I am the CEO and Co-Founder of ROAR for Good, a wearable safety tech company with a mission to reduce assaults and empower women. AMA.

ROAR for Good
Apr 9, 2018

My unique journey led me and my team at ROAR for Good to create a product that enhances community, spreads empowerment, and promotes empathy education. Our wearable, Athena, offers users safety at the touch of a button, and it's just the beginning! We're proud to be part of this watershed moment, where survivor's voices are being heard, and more and more folks are listening. Our organization 

 proceeds from each sale toward programs proven to enhance empathy and reduce violence. These are the first steps we'll take in tackling a large, complex problem.

I came to the U.S. when I was 8 years old after being taken from a bomb shelter in Kuwait by two US ambassadors during the Persian Gulf War. My little brother happened to be born in the states 7 weeks prior, so we were extracted because he was a citizen. A few years later, we discovered we were considered undocumented and had to take under the table jobs to survive. I put myself through college, started my own company which was later acquired, and after 22 long years finally became a US citizen.

To celebrate, I went on a six-month solo-trek across South America in the summer of 2013. While there, I encountered woman after woman who shared stories of times they had been victims of assault, harassment, or abuse.

A week after I came back to Philadelphia, a woman was out feeding her parking meter when she was grabbed from behind, dragged into an alley, and raped. I called my dear friend and co-founder Anthony Gold the next day and we made a commitment to leverage our skills, resources, and energy to make a difference. It was at that moment ROAR for Good (and eventually Athena) was born.

We're a certified B-corp and social impact company that wants to get to the root cause of violence against women. We take a percentage of each sale and invest it into nonprofit programs that teach youth (when they're most impressionable) about empathy, healthy relationships, and respect - programs proven to decrease harassment, attacks, and abuse against women in adulthood.

In fact, this month we are recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month by partnering with Hollaback!, a NYC-based grassroots organization who combats street harassment. They use the spaces where harassment occurs to have each other's backs and build a world “where we can all be who we are, wherever we are.” A portion of all proceeds received this month through device and gear sales will ROAR back to Hollaback to help further their mission and their reach.

I’m passionate about the concept of the birth lottery and how much it plays into the opportunities and challenges we’re faced with in life. Mine led me to wanting to champion the underserved and discover ways to leverage technology for good. You can learn more about the concept in this TEDx talk.

This AMA will end Apr 13, 2018 1PM EDT

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Where do you see yourself in five-year period of time?
Apr 13, 10:15AM EDT0

Good question. My goal is to have helped grow ROAR to become a force in helping individuals and organizations be and stay safe, be able to contribute to more women running for office, have empathy taught in schools and I would like to have helped humanize refugees and immigrants in a positive way. 

Apr 13, 10:51AM EDT0
What would you say was the hardest period of your life and why?
Apr 13, 6:19AM EDT0

The most challenging time was trying to go to school. I wasn't able to initially due to my status. My Mom ended up storming down to the local community college and pleading with the President. Despite that, you can't apply for scholarships or loans when you don't have a social security number so working 2-3 jobs making $5 dollars an hour to put myself through school was difficult - and it made it that much more special when I graduated. 

Last edited @ Apr 13, 11:01AM EDT.
Apr 13, 10:48AM EDT0
What do you think about the tech ecosystem in your city? How's the tech community? What kind of support have you received so far?
Apr 12, 6:00PM EDT0

Philly's tech scene has changed immensely in the last 10 years. I remember when there would be one event a month with dozens of people in attendance. Now, there are multiple events a night with hundreds of folks - we even have a Philly Tech Week dedicated to showcasing our startups and organizations. Support from companies like Comcast, more accelerators coming to Philly, funding sources from organizations like Ben Franklin Technology Partners, and conveners organizing tech meetups have contributed to this. The City itself has also been getting more involved as well as groups like Campus Philly focused on keeping college students after graduation.

I can't speak to other cities but one thing I've noticed from talking to friends who live elsewhere is we're really good at helping each other. We work with each other when there are opportunities. Because of our size, we're usually less than 3 degrees removed from an introduction which also helps. 

Apr 13, 10:57AM EDT0
One of the articles stated that it took you 7 years to graduate college? What's the story behind that?
Apr 12, 5:59PM EDT0

Good question. It was for two reasons: 1) I discovered I was undocumented when I was 15 which makes it difficult to enroll in school, 2) I couldn't initially attend school full-time, and 3) my father ended up leaving the family when I was 18 taking all the family savings with him which meant I had to put myself through school.

To survive, we all took under the table jobs which paid on average of $5/hr. And thanks to Mom's persistence in meeting with the President of my local community college, I was able to attend with the restriction of only taking 6 credits a semester and paying out of state tuition. As you can imagine, that meant working 2 jobs while going to school. Getting my Associate's Degree took 4 years as a result. From there, I attended Temple and despite having great grades I couldn't apply for scholarships or loans which meant another 3 years of school while saving enough. One of my proudest achievements is graduating summa cum laude while working 2 jobs over the course of 7.5 years. 

Apr 13, 10:46AM EDT0
What's your favourite middle eastern cuisine that you can never say no to?
Apr 12, 10:18AM EDT0

Great question! I love my Mom's cooking and especially lamb shawarma/gyros, feta and halloumi cheese, and knafeh (which is one of the most underrated Middle Eastern desserts). 

Apr 12, 11:47PM EDT0
How much time did it take you and your company to create Athena with all the advanced technology being used to?
Apr 12, 6:17AM EDT0

It took over 2 years from the moment we started prototyping to when we finished manufacturing. The most time went towards user testing in between each prototype phase. In building a safety product, we wanted to spend as much time testing as possible. 

Apr 12, 11:49PM EDT0
What are your thoughts on going nomad? How did help you discover your calling?
Apr 12, 6:17AM EDT0

I think going nomad full-time isn't possible as we need connection and roots to feel fulfilled as humans. The trip I went on helped me discover I wanted to do something that helped others, esp when I met too many women that shared stories of times they had been assaulted. I remember thinking I was going to work for a non-profit or join the Peace Corps. I never thought I would work overtime on another company, haha. 

Apr 12, 11:45PM EDT0
How do you psyhologically deal with the memories of the Persian Gulf War?
Apr 11, 9:20PM EDT0

Good question. Outside of the memories I've shared in the bomb shelter, I try not to think about them. 

Apr 12, 11:43PM EDT0
What were some of the obstacles you faced with trying to attain your US citizenship?
Apr 11, 2:27PM EDT0

There were quite a few: 

1) It turned out my family had a year to apply for citizenship from the moment we arrived in the US. They said no one told them which led to 2) finding out I was undocumented when I was 15 applying for college and having to restart the naturalization process from the beginning despite having already been in the country for 7 years. 3) When 9/11 happened, all applicants who were Middle-Eastern experienced a two-year pause in the process. 

Once I became a legal resident at 25 (this was 17 years after already being in the country), I had to wait 5 more years to take the citizenship test which is standard. All in all, it took 22 years to become legalized. 

Apr 11, 3:20PM EDT0

Hi Yasmine! I was at your talk yesterday at Penn's Perry World House. To say I was inspired is an understatement...I was emboldened to be a woman sitting in the same room as you, and am looking forward to following your endeavors as a fearless leader in tech and fellow Philadelphian! I just moved to Philly myself less than 2 weeks ago and am on the job hunt, unfortunately I see ROARforGood has no openings. Are there any internships your company is providing, or other companies with a socially-driven mission like yours you would recommend looking into in Philadelphia? Do you have any other advice for a young professional new to Philadelphia?

Last edited @ Apr 11, 1:00PM EDT.
Apr 11, 12:56PM EDT0

Hi Meghan, thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the session and welcome to Philadelphia! We're always looking for good interns and we keep applications on file as new openings appear so feel free to send a cover letter and your resume to hi at roarforgood dot com. 

Philadelphia is becoming known for impact companies so you're in luck. I'd recommend checking out the B Corporation Directory, subscribing to the ImpactPHL newsletter as well as NetImpact.org to find additional resources. 

Moving to a new city can be challenging and I'd recommend going to Meetup.com and attending those that are of interest to your personal and professional goals to make friends, learn new skills, and network. Good luck! 

Apr 11, 3:24PM EDT1
Other than wearabe tehnology, what are some of the other advancements or creations recently developed to assist women against assault?
Apr 11, 12:08PM EDT0

I'd love to reframe this question and focus on advancements or creations that have been developed to help teach consent and empathy which would lead to reducing assaults in general. There are a bunch of programs run by A Call to Men, and Men Can, and Men Can Stop Rape and so on which are fantastic in terms of creating male allies and education. More advancements in this space or passing laws that require schools to teach consent and empathy would make a big impact in reducing assaults. 

Last edited @ Apr 12, 3:27PM EDT.
Apr 11, 3:27PM EDT0
To what extent did luck or chance have a role in what you have survived and achieved in your life thus far?
Apr 11, 7:47AM EDT0

It's difficult to say for sure which is why I believe it's important to contemplate the randomness of the birth lottery. I like to play a game of "What if?" sometimes. "What if my parents hadn't left Palestine and I was there today?" "What if my brother hadn't been born in the US and Saddam had not invaded Kuwait?" I can look at my cousins and other family members to see what my life could have looked like and it helps give me new perspectives that I may not have otherwise. I consider myself lucky to have found great mentors like my English high school teacher, a college professor who encouraged me, and a strong mother who carried a lot of burdens after my Dad left. At the end of the day, I do believe we make our own choices that lead to where we end up. I chose to keep my head up and focus on the things that I could control until I became naturalized and all the obstacles and struggles I experienced led me to grow in different ways which helped me become resilient. 

Apr 11, 3:30PM EDT0
How do you react to US natives and their negative views of immigrants?
Apr 11, 5:14AM EDT0

I talk to them about the birth lottery and ask them to consider this scenario from Warren Buffet: 

"Just imagine that it is 24 hours before you are born. A genie comes and says to you in the womb, "You look like an extraordinarily responsible, intelligent, potential human being. [You're] going to emerge in 24 hours and it is an enormous responsibility I am going to assign to you — determination of the political, economic and social system into which you are going to emerge. You set the rules, any political system, democracy, parliamentary, anything you wish — you can set the economic structure, communistic, capitalistic, set anything in motion and I guarantee you that when you emerge this world will exist for you, your children and grandchildren.

What's the catch? One catch — just before you emerge you have to go through a huge bucket with 7 billion slips, one for each human. Dip your hand in and that is what you get — you could be born intelligent or not intelligent, born healthy or disabled, born black or white, born in the US or in Bangladesh, etc. You have no idea which slip you will get. Not knowing which slip you are going to get, how would you design the world? Do you want men to push around females? It's a 50/50 chance you get female. If you think about the political world, you want a system that gets what people want. You want more and more output because you'll have more wealth to share around."

It's a unique way to frame how likely it is it could have been and ask them to consider how they would design the world so it's more just if they had the chance. 

Apr 11, 3:32PM EDT0

Have you faced backlash or drawbacks while creating Athena?

Apr 10, 5:01AM EDT0

We do face tension, as we always will. Some folks see the device at face value and critique it for being anti-feminist, victim-blaming, or fear-mongering. We can see those sides. We know we want to live in a world where individuals don't need watchers on an app to feel safe, and we know we're not there yet. Giving users the opportunity to engage the device when they need and want to, with chosen contacts, can be a really empowering experience. But more importantly, proceeds from devices translate into empathy and anti-violence programming. 

We are trying to resolve this issue at the source. We know it's a massive, complex issue, and therefore any response needs to match the complexity and scope. We welcome feedback because it ultimately strengthens our approach, but we also want people to know that we don't see the device alone as a solution. We see it as a first step in a series of many, many complex (and still undecided!) steps.

Apr 12, 3:04PM EDT1
What challenges do you think women in particular face in the business world, in terms of access to resources, participation in decision-making bodies, etc.?
Apr 9, 10:27PM EDT0

I’d love for more women entrepreneurs to get the venture capital they need to bring their products or services to market. In 2017, only 2 percent of venture capital went to female CEOs, and women represent just 6 percent of VCs. It's even worse for people of color. This is despite research showing that VC-backed companies with women executives have a higher financial performance. I know what it’s like to pitch to a room of men who didn’t understand why women would fear using existing self-defense solutions like pepper spray and may prefer Athena. To change the ratio, we need more initiatives to build pipelines that drive women to become partners or investors at VC firms or to start their own funds to invest in other women.

Apr 10, 12:19PM EDT0
Are you in line to launch more safety products for women? Or any plans to run new campaign for women empowerment?
Apr 9, 5:55PM EDT0

We're working on some cool things I can't quite share yet but be sure to sign up for our newsletter for updates. And yes, we're always looking to partner with organizations - like Hollaback this month in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month - to spark conversations and ignite change. 

Last edited @ Apr 10, 1:23PM EDT.
Apr 10, 12:21PM EDT0
Why do you think these women who were abused or harassed trusted you with their stories?
Apr 9, 1:11PM EDT0

I don't know that the trust was in me, necessarily, as much as it was a trust in positive change. In communities everywhere, people who are hurting watch and listen for cues that they are safe. I hope my team and I project those qualities and invite people in, because the mutual relationship with survivors is invaluable to us. 

Apr 9, 1:16PM EDT0
What have been your biggest takeaways about the opportunities and challenges facing women’s entrepreneurship in the near future?
Apr 9, 12:09PM EDT0

I look forward to the day I'm invited to tech panels and questions on what it's like to be a woman in tech aren't the focus. I think those that specifically focus on the challenges could deter women from starting businesses or entering tech. Instead, I'd love to see the conversations to focus on opportunities or advantages. 

Studies have shown that diverse leadership teams lead to better problem solving, better solutions, and it increases the bottom line for companies. One opportunity I mentioned in another question is the potential of how much more women and people of color could do with access to VC funding. 

Apr 10, 12:24PM EDT0
Where do you see ROAR and yourself in next 4-5 years?
Apr 9, 11:59AM EDT0

We see ourselves working with more companies and universities who want to ensure the safety of their employees who travel or students and we also want to have our non-profit arm focused on uplifting women in positions of power (judges, politicians) as well as continuing to teach empathy. 

Apr 10, 11:12AM EDT0
What is the story behind Guinness Book of Records?
Apr 9, 11:49AM EDT0

Good question! We were wondering too. Here's what we found. 

Apr 9, 1:09PM EDT0