SuperMama, an Egyptian website designed to help new mothers and mothers-to-be with accurate pregnancy and motherly advice hasn’t even had its first birthday, but the site, brought to life by Yasmine El-Mehairy, has already won business competitions. The site reached 20,000 unique hits in its first month and attracted 2,000 members when it launched in October 2011. The bilingual Arabic and English site SuperMama is paving its way through the Arab world, dispelling old wives’ tales handed down from generation to generation while still respecting not only important advice from mother to daughter, but also religious views in the Middle East.
“Our aim is to become, in the near future, the first website [of choice] for women in the Middle East and North Africa,” El-Mehairy says, and it looks as though she has her wish.
Ms. El-Mehairy came up with the idea for SuperMama after searching online for pregnancy advice for her sister-in-law in 2010 and finding conflicting views and advice on what she thought were outdated traditional wives’ tales. Realizing there was an online niche that needed to be filled, she and two colleagues, Zeinab Samir and Shereen El Sammaa, put together SuperMama—a website that is the “first of its kind in the Arab world.”
Though the site is still quite young, “SuperMama is projected to have an annual turnover of over $1.6m after its first year, making its money in the traditional online way: Selling advertisement banners, sponsorships, and product placements inside the articles and videos.” SuperMama also helps mothers with their budgets by offering special discounts through affiliate sales sites.
However, Ms. El-Mehairy says that the site isn’t just about money. “We didn’t want to have just another commercial product; we wanted an idea that made a difference.”
The site’s information is checked by healthcare professionals, whereas the existing chat forums had unverified information. One example El-Mehairy gave was “the idea that feeding honey to a baby in its first three months could result in disfiguration.” El-Mehairy says it is the site’s purpose and “responsibility to dispel such myths.”
SuperMama doesn’t work from one centralized location instead relying on a network of home-based network of researchers and writers. Administrators facilitate monthly meetings to decide upcoming topics and site content, and writers’ work is forwarded to specialists for verification before publication. The site’s specialists “include doctors, teachers, psychologists, nutritionists and exercise experts—all volunteers—who provide the essential final checks that enable the mothers” to preserve all the “knowledge that has been passed” down from generation to generation.
El-Mahairy took a huge risk in setting up the website, investing her life savings into the project.
She entered the MIT Arab Enterprise Forum Business Plan Competition, a place for Arab entrepreneurs to pitch business ideas. There were 3,800 applicants, and after hitting the top 30 semi-finalists with her business model for SuperMama, El-Mehairy made “invaluable contacts in the IT industry who helped develop the business model and pointed out its weaknesses.” She entered the site into other entrepreneur competitions, winning two more, and developed a network of investors and mentors.
Entrepreneurship and investment is on a slow rise in Egypt, but El-Mehairy thinks “there are promising signs as people return to the country after years away.”
“I think we as a country are new to this entrepreneurship, and therefore it’s going to take some time.”
The site remains non-religious and non-political, something El-Mehairy feels is extremely important. That way, no one across the Arab world is excluded from using the site. After one member became upset that the site and its community didn’t offer condolences after the violence in Tahrir Square in November 2011, El-Mehairy said: “For us what kept us through is that the other mothers on the site supported this argument and told that mother that we are a non-political and non-religious site and that this is a parenting site and not a place to discuss political issues.”
Yet the site is also a reflection of political and social changes happening in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. In the wake of Arab Spring uprisings that shook the status quo throughout 2011, women’s rights advocates have been pushing for greater recognition and participation for, and by, women in charting their countries’ futures. El-Mahairy’s model combines technological advances with the traditional roles of women in a smooth new model that can simultaneously give women a greater collective voice on issues that matter to them and promote development goals in a culturally appropriate way.
She has big plans for SuperMama’s future, to include “the expansion of current online tools which help mothers manage their time and budgets,” as well as directories of local services.
El-Mehairy has hopes that one day “the word SuperMama would be the first to jump into the mind of every mother or pregnant woman when looking for information.”