BarakaBits sat down with Hebah Fisher, the person behind the first live crowdfunding event in the region to find out how her Middle Eastern-American upbringing brought her to where she is today.
Impact Hub Dubai is a pretty amazing combination of campus, incubator, and innovation lab. Tell me more about the crowdfunding event that you held this week?
“I was nervous, I know this is a new concept but we had around 150 guests show up! After all 10 of our finalists presented, there was a big, enthusiastic group surrounding each team. It really highlighted the caliber of entrepreneur we have here. The winner was WEPUL. The funds obviously make a substantial impact at this stage of growth, but this event provided a platform for every group to tell their story.”
It’s clear that you are very passionate about your work. How did you end up here in Dubai working with Impact Hub?
“I’m actually half Egyptian, but I was born in Washington DC, moved to Saudi, and then Bahrain. I finished my schooling there and then headed back to the states to do my BA in Global Development Studies, with a focus on microfinance.”
What did you decide to do with your studies?
“During university, I was working with the small town of Charlottesville, Virginia which has only 40,000 people but 700 nonprofits (this was largely because the nonprofit community barely collaborated). These three high-profile entrepreneurs realized that if they were having so much difficulty fundraising, there was an even bigger problem for the community wanting to start businesses. I helped them write the business plan for Community Investment Collaborative (CIC), and my plan was to return to the Middle East after that.”
Did your experience of living in the US and in the Middle East influence your decisions in university?
“Yes! I spent two of my university summers interning in Bahrain for the first Islamic microfinance bank in the Gulf, and at the end of that, in 2011, I made a well-received proposal to the CEO. Then of course, the Arab Spring happened and had a big impact on the economy of Bahrain.”
Let me guess… the plan changed?
“It did. I was objective about my career options in Bahrain, and I became so invested in the importance of what I was doing with CIC that I really wanted to be part of the implementation. I went personally to over half of the 700 nonprofits to design our training courses, asking them two questions: (1) what need do you see in this community and (2) if you were building this program, what would it look like?”
And what did it end up looking like?
“Starting in January 2012, we had three cycles of 17-week training courses that gave successful participants access to micro loans. We ended up with $400,000 of investments, a 200-person volunteer network of mentors, bankers, lawyers, etc. My favorite part might have been our ‘quarterly marketplaces’”.
How do those compare to the infamous “Demo Day” that you see in the start-up world?
“’Demo Day’ can feel really exclusive and technical. The moment you open it to the entire crowd and frame it as storytelling, not pitching, everyone feels like they have a role to play. No business operates in isolation, you need a community to support you.”
So what happened next?
“Next, I moved to Dubai! It was (and is) really important to me to be near my family, and when they moved here I knew I wanted to be close to them. And I started with Impact Hub Dubai soon after!”
What would you tell someone trying to make career decisions?
“Follow your heart; don’t forget that there are people around you who can give you amazing insight and advice.”
And that’s #goodnews.