Celebrating International Women’s Day: Meet The B-School Female Founders

Meraki Smile School is a cooperation project started during the pandemic. As Berlin was under lockdown, I was frustrated and decided to help people through my social volunteering commitment.

Education is a tool that will help to change the world. After doing some market research for a proper place to start our project, I came across Madagascar. There are many children there who have scarce resources to have a proper future. It was also important that the project could be sustainable in the long term.

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. Last year, the south of the country was suffering a severe drought which caused a famine among the population. In the last month, it has been hit twice by tropical storms that have caused floods and the loss of lives and houses. As Meraki Smile School is a cooperation project, I looked for a local partner because I wanted to adapt it to the local community.

We chose a rural area near Antananarivo (the capital of Madagascar) marked by low life expectancy and low rates of school attendance among children. In May 2021, I put together a team of international volunteers and looked for donations to fund the project. In August 2021, I was able to travel there and open the school. We rented the building, painted it, bought the furniture, chose the first 30 pupils, 15 boys and 15 girls aged five to seven, and hired the teachers.

Thanks to everyone involved, we managed to open the school in September 2021. Since then, we have been offering our students a high-quality and free education. We are now teaching them how to read and write in Malagasy and English.

Our objective is to have 30 new students each year until they graduate when they’re 18. We are also working to make sure we have the funds to finance the school in the long run because, right now, this is being done through individual donations and a Gofundme campaign.

Was it always your goal to become a founder?:

Yes, it was. I have always dreamed of founding my own non-profit organization. My parents founded an NGO in Seville, my hometown, in 2000, so I have been volunteering in different social projects my whole life. You can say that social volunteering is part of my DNA. Before I founded Meraki Smile School, I was the co-founder of a non-profit school in Lebanon, Beirut, helping mostly Syrian refugees living there. During the pandemic and the lockdown in Berlin, I was frustrated and decided to do what I have been used to do until then: help people through my social volunteering commitment. 

What advice would you have for other entrepreneurial women that want to fund a company?:

“Difficulty is the excuse that history never accepts” (Edward R. Murrow). 

In life, it is easier to give excuses on why we cannot do something rather than adopting a pro-active attitude to solve that problem. Before coming up with Meraki, I spent around two months looking for non-profits across Africa where I could volunteer. I did not find a perfect match. Instead of complaining about why I did not like those non-profits, I decided to work on solving the problem: opening my own non-profit. I left excuses aside and I tackled the problem with a direct approach. And everything that came after that is history.

How did your experience at business school help you with your venture?:

We are exposed to many fantastic lecturers from different backgrounds. We had a subject called Entrepreneurship and its teacher introduced me to other contacts from her network. She also shared research and advice with me. At ESMT Berlin, I found people that have supported and believed in me from the beginning. This has inspired me to keep working hard on Meraki regardless of the challenges.

What are your hopes for the future of women in business?:

I think it is clear the future is female. More and more women are getting promoted into powerful positions among different sectors. We need more women stepping up and helping to shape this new century.

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