Yasmine E-Mehairy doesn't have children yet. No doubt this is the reason that, one day in in the fall of 2010, she was struck by the stresses of her sister-in-law's pregnancy, by the difficulty in finding useful information, and the impossibility of choosing from the deluge of advice offered by countless mothers.
"We're very social," she told me with a big smile, full of cultural pride. "Social" in the sense that women there discuss much with each other, tell their stories, share huge and intimate parts of their lives with each other. No reason here to mistrust ITC. This might be a clue to help understand how new medias, Facebook or otherwise, are exploding in usage in societies like Egypt's.
This is where the idea for SuperMama.me came from. (The .me is for "Middle East," even though the domain is actually from Montenegro – a lot of Middle Eastern entrepreneurs targeting the region do this.) The site is a discussion space where future mothers can find expert advice and the stories of others' experiences.
"But much faster and easier," E-Mehairy said.
SuperMama hopes to become a community, a place for conversation and sharing as well as a space for accessing relevant experts, from nutritionists to psychologists. The site gives practical info about time and money management, and offers useful tools like a pregnancy calendar, and others for controlling budget and weight. All of this available in Arabic and English.
E-Mehairy and her colleagues boast of the fact that they introduced the concept of paternity in the site's "Daddy Darling" space, an attempt to involve fathers in the lives of their children.
"Something unheard of in the Arab world," she said with a slightly provocative grin. At the time I interviewed her, the two top articles were about preparing family vacations and the different forms of male contraception. The women are counting on the curiosity of male readers, easily intrigued by a site reserved for women.
Launched October 1st, the site seems to be gaining traction. "There are 5 million women online in the age group we're targeting," E-Mehairy says. The site offers them a service that didn't exist before.
But why create a specifically Egyptian site (especially one with English content) if future Egyptian mothers can already find all the information they need on the web?
The answer is striking: "What all these sites are missing is the local aspect," meaning information adapted to a specific national and regional context.
"Europe gets less sun, so your sites give a lot of advice about correcting Vitamin D deficiency. But an Egyptian woman following that advice would end up taking toxic doses. The climate is different," she explained to me in the conference hall at ArabNet, held last October in Cairo.
Her beauty, presence and personality, the way she wears her hijab, the quality of her work, and the market's potential all help her attract investor attention. SuperMama has already won two startup competitions, and has received funding from Danish and American investors.
But is she innovating? Definitely, in Egypt, especially regionally. "We're the first to gather articles around the subject, to launch a space for discussion, to offer online organization tools, to reward users with badges – collecting "queen of the kitchen" or "social butterfly" badges to become SuperMamas," E-Mehairy said without hesitation or doubt.
Making a service local isn't a new idea. The first to focus on it, or at least say they were focusing on it, were the major multinationals. But there's no indication that they have any idea how to proceed. Innovation can help with the local aspect, how to talk about something as universal as pregnancy – and what's more universal than pregnancy? – while adapting the dialogue to local conditions.
Looking at region-specific problems, E-Mehairy stands a good chance of finding the best answers to global questions.
The overarching question is whether we're most likely to see innovation as something absolute, or at least something that's always new and always global, when in reality innovations might always be relative, both in time and space.
As the head of the company, is E-Mehairy is tempted to use the services her service offers?
"I'm in no hurry," she says with a happy smile. "I'm waiting until I find a superpapa."
[Photo credit: Francis Pisani]