Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women 2021: Narjis And Nidaa Ryweck, Co-Founders, Championaires "We loved the idea of having a business that wasn't just about earning money, but also helping other aspiring entrepreneurs achieve success."
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This article is a part of the 2021 installment of Entrepreneur Middle East's annual Achieving Women series, in which we profile female leaders of note in the MENA region. The full series can be seen in our October 2021 issue here.
They say blood is thicker than water, and in the story of Narjis and Nidaa Ryweck, sisters who ended up becoming co-founders of a business, that statement has been indeed proven to be true. Having started their journey at global e-commerce-based direct selling company QNET, the duo soon realized the potential in assisting and enabling direct selling for those wishing to run their own businesses. The fruition of that idea was Championaires, a UAE-based business coaching and leadership development company (classified as an independent enterprise under QNET), led by both the Ryweck sisters, along with their brother Ibrahim. "We loved the idea of having a business that wasn't just about earning money, but also helping other aspiring entrepreneurs achieve success," Narjis explains. "That's how the idea of creating a business dedicated to helping others like us realize their potential was born, and along with our brother Ibrahim, we established Championaires. Today, we have one of the largest teams in the GCC region with thousands of young men and women who are building their own businesses using the QNET direct selling opportunities."
In their roles as business leaders at Championaires, the trio of siblings take on the responsibility to guide, coach, support, and mentor aspiring entrepreneurs in the region who wish to build their own sales or e-commerce businesses via QNET's platform. But before delving into the Ryweck sisters' present and future goals, it is important to understand how both women reached this particular stage in their entrepreneurial journeys. Early on in their careers, there were plenty of hurdles they had to maneuver their way through; from working multiple jobs at a time to make ends meet, to finding ways to escape the shackles of corporate rigidity. But a quick rewind of their life experiences displays how one of the biggest obstacles they had to overcome stemmed primarily from their immediate social surroundings, and the many prejudices that come with such territory.
"We started our business in Saudi Arabia, and then moved to the UAE, and our business is largely in the Middle East, so, you can imagine the different types of challenges we have faced over the years," says Narjis. "We've been harassed and judged by others, and many times men wouldn't want to join our business, only because they didn't want to deal with a woman. People would point out and say, "What are you doing? You are a woman, and you are dealing with so many men, and meeting with them?' As you know, this is frowned upon in certain cultures in the Middle East. However, we have learnt not to take it personally, and we don't allow it to affect our morale."
But this is where the Ryweck siblings bring in an interesting tangent to the gender equality discourse. According to them, it was an existing lack of bias, gender or otherwise, in the world of direct selling that attracted them towards the sector in the first place.
"One of the best things about doing the QNET business is that it is completely online, thus making it easily accessible to everyone," explains Nidaa. "Therefore, in direct selling, there is no discrimination based on gender, age, education, culture, work experience, or social background. It is a level playing field. This means our gender plays no role in our ability to succeed. Only our hard work, talent, and skills matter! It's never a problem being a woman in this business." Narjis also highlights another aspect that enticed her entrepreneurial instincts: the opportunity to work on self-development. "I was 22 years old when I decided to become an entrepreneur, and started this business," Narjis says. "Today, I am a completely different person, and I don't just mean that from a financial perspective. I have also grown significantly as a person. My level of confidence, how I carry myself, the way I speak- everything has transformed for the better. I have faith and belief in myself, which is very different from the tentative 22-year-old who started out. I don't know of many industries out there that focus so much on the self-development aspects of a person. That's one of the reasons I love direct selling!"
From both ladies' accounts, it is apparent that they experience an almost symbiotic relationship with the direct selling world. When asked how each of them would describe the kind of leaders they perceive themselves to be, Narjis says she focuses on "integrity, ethics, and team work," while Nidaa firmly replies that she is "assertive and straightforward, not one to beat around the bush, and extremely goal-oriented." And when you look a little deeper into the values that both sisters have carried with them from the start of their journey, it becomes evident that their leadership styles have always been laced with honesty and integrity. "My dream has always been to be my own boss, and for me to have not only financial freedom, but time freedom," recalls Narjis. "I remember the first year I started this business, I was reluctant to give up my day job, so I was doing this on the side. It took about a year before I felt confident to quit my job, and focus on building my business full-time. However, the best part of this journey is that we get to help people who are serious about taking charge of their life. And when we see them achieve their goals, which are sometimes very simple like being able to give their children better education opportunities, or give their family a bigger home, that is so satisfying!"
When an entrepreneur's goals go seemingly beyond just monetary success, it is also interesting to understand how they deal with failures and setbacks. And the Ryweck siblings are no strangers to facing challenges, having overcome financial difficulties, social and familial prejudices, as well as the many common hurdles that come with the decision to become an entrepreneur. "The way I deal with challenges is to work through them, rather than run away from them," says Nidaa. "I take an hour every day to meditate, and that has helped me overcome so many inner obstacles. I have realized that for most challenges we face, the solution usually lies within, not outside. If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change." Narjis also echoes her sister's sentiments on seeking strength from within. "Ups and downs are a way of life; we all go through them," she says. "What's important is how we get over the period of slump. I've learnt that when I am feeling down, I shouldn't rely on external factors to pull me out of it; I just need to develop the inner strength to motivate myself. I believe that's what defines a real leader and a real entrepreneur."
Now, as the sisters look forward to a future after the COVID-19 crisis, there is one particular post-pandemic shift in the direct selling ecosystem that they believe will continue to work in their favor: digitization. "For entrepreneurs like us whose business is 100% e-commerce, the shift to moving many of our offline activities to the virtual world has been almost seamless," says Narjis. "It has also presented us with the opportunity to get creative!" With many of Championaires' training, mentoring, and networking events now being conducted online as well, it has opened up the startup's doors to beyond the Middle East. "We are no longer restricted by any geographical limits," adds Nidaa. "We have been able to reach people in other countries who either lost their jobs due to COVID-19, or are looking for supplemental income opportunities to secure their future. As the saying goes, in every challenge, there is an opportunity, and our opportunity has allowed us to expand internationally. The world is our oyster now!
THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Narjis and Nidaa Ryweck share their tips for women in business
1. Surround yourself with the right people. "It has been proven time and again that we are the products of our surroundings. The most valuable tip would be to surround yourself with people who are aligned with your vision and goals, and reflect the person you want to be."
2. Stop thinking about gender as something that defines you. "If anything, being a woman gives you an advantage in building a business. Most women are naturally nurturing and patient, which is a great quality when building a team. I find that women are also much more adaptable and resilient, which are important traits in entrepreneurship."
3. Believe in yourself. "In the beginning of the journey, most likely you won't find many people believing in your potential, vision and mission, goals and dreams. That is why believing in yourself is key. Believing that the thing that you want or the thing that you are seeking is not just a coincidence. It is something that is meant for you to achieve."
4. Have your cake (and eat it too). "Women are born with the innate ability to multitask, so if anyone ever told you that you can't have it all, they didn't ever work with a woman."
5. Learn to trust your intuition. "We all have that voice inside of us, but fear holds us back. Listen to yourself more, and follow your instinct, and, most importantly, trust your intuition: you will thrive."