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Building Mental Resilience Through Community, With Areije Al-Shakar

Updated: Apr 1

Episode 14: Building mental resilience through community, with Areije Al-Shakar

Hi everyone,

The new year is finally upon us!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s eagerly looking to see what this new year will bring our way, especially given the bizarre year the world has gone through in 2020, courtesy of Covid-19.

The truth is, there’s nothing mystical about January, 2020. It’s simply a new month. But I guess “hope” has been driving people for centuries (whether it was Europeans seeking new lands and riches when sailing towards the New World, or a modern-day needs-to-hit the gym person seeking motivation at the start of every week). So, I suppose there’s nothing stopping most of the world from hoping for a fresh start from Corona and economic downturns in 2021.

Looking back at 2020, certain industries were shaken-up more than most, particularly retail,

education, and healthcare. In came tech to the rescue as people interacting with these industry parameters had to do so virtually overnight. But, you know the story there: “accelerated industry growth”, and so on.

What I want to particularly put a spotlight on this week is the increased attention mental health has been given over the last year. The “wellness” had seen an upward trend anyway, before the pandemic, but it seems that the state of people’s minds was of particular concern since March 2020. Everyone was tested mentally this year, without an exception, and many turned to technology to help them attain better mental healthcare.

Globally, mental health tech deals totaled $1.6 billion in 2020, according to Pitchbook. Yes, there are apps that are sensations globally, such as Calm and Headspace, but would people tuning in from the Middle East respond to the calming voice of John Legend on Headspace if they don’t know who he is (my mom certainly doesn’t know of him, to name just one!).

And so, we have seen a couple of regional solutions come up, such as Mindhouse by one of the Zomato co-founders who partnered exclusively with UAE-headquartered bank Emirates NBD as a direct-to-consumer distribution strategy.

I’ve also heard of a few apps pop up in the space that offer their services in the Arabic language. Very smart of most of the people in the region who wouldn’t know what “child’s pose” means without referencing a visual queue.

On that note, I hope you enjoy the latest episode that covers the topic of the human side of entrepreneurship. Despite what the media depicts, entrepreneurs are not robots! Though some may be able to function on very little sleep and limited social interaction, but the fact is that they are all still humans who face the risk of burnout if they chase the entrepreneur dream without any pit stop breaks along the way.

In this episode, we’ll be talking about how to keep your mental health intact as an entrepreneur.

We had a meaningful discussion with Areije Al-Shakar, who has guided startups throughout her career in the area of funding (debt, equity, and VC), and along the way has learned about effective coaching and mentoring whilst appealing to the human side of the entrepreneurs across the table from her. Together we discuss:

  1. Building a strong network of connections to aid start-up growth

  2. Importance of acknowledging loss and admitting to mistakes

  3. How cultural barriers prevent us from discussing mental health

  4. How to find a mentor and build the basis for a strong win-win relationship

You don't need to build a business alone, seek guidance — it's closer than you may think it is!

When building a business, look for guidance from people who have set up business ventures successfully (or been part of a team that did so). You may not have to look far (for example, you may have resourceful family members), though sometimes, you may have to make an effort to find mentors. Mentors can be found at events (whether in-person or virtual), and you'd often approach them by networking (so, brush up on your conversation skills!). Beyond the advisory aspect, mentors can also become prospect investors.

Remember the “human element” of business when investing in technology

Once engrossed in investing or setting up a business, people tend to forget that, at the end of the day, we all are humans and have emotions (positive as well as negative) that drive our business choices. So, next time you meet an entrepreneur, ask them how they're doing (or ask your mentor to ask you how you're doing!).

People in regional clusters tend to have similar backgrounds (e.g. who doesn't enjoy a nice vacation) and so we can all relate at a human-level when engaging in conversation. Even when working with people who have come to join forces with you on your venture from abroad, you can still related to the "human" behind the employee tag.

Identify the learnings from all "failures" and embrace them

When any loss is experienced, the person experiencing it will no doubt suffer a mental toll. Loss in business is no different, whether it's closing a product, department, or startup altogether.

And so, entrepreneurs must take the time to grieve their losses and embrace that it will only make them stronger in their next ventures. Ignoring how we feel doesn’t make it go away nor does it teach us how to be prepared for future instances. After admitting to mistakes, we allow ourselves to grow.

Knowing your weaknesses is a strength.

When speaking with an entrepreneur who's embarked on the startup journey previously, ask them what were their learnings from previous ventures. Bragging about previous startup adventures are not worth much if the entrepreneur has not identified the learnings that came with the journey. More experienced people find it easier to deal with failure and loss since they’ve already experienced it.

Middle-eastern culture discourages acknowledging failure — and that needs to change!

Eastern cultures are less likely to express their emotions and how they feel about negative events. Asians (Middle Easterns included) struggle with uncomfortable conversations, hence, they don’t talk about anything that is difficult to express or negative in nature. This cultural barrier prevents them from being honest and accepting of past failures, which, in turn, is problematic because they are then more likely to repeat mistakes.

The Middle East needs to build more accepting work cultures so that everyone can understand each other alike and learn how to succeed based on their shared organizational goals. A great work environment allows businesses to flourish, as people are more comfortable around each other, more open about their feelings, and have a common goal to work towards.

Until then,



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