Left homeless after her father's death, she now empowers women to start businesses
Huda Hamid's family was thrown into a dire financial situation when she was 21. Today, she helps single mothers and women from low income households become financially independent.
Social entrepreneur Huda Hamid has one message for women: You don't need a lot of resources in order to start your own business. In fact, it doesn’t take much to try and turn your life around.
It’s a belief born out of her own circumstances. At the age of 21, her father died. At the time, Huda was in her second year of university. “I lost all my motivation to study and I dropped out of school,” the now 29-year-old shared. “My family was put in a difficult financial situation as my father, who ran his own construction company, was our sole breadwinner.”
Her mother’s name was registered as a partner in the family’s business. But according to Huda, “she didn’t know how to operate it”. In essence, she was only a partner in name.
The company was in debt, and the burden of repaying those debts fell onto her mother’s shoulders. But without any business skills or knowledge, it wasn’t long till she was declared bankrupt, and the family had to give up their HDB flat.
“We had nowhere to stay,” Huda, the youngest of four siblings, recalled, a tinge of sadness in her voice. “We were relying on the sympathy of our relatives. We would spend three days here, three days there.”
NOWHERE TO GO DURING HARI RAYA
The family lost their home during the Ramadan period. When Hari Raya rolled around and all their relatives were out visiting, they had nowhere to go. “It came to the point where we just couldn’t tap on our relatives anymore and had to live on the streets. My mother and I had to figure out how we could get day pay just so we could pay for hostel lodging for the night.”
It was then that Huda realised just how important business skills are for women. “My mum’s story is not one story, it is the story of several women in Asia whose husbands register their names as business partners. When their husbands leave the household or pass on, the burden of running the company falls on the woman’s shoulder,” Huda mused.
“If my mum had even basic business knowledge back then, she wouldn’t have made such bad decisions,” she believed. “From that moment, I knew I had to start something that could help women see that business skills are vital for survival. It is not an exclusive knowledge. But first, I had to prove that it’s possible to start something with whatever resources I have.”
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BIRTH OF FEMPRENEUR SECRETS
Armed with just a MacBook and a camera, the latter of which was a gift from her mother, Huda started Blissful Studios in 2014, which began as a video production company. Today, the company has evolved to become a full-fledged corporate content marketing agency that has served Fortune 500 companies. Some of its past clients include Prudential, UOB, Hitachi and more.
Eventually, Huda’s family managed to secure a rental flat for their lodging. “After leading Blissful Studios to success, I decided that it was time to go out there and teach others what I know,” she said.
While still running Blissful Studios, she started Fempreneur Secrets in 2017, an online training platform that helps women grow their own businesses. Its mission is to create a community of economically independent female entrepreneurs worldwide.
Through Fempreneur Secrets, Huda runs the Fearless Fempreneur Academy programme, which helps instill women with the confidence they need to start a business.
“We teach them basic business knowledge, as well as sales and marketing knowledge. We also go a little bit deeper to help them identify their niche, or what we call their ‘superpower’,” Huda said.
"Even if they don't end up starting a business, the skills we teach them can still help them excel in their careers, as entrepreneurship skills are applicable in other aspects of life," she said.
The company also has an outreach programme where for every five women who sign up, Fempreneur Secrets sponsors the cost of the programme for a single mother, or a woman from a low income household.
The online mentorship programme, conducted by Huda herself, is open to anyone in Asia. “We want to help women not only in Singapore but in the rest of Asia to upskill themselves so they don’t remain where they are,” said Huda. “I’ve gone through that feeling of being at the bottom. But I am proof that if you have the skills that you need, you can move forward.”
Huda shared the story of a 19-year-old Singaporean beneficiary, who is unable to leave her house due to a medical condition. With Huda's help, she can now contribute to her family's income.
“She can only work from home, so I helped her to plan out what kind of business she can do, and gave her the confidence to launch it. She dreams of becoming a chef, and now she runs an online F&B home business,” Huda shared.
We want to help women not only in Singapore but in the rest of Asia to upskill themselves so they don’t remain where they are.
Elsewhere in Asia, Huda worked together with a young woman from a war-torn Asian country who had inherited a plot of land from her family. “I helped her to validate her business idea. She has a plot of land but in order for her to do something with it, she needs to raise funds to buy seeds and hire farmers. We want to support women like these, who have an idea, who have resources, whatever resources that may be, so that they can get started with their business,” Huda said.
Aside from her work with Fempreneur Secrets, Huda regularly volunteers with the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce (SMCCI). “We build programmes for women entrepreneurs, and we support initiatives to raise funds for charity,” she said.
One of the organisations that SMCCI works with is Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (PPIS), also known as the Singapore Muslim Women’s Association, a non-profit organisation that helps less privileged women, children and families.
“From time to time, I also get requests to do pro bono training sessions for women from marginalised homeless communities in Asia,” Huda shared.
What drives Huda to do the work that she does is being able to interact with women from all walks of life. “I love speaking with them and seeing them succeed. When they feel empowered, the whole community is empowered."
Quoting Bangladeshi social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, Huda added, “When a man builds a business, the business prospers. But when a woman builds a business, the community prospers".
"A key trait of women is our compassion, and our desire to change the lives of people around us, whether it’s our loved ones, our neighbours, or our community. This is our strength as women, and we should embrace it," she shared.
A key trait of women is our compassion, and our desire to change the lives of people around us, whether it’s our loved ones, our neighbours, or our community.
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In March this year, Huda emerged as one of six winners of the 2020 Young Social Entrepreneurs Global programme (YSE Global).
YSE Global is an annual programme organised by the Singapore International Foundation to inspire, equip, and enable youths around the world to launch or scale up their social enterprises. Fempreneur Secrets is the only Singapore company to win the award.
The company was awarded a grant of S$20,000, which Huda says will help the company “expand its outreach to more communities in Singapore and all over Asia”.
Future plans include getting other women entrepreneurs to conduct sessions with Fempreneur's community members. As Huda puts it, “I believe that my knowledge alone is not sufficient”.
In the long run, Fempreneur Secrets hopes to build an ecosystem where successful women from its programme can hire beneficiaries that the company work with. This creates a mutually beneficial relationship between all members of the Fempreneur community.
As for Huda herself, she has now gone back to school to complete her degree in marketing. Looking back on how far she has come, she has no regrets.
“It has been a journey, but I wouldn’t change anything. Everything that happened to me in life, no matter how sour those experiences were, have shaped me to become the person I am today,” she said with a smile.