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Finding Happiness with Social Entrepreneur Jumana Al Darwish

Jumana Al Darwish is a mother and businesswoman who puts zero limitations on her capabilities to achieve anything she sets her mind to. Motivated and driven by her daughter, she started her enterprise in 2014 from her dining table, to her garage, and then to her Happy Studio. From there, her company hosts events and interactive art installations for all ages, and is a place where families get to learn, have creative fun and spend quality time together.

With a philanthropic aim to spread happiness and give back to those less fortunate, Jumana is an inspirational female powerhouse who knows no limits when it comes to fiercely and consistently achieving her goals and dreams without neglecting her family, and managed to pin her down for an insight into her world.

Tell us a little about Happy Box - where did this idea come from?
I founded The Happy Box in 2014 as an educational social enterprise that provides curated and themed arts and crafts in a box inclusive of instructions in Arabic and English and all materials required for the little ones to create their activities. The Happy Box and its contents are produced exclusively by us and all activities are designed to improve a child's cognitive and motor development skills and add a bit of sparkle along the way of course!

What started out as a social experiment later evolved into a global movement and core to our ethos is the promotion of happiness and positive change, family bonding and instilling the love of art and creativity amongst children and community members.

What was your drive and motivation behind establishing your own business?
My very own happy box, my daughter Ayla. She is the driving force behind our concept and all that I build is for her.

I had previously led a career in philanthropy working for a number of initiatives under the directive of the UAE government for over 8 years and when I entered the world of motherhood, I felt compelled to be more present in my little one’s life especially in the very early years of her development. I took a leap a faith and entered a field which was very much unknown to me - entrepreneurship. The Happy Box became my adventure and a personal challenge. I was determined to make it a success and I was one of the very fortunate ones to be able to build a company around my daughter which gave me flexibility to be more present in her life despite the extensive hours that were required of me during the initial startup phase of The Happy Box.

What happens at the Happy Studio?
Over the years, our mandate grew across the GCC and what was run primarily from my dining room table to then garage was now evolving to a permanent space, The Happy Studio, our headquarters and regional offices. The Happy Studio is a community space based at Alserkal Avenue (warehouse 73) and features The Happy Box factory and our offices, where we host numerous events and interactive community art installations for all age groups.

I am also in the process of starting our third enterprise “Happy Hearts Global” which is a private family foundation based in London under the UK Charity Commission. Happy Hearts Global initially started as a CSR program of The Happy Box and entailed the gifting of thousands of happy boxes (educational kits) to underprivileged children in 11 countries. In celebration of our 5-year anniversary, I felt it was time to realize my lifelong dream of starting my own foundation and hence proceeded to formalize this process in the UK. Happy Hearts Global will provide children and in specific girls in disadvantaged communities with access to primary educational globally. I am very excited about our next chapter, hearts that give are truly the happiest!

You're an aspirational Arab woman. As a mum and successful businesswoman in the region, what advice would you give to other mums who aspire to have their own businesses without having to neglect their family life?
I believe if you have a dream and are passionate about it, you must pursue it or else you will spend your life regretting it or continuously asking yourself - what if? We, at times, put our dreams on hold for the sake of our families and during this process we tend to lose ourselves. If you have a dream and are capable of running after it, what is stopping you? My journey was surely not easy and entailed a number of hardships and at times I thought of quitting, but deep down nothing made me happier than witnessing my dream come to life.  I am grateful to my family for encouraging me to keep moving forward, their support was integral and to them I am forever indebted.

How do you strike a healthy balance between work and family?
Despite striving for perfection throughout my life, I have come to realize that perfecting a balance is unattainable. There are days where I am more present as a mother and there are days where I am more present at my work space. I take each day as it comes without self-judgement and I try and be a better person. I have lowered my expectations but never my standards and I have come to accept myself as I am.

The Happy Box sits on the basis of spreading happiness, what makes you happy?
In all honesty, this may sound very utopian but I get pleasure and satisfaction when I see that others have been positively impacted by our products and services. I love that moment of sparkle that I see in their eyes, it fills my heart and makes me feel so proud to be in the business of happy.

As an inspirational woman, who are the women that have inspired you on your journey so far?
I have been blessed with the love and support of many female family figures, friends, fellow partners and networks.

However, I would have to stay my greatest inspiration of all is my mother, a powerful woman of grace and elegance. My father was a diplomat and given the nature of his work, we moved around extensively. My mother was and still very much is the anchor of our family. She instilled values of adaptability, resilience and the ability to see things from a different and more positive perspective - happiness is a state of mind and it is truly about being present and appreciating the beautiful and sometimes little things that come our way.

As an Arab woman, mum, and entrepreneur, what have been your greatest challenges and how did you overcome them?
My father once told me that there are two things in life that will forever define me and in fact grant me power; the fact that I am a woman and one that is educated. He taught to never underestimate my capabilities and that there should be no limits to my dreams. I have had several hardships along the way, but with hardships come triumphs and learning. Challenges should never stop us from running after our dreams.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
My goodness, many! It has been one exciting journey. I have been so lucky to witness the growth of The Happy Box over the course of the past 5 years with an incredible team who share my dream and are allegiant to our mandate, to establishing a community space " The Happy Studio" where people of all age groups are welcome to visit and be a part of a greater movement and our latest venture Happy Hearts Global.

What does female empowerment mean to you and how do you use your position to empower others?
Female empowerment is about rising together. It is about helping those around you attain their dreams. An empowered woman can make mountains move. We are all in this together and we have a duty towards one another to support and help each other grow. 

Lastly, what words of empowerment would you like to share with our readers?
Dream big, stay focused and remember to have fun - you can attain anything you put your mind to!

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