Building a Partner-preneurship to Shape Social Change
Sitti co-founders Noora Sharrab and Jacqueline Sofia talk to Chelsea about building a ‘partner-preneurship’ to shape social change. Sitti, which means 'my grandmother' in Arabic and operates out of Jordan's Jerash Refugee Camp, brings fair wage employment to refugees through the production of traditional olive oil soap. These two extraordinary women met while living at the camp, an experience that changed the course of both their lives.
Noora, whose ancestral family is from Gaza, is also the co-founder /regional director of Hopes for Women in Education and has worked in humanitarian development with the UN. Jackie, who is also an educator and producer of US/Middle East documentary media, works with UNRWA and other partner organizations to build and implement community-based educational opportunities for the women in the camp.
Jackie and Noora share openly about the passion behind the ‘why’ of Sitti, hands-on learning, earning the trust of the people of the camp, collaboration over competition and so much more.
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Chelsea Brown: This week I'm talking with Noora Sharrab and Jacqueline Sofia, the co-founders of Sitti Soap, which means my grandmother in Arabic. Sitti is a Jordan-based social enterprise that brings fair wage employment to refugee men and women through the production of handmade olive oil soap.
Jacqueline Sofia: We underestimate the generosity of those around us.
Noora Sharrab: We're committed to the self-reliance of refugee in displaced communities, not just employment opportunities, through longterm employment.
Jacqueline: For me, it's always like what impact do I want to make? What's the purpose of this and why?
Chelsea: So, I get asked this a lot about my connection to Jordan. Why Jordan? Why is Jordan so close to my heart? It all started with the Pin Project, an initiative that unlocked talent and longterm self-reliance for Syrian refugee and displaced communities in seven developing countries through the production of crafts, including a pin designed by Canadian, Jenny Bird. Jordan was one of these countries.
Noora: There's a cultural stereotype of what a refugee camp looks like, tents pitched in the middle of nowhere. This is not that at all. This is a camp where people have lived since 1967, 68.
Jacqueline: For us currently with Sitti, every single on of our artisans are the sole breadwinners of their family.
Chelsea: In 2017, I had the opportunity to go abroad and into the field, meeting some of the affected refugees fleeing Syria, the artisans who will craft the pin, and some of the project partners. It was really this initial trip that opened my eyes up to how wonderful the Middle East is. And it's what ultimately inspired Millie's first trip destination, Jordan. Now I've been more times than I can remember and it's kind of become my second home.
Jacqueline: It's like falling in love. It's like you can't help who you love.
Noora: There will always be people that tell you no's, or doors shut, and that is not a reason for you not to do it.
Chelsea: During my trips to Jordan, I got to know Sitti, and I went to the Jerash camp where the headquarters are based. That first visit has turned into a longterm relationship, including my membership on the Sitti International Advisory Board, and the Sitti Millie Gift Box, which is empowering higher education for displaced women and girls.
Noora: We're able to do what we love, working directly with an incredible resilient community that continues to surprise us and keep us proud, day after day.
Chelsea: I think the topic of how we as consumers can affect social change is so important. And who better to speak to this, than experts like Noora and Jackie. I hope you enjoy listening to these two fearless women and how they have built a partner-preneurship to empower consumers. Thank you for joining me here today. Let's start with the why. Why did you create Sitti?
Noora: In the camp that we work in, there is a scarcity of accessible employment. In the Jerash Refugee Camp, where Sitti Workshop is based, over 52% of the population live at or below the poverty line. High rates of unemployment in these communities continue across the Middle East globally. So, for us, it's really about creating employment opportunities at the local level, that consider the limitations for refugees to start, own or run a business, and constraints that a lot of these women have in terms of freedom of movement. When we started Sitti create and empower the women in a way ... not just women, but women and men. Because we do work with some men in the community, to become financially independent. This is a community that's reliant on aid and international kind of development agencies coming in for so many years, for so many decades.
Having this financial independence can really do wonders in helping transform their psychological state, helping even their mental health, even physical health. And it really sends a message across generations to follow, that when a young girl looks at her mother being able to support her family. Or even I mean, for us currently with Sitti, every single one of our artisans are the sole breadwinners of their family. That tells us that if they were to lose their job tomorrow, and hopefully, knock on wood that doesn't happen, they wouldn't be able to support their family. Because they would lose their livelihoods. And for us, that's a big responsibility. When we kind of see it from that angle, when we see that these are women that support not just their household sometimes, but multi-generational households under one roof supporting a family of 10 or 12. Or the daughter that works to be able to pay off the medical bills for her mother, for example. And these are responsibilities that these women have taken on, on themselves, to be able to contribute in as many ways as they can and best ways that they can.
Chelsea: Where did your passion for this community come from? Noora, you are Palestinian. But Jackie, I think you have a different story.
Noora: Yeah, thank you. I am a Palestinian. My parents were both born in Gaza. So, my identity of being a Palestinian is part of who I am. I came to Canada when I was very little, maybe seven or eight years old. And when I was doing my master's program, I got into identity politics or identity studies. And I had a professor that was teaching a course as part of a forced migration and refugee studies certificate that I was doing, and I got really into understanding more about the refugee situation. My thesis was about intergenerational differences of identity. I was really trying to get a grasp, and I think it was almost like a self discovery at the same time. And I remember my professor was saying, "You'll never learn what you need to learn in the books, you're going to have to go venture out for it."
I decided okay, I want to learn more about refugees living in refugee camps in Jordan and I want to understand the belonging and the attachment to identity. I connected with a few social workers and the next thing I knew, I was being hosted by two incredibly different families across two different camps in Jordan for a few months. I lived with one widow in the Jerash Refugee Camp. And during that time I was able to conduct my research studies. And then I split my time in a different camp because I wanted different experiences with another camp in the Jerash where we are working today. So, that's kind of really where I had started my roots of connecting with that community. It was really just diving right it and trying to learn about the community there.
For me, it was always a means of, as a Palestinian, I felt like getting involved with Palestinian refugees in Jordan had such an intimate feeling for me. For me, it was almost that means of holding on to who I was. But at the same time, doing something good about it.
Jacqueline: My path was ... I don't know if it was as direct. I was determined to be done with school after my undergraduate studies. I was eager to be out of the classroom. I had never traveled outside of the United States, so I spent a lot of time working with different community organizations in the city, one of which was the Refugee Youth Project through the Baltimore City Community College here. I just became incredibly passionate about that community. And when I graduated, I applied for a Fulbright Fellowship to go to Jordan. I was initially going to study the third party response to gender-based violence. And then I got to Jordan, realized how complicated it actually was to get these organizations who are working with women and men in the city to open up. And understandably, it was still a very taboo topic at the time. Not that it isn't today.
And in the meantime a friend of mine suggested, "Why don't you find a community there that you already feel connected to and you already know?" A friend of their's had been volunteering in Jerash Camp. I got on a bus, didn't know where the bus was going really and kind of found my way-
Noora: An hour later.
Jacqueline: Yeah, an hour later I found myself in Jerash Camp, not even knowing if I was in the camp. Because it was ... I think there's a cultural stereotype of what a refugee camp looks like. And some camps do look like this, where it's like tents pitched in the middle of nowhere. This is not that at all. This is a camp where people have lived since 1967, '68. And they've made a life here. They've made a community. And it's almost like a small city. You have buildings two and three stories high. You have streets. You have all sorts of infrastructure. Some of it is made out of necessity by the people who live there.
When I arrived and starting teaching this class, these women I was teaching the class to really had very little understanding of English. So, I couldn't teach the class in English, I had to teach it in Arabic. And I knew very little Arabic. So, they would teach me some Arabic, I would teach them some English. It was an exchange. And before I knew it, they became a real family to me. And there was one moment where I sat down with one of the women, she invited me to her house. And we were sitting in her medullas. We were having coffee or something, and she was talking about her friend who I also knew and was teaching in my class, her friend who had experienced a lot of abuse in her previous marriage.
Before I had come to Jordan, I had been in an abusive relationship. It was this moment where you just kind of have this connective moment and you're like, "Oh my God, these women are just like you and me. We're having a very ..." Again, like Noora said, it's a very intimate connection that you feel. And you just know it. You know these people are going to be part of your life for the rest of your life. It's like falling in love. It's like you can't help who you love. That's just what it is. What are you going to do? I mean, you're not going to go love someone else because everybody is telling you to.
Chelsea: I love that.
Jacqueline: Maybe if it's an arranged marriage situation it's different, but.
Chelsea: What was it like really living there? And did the women embrace you? And was there a moment when you said to yourself, "Wow, this is real."?
Noora: For me, and Jackie you might have a different experience. But for me, it was really breaking down a lot of misconceptions to begin with. Before I even visited the camp, I remember a lot of colleagues and friends were like, "You have to be careful, they're going to take advantage of you." It was all these different things that you hear about like, "You're going to get robbed." The things that I would hear. And I remember one of the first host families that I stayed at, she refused to take any rent. And I remember one of the days after staying for about a week or so, I went and ventured out to the local grocery store. And I was like, "Hm, wouldn't it be nice to come into the house with a bag full of groceries?" I know my mom would like it when I do something out of the ordinary and I shock her and I come home with something. She's like, "Oh, thanks for thinking of us," kind of thing.
So, I was like, "Why don't I do that? She's refusing to take rent from me or any type of allowance or anything like that, let me at least contribute to the household expenses." So, I went to the grocery store and I bought rice and oil. I remember I bought a bunch of things. And I come back with these bags of grocery and then I remember that the family was actually upset with me. They were like, "Why are you bringing this?" And I was like, "Oh, because I'm staying here with you guys and I'm eating the food that you're giving me," and all that. And they were like, "Do you think that we let you stay here so that we're waiting for you to buy us food?" And it was almost like a slap in the face. Because I was like, "Um ..." I almost felt like, on the contrary, I thought they would be like, "Yay, finally. Thank you for bringing it."
And I don't know what I was expecting. But it was right there that I'm like they don't need anything from me. They're not there welcoming me in waiting for me to hand them anything. If anything, they were giving me opportunities more than I was able to give them. It was almost like my grandma telling me, "What are you doing?" At that moment I felt even more at home because I felt like this isn't a place where they're waiting to take advantage of who I was and what I had or anything, any baggage I was holding. That was kind of the first misconception that I broke because of this idea that they're waiting to get something from you. And it was like no, they're not waiting for anything from me.
Because the refugee camps have been there for so many years, they're so used to people coming in and out. They're so used to people of treating it almost like a zoo. Like, "Oh, this is a camp, let's take some pictures." "Oh, look, there are some refugees." "Oh, it looks so sad." And then people go on with their day, they go back travel where they were, and they never come back and they never have a connection. So, it almost becomes frustrating and exhausting for this community that continues to open their arms and their homes to people that come in and out, they want to just extract information, extract the stories. But then leave them with absolutely nothing. There was a lot for me to prove why was I really there? And there were people that would just call you out and say, "Why are you really here? What's your intention? And then what?" "Okay, you're going to do this study, and then what?"
For me, it was really kind of building that trust. And I look back now almost 10 years from when I first stepped into the camp, and I see the exact same thing. You really start to build a family. And people start to get to know you and they see you. They see you year after year, they see the contributions that you're doing to the community. And then they begin to have a lot more trust and they begin to come to you, both asking and giving in so many ways.
Chelsea: And Jackie, do you think your world view was challenged through this experience or enhanced? And how did the women take to you? Was there more resistance?
Jacqueline: Yeah. I still want to prove my trust and intention today. I think that's just part of any healthy relationship. You have to continuously establish and re-establish that trust and earn it and earn that respect and vice versa. I mean, there is never a day when I either sit down at the computer or if I'm in Jordan in the camp going to someone's home, going to the women's centre, going to the workshop where I am not checking myself at the door or the proverbial door. And saying, "What are my intentions today?" What am I going to do today that's going to make sure that at the end of whatever I do, this community is going to continue to have my trust and I continue to have theirs. I mean, this sounds so cheesy, now that I'm saying this out loud.
Chelsea: Say it.
Jacqueline: I'm like, "Wow, Jackie." But it's about love. Healthy loving relationships don't happen without hard work. How am I going to earn these women's trust? And just to have a friendship with them, have a relationship. It's just something that's going to be healthy and grow over time.
Chelsea: I can relate to you both with the founder journey. To create something takes so much discipline. How have you had maybe a good relationship, a love-hate relationship with discipline, what do you guys think about that?
Noora: Discipline to me, it's getting it done even if you don't want to. And moving forward even if the morning seems difficult. When we had first started the Hopes Workshop, we literally had nothing. We were digging into our pockets to try to make something out of this. I remember we found a place in the camp and we put together this proposal with photos of the workshop and what we really wanted to achieve with it and the goal and who we were going to be serving. I was living in Jordan at the time and I was going into business owners. Walking in and calling them up and saying, "This is who I am, this is what the project's about. I need your help. What can your business offer me?"
And I remember walking into a paint store and I said, "Can you offer us some paint? We have this workshop." And he's like, "Sure, I can offer you some paint. Here you go." And I was like, "Okay. Paint, done. Next." I remember going into a Palestinian-owned kitchen, a company. I walked in and I met with the owner. I said, "This is what we're about." And he loved I think the transparency, the honesty and was like, "Okay done, I'll send my team to take measurements, we'll give you a free kitchen." And it was literally like, I'm not even kidding you, I think by the end of ... This all happened within, what, two weeks? And after all the doors I was knocking, I was like, we underestimate the generosity of those around us.
And I always have a motto of saying never say no, unless someone tells you no. Don't think it's not going to happen. You just have to ask. And if you ask and they say no, they say no. But if you ask and there's ways to create opportunities and support ... Because sometimes people, they want to contribute, but they don't know how. So, it's creating those opportunities for them to do so. So yeah, I mean, before we knew it, we had a center and then raised a little bit through crowd funding as well, and were able to raise some of the capital we needed to build the actual workshop. And it was really kind of going back to what we were doing, why we were doing it, being really open, transparent, and having a clear strategy of what we wanted to see come out of it.
When we spoke to businesses and when we spoke to different individuals, I think they saw the honesty and they saw kind of the hope with what we were trying to do. And I think maybe that's why they were so generous. Saying, "Here you go, we'll support you."
Chelsea: I love the motto that you said. Jackie, do you have a mantra that you live by?
Jacqueline: Do I have a mantra I can't live without?
Chelsea: You're like, "I'm still searching."
Jacqueline: Always have some dark chocolate in the fridge. No, I think allowing the hope and optimism you have for something outweigh your doubt. And just to always kind of ... yeah, stay hopeful, remind yourself to be hopeful. And there really will always be people who tell you, "You should not do this." I mean, with the Palestinian community particularly, there is always someone out there ... I'm not saying within the Palestinian community, I'm saying ... Well, sometimes there are Palestinians who will tell you this. But a lot of times it's just people who aren't familiar with the community, who will say, "The Palestinian community, you're trying to do something that's a lost cause. You're trying to work with a community ..." They'll say, "Oh, the Jerash Camp community, those people are lazy. They don't work hard enough."
And there are all of these ridiculous tropes surrounding this community that are not true, but they persist. And they persist on a global scale around the Palestinian community and refugee community. You really are, every day, literally up against a global perspective of this is not the community to work with, move on.
Chelsea: But it wasn't always easy.
Jacqueline: No. I mean, it goes back to what we said earlier, right? You have to have an abundance of hope and optimism that overshadows that doubt. You should definitely have some doubt about you, because you do need to prepare for sometimes there are going to be scenarios that you need to be prepared for. Especially at this time, I think a lot of people are really struggling with that, myself included. My husband says to me, he has to remind me sometimes, "You need to have more hope and you need to make it part of your daily thought process." Because it is really easy to become incredibly cynical right now and to be very ... Yeah, to just see the negative. We're kind of trapped in our little silos and in our little physical and proverbial bubbles at the moment.
Noora: Whenever people ask me, "How are you able to go through difficult times?" I always say involving my husband and letting him be in the loop. My family's in this journey just as much as I am. It really doesn't happen on your own, it happens with those that are closest to you around you. Sometimes it's the people that are closest to you that are supporting you in the days where you're like, "I can't do this anymore, this is very difficult, I don't know how long we can sustain," or whatever it is. It's usually your support system that's going to say, "Okay, you got this." Or, "Okay, let's look at a different way." And I think that's important to recognize. Because a lot of times with entrepreneurs, it's kind of focused on what they did. But we ignore often the environments that they live in. And I think that is a big part of the journey as well.
Chelsea: Jackie, I did not know you were a yogi. Are you a yogi, or was this more so filling the space that needed-
Jacqueline: I used to volunteer as a yoga instructor. I actually had no experience teaching yoga.
Chelsea: Oh my gosh.
Jacqueline: I was a very avid ... I don't know if you'd call me a yogi. I practiced yoga quite avidly, quite frequently. I mean, I could come up with a routine or several different routines on my own. But that was ... And I was very transparent about this with the women, with the people coordinating the class. I said, "Listen, I am not a certified yoga instructor." And they all were in agreement, they were like, "That's okay, that's okay." I mean, the class at the end of the day it was just about taking time for themselves and for these women who just work incredibly hard. You don't know what work ethic is I think until you meet some of these women. Because they are just nonstop. And they've got children in the house and in-laws in the house and they're caregivers to everybody around them. So, it was this hour of time to themselves where they were just able to be there for their own selves.
Chelsea: I love it.
Jacqueline: We would do meditations and I would go around and give them these little massages on their shoulders. I don't think that's a yoga-specific instruction. I just was like, "Let's turn the lights off and give each other massages."
Chelsea: No, I love that. I actually took a class and she's an incredible instructor here in Toronto. She did that and it was one of my favourite yoga classes. So, good for you. That's incredible, wow. I love that. You both talk about collaboration over competition. Why is this so important to you both and how has that shaped your, quote unquote, femme-preneurship?
Noora: Both of us being co-founders, we both played very different roles. We both taken responsibilities that we're able to really elevate and build kind of the company and the brand overall. The idea of collaboration over competition is really understanding that your vessel is not going to be any less because you're sharing it with someone else. And it's almost kind of ... I remember even growing up whenever my mom would make a lot of food or make just food in general, and it would come time for dinner and someone would come over. Or you have these last minute invites. And I remember I would be like, "Oh my God, there's not going to be enough food. What's going on? We need to make more." And my mom's like, "Don't worry, what's there should be enough." And it's always enough and more.
We always look at what we have around us and we get worried that if I share it with anybody else, I won't have enough for myself. And it's something that time and time and time again has proved otherwise. Where when we're ready to share, it's at that moment that we receive an abundance. I've seen that through partnerships that I've created with different entrepreneurs and women in the local business community. Or even when you're at a marketplace, you're at a popup and you have so many different vendors and everybody's there trying to sell their products. I find that what's meant for you, is meant for you. And you kind of feeling this sense of competition of, "If this business is going to get it, I'm not going to benefit." And I think it's time to look at it in a different way. Like how can we both benefit ourselves so that financially and socially and just as a business we can grow and learn from each other? That's why I think it's important to be part of different networks even, that allow you that space to connect a lot more.
Chelsea: Everyone now is working digitally through COVID. But you two have been doing it since day one. Where most partner-preneurs are in the same room at least once a week or once a month, you two have been in separate countries developing this concept. Where people now are only experiencing this through the Coronavirus. Do you think being virtual from day on has helped?
Jacqueline: Well, I want to clarify that even though we've been working with each other more or less virtually for the past several years, this is still a new ... Everything about this time right now is new, whether or not people have experienced communicating virtually and working together virtually or not. Because like Noora said, I mean she could know that her kids were safe at daycare or safe at school throughout the day and she could take the time to focus on her work and we could schedule a weekly meeting. For the past few years, Noora and I have typically been able to ... either we'd be in Jordan at the same time or she would go for a month and I would go for a couple months or a month.
And it was nice because we could both spend time with our team there and have that presence with them and really establish those relationships and continue to re-establish that and nurture it. We can't. Yes, we have certain habits already in place of communicating virtually. We've always used WhatsApp, for example, as a tool. Noora and I will text each other back and forth. I literally will just send her a 10 minute voice message, I just did this yesterday. If we don't have time to meet, our schedules are so different too, even when we're in the same timezone. Her kids, she has to ... She has kids during the day. And I'm sleeping when she's awake working. I will leave her a 10 minute voice message just so that we can fit in a pseudo meeting on WhatsApp.
Noora: I think it's also important that when you're working with a co-founder, you're also dependent on each person to independently be able to do their thing. We do have our check ins, we do kind of set our monthly and quarterly and bi-weekly type of goals, and to-do lists that we share amongst each other in terms of major things that we need to work on. And we'll prioritize, "For the next period, we'll be working on A, B and C." So that we know that for the next period, this is kind of our focus and what we need to be doing. And if there's times where I need to be focusing on one thing and Jackie needs to be focusing on another thing, it's really having that trust that that person's going to do that.
And I think it's the same thing when you're micromanaging a company halfway around the world with your team. Where you provide as much feedback and as much micromanagement as possible and instructions as possible and guidance as possible. But then you also have to trust in your team to do that. And if you don't, then you need to make changes with the people on the ground. Because if you can't trust to get the work done, it means the people holding onto those positions are probably not the ones that you need. I'm such a believer of surround yourselves with people that are only going to make it easier and better. And if you don't have the skills, find the skills to make it work. If you don't know it, find someone that does.
Jacqueline: Yeah. So many social enterprises get caught in this middle area of you're a for-profit company, you are a business, and at the end of the day you have to operate like a business. But you're also working with a community typically that is supposed to be receiving and working with you on self-reliance. And for us, that's such a major critical part of our mission, is to help fuel that self-reliance, help present those tools, just kind of life skills tools that our staff can use to ultimately be self-sufficient, even whether or not we're there to direct them. Because yes, Noora owned the company ... We could go into details of how ownership works with refugee communities and how they're limited to own anything in this world, which is something we unfortunately don't have control over right.
It's their company, it's their community. So, for Noora and I to be like, "Okay, Sofia, we already trust that she is taking control on the group and she knows what to do," that is a sign that we've done our job.
Noora: And I also want to point out that sometimes your team will need the support and guidance to get to do a good job. And sometimes when there are mistakes and there are challenges, and when we evaluate why that is, it's often because they didn't have the right equipment, they didn't have the right support or they didn't have the right tools to get it done, or the right expertise. For me kind of leading the company, one of the things that I'm always looking at is if we don't know how to get it done, find the people to get it done. Or seek outside support. And that doesn't mean any less of who we are as a company. On the contrary, it's really about us continuing to grow, continuing to ask questions.
And this is one of the reasons we set up, for example, our International Advisory Board. Because we really believed in the power of learning from our network and our advisors. Because there will be things that we don't know. There will be perspectives we don't see. Especially since we're so zoomed in to the day to day work that we're doing. And it's good to kind of lean on a board, for example, that's able to take that outside external perspective and give us different feedback along the way as we kind of conduct our day to day.
Chelsea: You've said that your goals are to empower refugee self-reliance. What does it mean to you, to work with a community, opposed to working for a community?
Noora: When we come into the community with solutions, we're not telling them how to get it done. We're involving them in the thought process, we're involving them in the decision making process. When it comes time to, let's say growing the company or looking to scale the company, it's really asking the questions on the ground. And saying, "Okay, can we do this?" Or, "What is kind of needed?" For example, a few years back we asked them, "What would you like to see?" And one of the things that they wanted was a library. And thankfully today our Sitti Workshop in the camp actually now has a full fledged library where women can come in, take out a book. And this is a big deal because this is a community that doesn't have these public spaces available to them. So, creating something right there in the local community that they can take advantage of was important. Taking the perspective of the community is fundamental in our day to day. Because it's important that they work with us in the process.
Chelsea: You're passionate about broadening the conversation about sustainability. How does Sitti talk about sustainability?
Jacqueline: The sustainability for us, I think the conversation has always been more or less within the social enterprise community, sustainability equates to environmental sustainability. So, trying to minimize your carbon footprint as a company. But the sustainability of a company in regards to its team and the community, the actual people that it's working with and providing opportunities for, sustainability means being able to have multiple revenue streams and a business model that can support your staff and your community, even through the really difficult times. We're seeing that right now, where there's so many industries and so many small businesses that are really struggling with that. Really struggling to sustain employment for their staff or their employees who rely on them for that livable wage. Yet, like Noora mentioned, all of our employees right now are the sole breadwinners for their families in this pandemic. Because Palestinian refugees in Jordan's Jerash Camp rely mainly on day labor opportunities that are now completely halted, more or less.
Noora: I think we should also add that any plan towards sustainability has to really consider the ecosystems that you're working in. We don't work in a bubble. We work in a refugee community in the middle of Jordan. You have to consider natural resources, we have to consider what is currently available in the country. I mean, in terms of sustainability and reducing waste, you can go to the camp and really learn ways to do it. They'll recycle boxes in more ways than you can think of. They'll facilitate food waste in ways that we in North America need to learn from. So, there's a lot we learn from them in the process of sustainability.
But it's not just environmental. I look at it from an economic perspective as well. So, if we're going to be growing the company and growing my team, I can do it in a way where I'm allowing these women to suddenly earn a stream of income, but also be able to guarantee it. And it's hard to say because nothing is guaranteed. But also, because these communities have lived in very precarious situations where they've never kind of had this reliance like, "I know I'm going to get X amount at the end of the month." My salary coming in that I can depend on and I can rely on to plan ahead and plan forward for their family. If we're going to create it, it's not this random one off project that they might get here and there. But it's really trying to build it in a way where these women now can have something they can rely on, they can be less anxious about, "Am I going to be able to pay the rent or put food on the table next month?" But more on other things in life that they could focus on.
Chelsea: Well, this world absolutely needs more organizations like Sitti, who are shaping consumerism. I guess this is an interesting question. But what's next for Sitti? What are some of your longterm hopes and goals?
Jacqueline: I guess from a business perspective, my hope for Sitti or where I see it, let's say. We have a big factory, we're employing hundreds of women, we're making a big impact in the camp, we're able to do what we love and it's working directly with an incredible, resilient community that continues to surprise us and keep us proud day after day. And it's continuing to retell the stories of the community, the women, through everything that we do and everything that we make.
Noora: I would say the same. I mean, to grow Sitti to a point where it is a business that is employing men and women in the camp to a point where they fell secure in their employment, they feel they can make those plans for the future confidently without being concerned about what's coming in the next month or the next two months. And also, to have those stories continue to be at the center of the company and just to maintain our mission and to always be focused on that mission. Because that's really at the heart of what we do. We're committed to the self-reliance of refugee and displaced communities through longterm employment, not just employment opportunities. And that's about bringing them into a global community and a global economy to have people outside of the refugee camp and outside of the refugee community recognize us as a business and not just as a small social enterprise that employs refugee women. Because these women aren't defined by the word refugee. They're women. They are people. So, yeah.
Chelsea: Before we end our chat, I'd love to circle back to hope, being a dreamer, and taking the leap. What would you say to someone asking you both, "How did you really follow your heart, stay true to your conviction and goals, and get past any self doubt that would hold you back?"
Noora: Don't listen to anyone that says you can't. Because I mean, I've heard way too many you cants, like to this day. But I think it's really just digging deep. For me it's always like what impact do I want to make? What's the purpose of this and why? And there will always be people that tell you otherwise, there will always be no's or doors shut. And that is not a reason for you not to do it. And that's not a reason for you not to achieve it. And when you look at incredible leaders and incredible people around the world and women that have gotten so far, a lot of the times they'll tell you the same thing. Believe in yourself. You do you.
Jacqueline: And I would follow that up with be kind to each other, be kind to the people you work with and be kind to yourself. Because it's really easy to be in the mind of an entrepreneur and compete and work yourself to the bone. At the end of the day, if you're not living with kindness, the intention gets lots.
Noora: I think with what Jackie, if I can add, is we forget that we're all mothers and sisters and friends, behind any titles that anybody can have. Right? And I think that makes ... when you look at people from that perspective with your co-founders, with your team, with the communities that you're working in. Even when you're working with businesses and partners, when you see them as who they are and you work with them on that level, it's so much easier to get things done sometimes. Because you're working with someone and you're not just trying to get from point A to B without looking at the in betweens.
Chelsea: Lastly, do you think one person can make a difference?
Noora: Of course. There's a prophetic saying in Islam that even a smile is charity. So, even a smile that you give to a homeless person in the street is in its essence the acknowledgement of that person's existence. It's really kind of the little things that I think can go a long way. So, 100%, yeah.
Jacqueline: One person can make a difference in the event that they have a community behind them who is supporting them and making that difference. With Sitti, it's not just Noora, it's not just Sofia, it's certainly not just me. It is this team of people who have a community behind them and with them, supporting that mission.
Noora: I think having the space to really shed our skin a little is important. Because even as co-founders, we don't openly have these conversations with each other.
Jacqueline: No, we don't. We don't have time.
Noora: So, I have to say, I'm inspired even more. Because I'm even more proud to be working with Jackie towards this greater mission.
Chelsea: Aw, well it means so much to me to work with you both. Thank you for allowing me to be involved in your impact, in a small way. And thank you so much for joining me on this podcast and sharing your story.
Noora: Thank you.
Chelsea: Thank you for being part of this conversation with Noora and Jackie. If you want to purchase Sitti you can, at sittisoap.com. Please join me back here in two weeks, I'll be talking with Lina Khalifeh, founder of SheFighter. If you enjoyed this podcast, please hit subscribe, share with your friends, and visit us at Millie.ca.