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Meet The Egyptian Entrepreneur Behind Science-Backed Play Essentials For Kids

Rana El Sakhawy has been cherry-picked as a Cartier Women’s Initiative fellow for creating the progrmme that boosts early brain development for children ages 36 months and younger.

With only 24 fellows selected amongst the 876 applicants hailing from 142 countries for the 2021 Cartier Women’s Initiative, making it on the list is undoubtedly a challenging feat. However, it’s something Rana El Sakhawy, on the roll of entrepreneurs leveraging business as a force for good, has managed with aplomb. El Sakhawy, one of the three regional finalists, is the mastermind behind MonkiBox, a Dubai-based early learning platform that helps parents support their child’s cognitive and physical development. The Egyptian Founder and CEO has made this possible through science-backed play essentials and information matched to the child’s stage of development.

“Our ultimate vision is to become the parents’ partner when it comes to their child's early development, and empower parents to become the main promoter of their child's development.” El Sakhawy, a Tepper School of Business graduate from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, explains.

MonkiBox’s Play Box Programme sees subscribers receiving a box of science-backed toys to their doorsteps, wherever they are in the world, at each developmental stage (every two months). Filled with play essentials and activities, the boxes are designed by experts and merge brain science, child development research and the Montessori philosophy.

The company’s sustainability goal has led it to focus on natural materials and partner with sustainable manufacturers to create high-quality products that minimise environmental impact. There are black-and-white cards for visual stimulation for the youngest babies and Montessori-inspired tools and activity-based toys for older babies starting to explore the world. Each box comes with easy-to-follow guides featuring expert advice so parents can better understand their children’s developmental stages.

The passion project that takes the guesswork out of choosing the right toys for early learning has reached about 1,300 families since mid-2018. And with parents’ positive reactions, there are plans to expand beyond the UAE to “impact as many children as possible,” El Sakhawy reveals. The former Uber executive hopes to have a positive effect on over “600,000 families across the MENA and in neighbouring developing countries” in the next five years. With only about 30 percent of children enrolled in pre-primary education in the region (the third-lowest rate worldwide), it seems like a surefire plan. El Sakhawy, who also worked as a Digital Product and Managing Partner for Qatar Luxury Group and founded UrbanSouq Digital Media, sees potential for the company to serve children beyond age three too.

With eighty-five percent of human brain development occurring before age three, the first years are a crucial foundation for future learning. Just like countless others, when El Sakhawy became a mother she wanted to make sure she wasn’t neglecting a critical part of her baby’s development in those formative years. She hoped to give her children the strongest start in life by curating early learning and development experiences.

“I used to spend countless hours just researching and trying to understand what my baby's going through,” the entrepreneur armed with an MBA from Madrid’s IE Business School says. “How can I help her develop? And how can I give her the best start in life?”

And although El Sakhawy was swamped by masses of information about early childhood learning, whether from doctors or different groups, she felt trying to make sense of everything and simplify it in a way she could put into action was overwhelming. So the go-getter who is “passionate about launching and operating new businesses, creating products, developing go-to-market strategies, and building effective cross-functional teams,” as she states on LinkedIn, launched MonkiBox. An answer to the information overload, it gives parents the right products and information. at just the right time.

About The Cartier Women’s Initiative
Since 2006, the Cartier Women’s Initiative has helped women reach their full potential by shining a light on their achievements and providing them with the necessary financial, social and human capital support to grow their businesses and build their leadership skills. The programme is open to women-run and women-owned businesses from any country and sector that aim to have a strong and sustainable positive impact on society as defined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

This year, the programme has launched the Science & Technology Pioneer Award. In addition to the seven existing Regional Awards, three more women impact entrepreneurs at the forefront of scientific and technological innovation will be recognised. Open to women entrepreneurs from any country and sector, this award will highlight disruptive solutions built around unique, protected or hard-to-reproduce technological or scientific advances.

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