila believed that giving work instead of handouts was key to eradicating poverty, and she did more in barely half a lifetime to make the world a better place than most people do in their entire lives. Her ideas inspired the creation of the Pink Jinn Souq, and we will continue to honour her work as we work to grow Pink Jinn and continue to build links with communities in the Middle East and North Africa. The impact she made in her short life was enormous, and I hope people continue to read, share and espouse her ideas in the future.
You can read, watch and learn more about Leila’s work here – she was truly an incredible human and the world needs more people like her:
We hope these five #influencers have inspired you to live your best life and use the wonderful opportunities you have to do good in the world. We’re always keen to learn about other people doing similarly inspiring things in the Middle East and North Africa and beyond – so please share your stories and people who have inspired you in the comments below!
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