Doing Good

Marrakech, Morocco: and a tale of Project Soar, the Day of the Girl, and We Will Rise

Dear friends,

It's a special day.  It's the International Day of the Girl!  Every year, this day reminds me of my commitment to trying to help make the world a better place for its girls.  I was so lucky as a girl -- my parents made my education a priority, enrolling me to the best schools they could afford.  They ferried me to ballet and violin lessons in the afternoon and sent me to camps over the summer.  They did everything to ensure that I would have a chance to have a fulfilled and productive future.  

So many girls in developing countries are not so lucky.  Through the luck of the cards, the opportunities they have are few and far between.  Their parents grapple with trying to make ends meet.  School is not a priority - indeed 34 million adolescent girls are not in school today.  When girls are denied an education, they are more likely to marry as children.  700 million women alive today were married at the age of 17 years old or younger.  Poor girls are 2.5 times more likely to marry in childhood.  

The fact is that this is not good, this is not fair, and this is not acceptable.  

When my husband and I founded the non-profit organization,  Project Soar in 2013, it was our small way as social entrepreneurs of tackling this problem.  We wanted to help empower girls to continue their education through after school activities.  See what happens here when girls get an education.

My husband and I committed ourselves to making our businesses -- Peacock Pavilions and the M.Montague Souk -- enterprises that gave back. And they do!  We are proud to have channeled thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of service to Project Soar.   Today the organization has a fantastic full time field manager, Olivia DiNucci (pictured below) in a collaboration with the Peace Corps/Morocco.  We also have an academic director and several part-time instructors.  We have just taken over a second small building in our community in order to be able to offer girls more academic support and a safe space to study.

In June an incredible visit by US First Lady Michelle Obama to Morocco as part of her #LetGirlsLearn initiative gave Project Soar a chance to participate in a critical discussion around girl's education.  The amazing team at Girl Rising came out to Project Soar with Meryl Streep (pinch me!) to film the new movie, We Will Rise, and included the story of two of our girls.  

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The We Will Rise film is premiering today and tomorrow on CNN!  Please help us celebrate the Day of the Girl by watching with your friends and family!  This clip (IT'S SO GOOD!) on CNN will give you a feel!

The First Lady extended an invitation to Washington to the two Project Soar girls featured in the film, as well as to our Project Soar Field Manager.  So they will be watching from the White House!  Amazing!!!

As President of Project Soar, this is such a special moment in our history.  I would love for you to join us!  Please consider making a donation to Project Soar and let's #LetGirlsLearn!  Also, please follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.  We are also looking for some talented new board members.  If you are interested in joining our great small board, please write me at projectsoarmarrakeshATgmail.com  to learn about the financial and time requirements.   It's an exciting way to do something concrete to empower girls!  

With love,

Maryam

Net-a-Porter, and a tale of being in Porter Magazine

Growing up, my mother was the best dressed woman I knew.  Petite and Iranian, she had her clothes tailored to match her size 2 frame.  She fit into the sample sizes and took advantage of designer sales in a hundred mile radius.  Unlike the other mothers in our relaxed Westchester New York community who lived in tennis skirts, my mother was always dressed stylishly, her thick mane of black hair coiffed, her make up impeccable.  Her closet was also a place of childhood fascination -- the closets opened to well ordered perfection, with clothes categorized and pressed, ostrich and snakeskin handbags lined up, shoes kept in their original boxes.

Marrakech, Morocco: and a tale of being a social entrepreneur

I was running a prisoner rights program when I started this blog.  You didn't know that because, well, I didn't talk about my work.  I would go on assignments in Mali, Egypt, South Africa, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and I'd take you with me. But I never really shared what I was doing.  

My life was a little bipolar back then.  There was the do-good part of me that helped people, organizations, and movements in far flung places. I did this for a living because I believed in it.  My father also had been in international humanitarian aid and I followed in his footsteps.  

Then there was the other part of me that loved design, culture and hospitality.  There was my hotel Peacock Pavilions, there was my souk shop, there was my design book Marrakesh by Design. That was the more visual part of what I did and the side of me that I shared on this blog.

But it didn't feel quite right. I was like a Venn diagram where I couldn't align all the circles to find the sweet spot.  I wanted to discover a way to bring it all together and walk the talk by day and by night.  And so nearly two years ago, I started Project Soar.

Project Soar is a social experiment in doing good that invests its energy in underprivileged girls.  Girls whose futures aren't all that bright -- futures that likely involve becoming girl brides and then starting the cycle all over again.  

As an American 501 (3) (C) non-profit, tax exempt organization, we work with nearly 60 underprivileged girls and their moms.  We provide creative and sports activities weekly as well as health education.  We also do work in the community where they live to make it a nicer place to be.  

It's not glamorous but it's good. (Maybe good is the new glamorous?)   

For a long time I didn't talk about Project Soar outside of a small circle of colleagues and volunteers.  Why?  Because it took time and perseverance to get it right.  Frankly, I also didn't discuss it on this blog because I didn't think that's what you wanted to hear.  

But the fact is that I am a social entrepreneur, and I am proud of it.  I believe the future of solving the world's problems lies in all of our hands, and that includes In the hands of small business owners and entrepreneurs like me and maybe you. It's not necessarily the grand gesture -- it's the small gesture, too.  It's not about giving up all your possessions, and going to work for Mother Theresa or Doctors without Borders (although that's fantastic, too). Nor is it about foregoing the pretty handbag or the swanky shoes.  

It's about all of us.  Each of us saying, Hey, I can help.  And then doing that, consistently, with commitment.

Peacock Pavilions donates 10% of its profits to Project Soar. We are Marrakesh's Do-Good Guesthouse.   Every sale at my Souk also benefits Project Soar. (See here, how).  

I feel like my personal Venn diagram makes so much more sense now.

Project Soar has partners and collaborators, like our Kuwaiti friends Huda and Mayada who are benefactors, Swatchroom that holds fundraisers, the American School of Marrakech that supports us with student volunteers, Eat, Pray, Move Yoga that does Give Back Retreats, Imperial Black which contributes a % of profits of their Montague shirts, the Guitar Center which donates instruments, The Day Law Practice that provides pro bono legal advice, One World Futbol which gave us hundreds of soccer balls to distribute to 50 villages, Be Girl which is collaborating on a project for our girls and women, and Manduka that donates yoga mats.  These are all social businesses that care.

We also have big-hearted, talented people who volunteer their time as instructors, like Delphine Warin, Stephanie von WatzdorfAmy Butler, April Meeker, Jennifer Harr, Souhail Tazi, Laurence Landon, Faysal Chadimi, Lauren Ruddick, Alicia Danzig, Genevieve DawsonMarta CarrascosaSarah QuinnAndrea Clark, BassamLise Buntschuh, Melanie Royals, Cait Lees and Mat Sanchez, Chae Hirano, Diane Rakocy, Caroline Douglas, Hermione O'Hea, Annette Whitford, Sasa Tang, the Cafe Clock StorytellersThe Urban Foxes, and many others. Additionally, there are people who have worked tirelessly for Project Soar like Michelle Hirschfield, Skylar Montague Redecke, Chris Redecke, Khawla Asfani, Steven Roberts, Kaydee Dahlin, Jen Murphy, Anna Wang, Suzanne Coppola and the list goes on.

They are all a part of the Project Soar Nation -- a country without borders, where people strive to be good neighbors through tangible acts.  

I'd love for you to be part of the Project Soar Nation, too.  Do you want to be?

Are you in London?  This Saturday, December 6, I am going to London for a fundraiser, hosted by generous Sarita Jha and Kathryn Kerle. There will be wine, nibbles and live violin playing by two child prodigies (really!).  I will also be doing a small trunk show of tribal chic items perfect for the modern nomad (and the holidays!). The donation is only 30 GBP.  You can get more information and rsvp by emailing Sarita.Jha2012@outlook.com.

Please come!  I'd love to meet you!

PS If you'd like to collaborate, give or learn more about Project Soar, please drop us a line at projectsoarmarrakesh@gmail.com