How did you come up with the idea of Healthy Women?
I was born and raised in the area of Järva - a suburb of Stockholm with a diverse migrant community. My mom’s from Sweden and my dad’s from Kurdistan. Growing up with both the Swedish and Kurdish sides of my family, I saw the best and worst from both worlds, and that gave me a lot of perspective.
I have always been interested in sports. My parents understood the value of sports and encouraged me from a very young age. I played soccer from the age of 4 until 13. When I became a teenager I started working out in the local gym. I quickly noticed that I was the only woman there. And, if you’re alone in an environment, if you don’t fit the norm, then, of course, you stand out. So, I got all kinds of I got a lot of comments - both good and bad.
Why weren’t there any other women at the gym?
I asked my friends and people in my surroundings “How come you're not working out?” And I almost always got the same answer - that they want to start training but they don’t have the self-confidence to go to the gym by themselves, or they don’t know where to go.
I realized many women in socio-economic challenged areas have a huge knowledge gap when it comes to sports. There are various factors for that - many face cultural or gender stereotypes or feel unsafe in male-dominated environments. Some don’t understand the value of working out. Many simply can’t afford it. The result is a lower quality of life and lower life expectancy.
Check out a video about Healthy Women on our YouTube channel
How did you tackle this problem?
Well, I also know how much more sports give not only in terms of your physical health but also your mental well-being. You meet new friends, you learn discipline and different healthy habits, that you can apply in work and life. But most of all - it gives you a network. If you ask people who’ve been part of a soccer, volleyball or basketball team what they remember most vividly about it, it’s going to be the feeling of a community.
So, I started wondering - what if we could apply that community spirit to more modern activities women are interested in?
Going alone to the gym is scary and intimidating, but what if a group of women started going to the gym together?
It was 2019, and I was 22 when that idea came to my mind. I had been going to the gym for more than five years already, and I wanted to help other women, to inspire them. I decided to strengthen my knowledge and share it with others. I went on and got certified as a personal trainer. At the same time, I entered a social entrepreneurship competition organized by BLING and I pitched my idea. And that’s how Healthy Women started.
What does Healthy Women do today?
Healthy Women is a network for girls and young women to engage in physical activities and ongoing social gatherings. We offer free exercise groups, weekly activities such as kickboxing and dance classes, gym groups, monthly girls' nights, and annual camps in nature.
We create a community that improves young women’s physical and mental health. We also educate them to become young leaders. We have a group of engaged members - girls from 13 to 18 - who we call ambassadors. They are the ones who create the agenda for the monthly girls’ evenings - that could be trying out a new physical activity like climbing, but also talking about important subjects like violence against women or mental health. One of the key principles in our organization is that it’s driven by our target audience for our target audience.
We currently work with around 1000 girls aged 13 to 30 in Järva and Skärholmen - but we aim to create new partnerships and expand to more cities in the future.
We also share educational content on our social media, in order to inspire more girls to dare to challenge themselves. We started experimenting with social media when COVID hit and we couldn’t do our usual activities in person. Today we have over 30 000 followers in TikTok, but we reach hundreds of thousands more. We share ideas for training at home or in the gym that women can try on their own, and positive examples of girls from our network.
We try to challenge the gender norms - about what women should do or look like.
Can you give an example of the impact Healthy Women has on the girls in your network?
The story of one of the girls from our ambassadors' group really inspires me. I met her when she was 15, during a visit to her school - that’s how we recruit new members, besides through social media. She wanted to start working out, so I invited her to come to an opening event of ours. But she was convinced her parents wouldn’t allow her to come because they were worried about her going to a male-dominated environment like the gym.
I told her I understood and offered to talk to them, but she managed to convince them herself, explaining that our event was going to be just for women, and that she'd be in a safe environment with us. So, happily, they let her come, she started coming regularly to our activities, and I recruited her as one of the first ambassadors.
Now, she’s 18 years old and has actually become the leader of our ambassadors' group. In just 3 years, she went from not being allowed to the gym to being a part of our team, being a leader who inspires others in her turn.
If you come back to your entrepreneurial journey, what was your lowest point, and what kept you going further?
The toughest thing for me was that I had no experience in building or running an organization. I had no idea how time-consuming it would be, and the types of challenges I would encounter. Especially in the beginning, I run into unexpected issues 10 times a day, it was really hard.
But the thing that kept me going was that I had a really clear vision of what I wanted to create. And every time I encountered something that was rough, I pushed through. Because I knew that if I helped even just one girl to lead a healthier lifestyle, it would be worth it. And that would be all the inspiration I would need to keep going.
What would you advise someone who's just starting their social enterprise?
Believe in yourself. I know it sounds very cliche, but if you think about it, it's true.
The only person that stands in the way of your dreams is yourself. You could be your best friend. You can also be your worst enemy.
And also - surround yourself with people that can help you in this journey, because there's so much knowledge out there. So, if you don’t know something - that’s OK, you can learn. Nothing is impossible.