We've been glued to our screens over the past few weeks, learning how to get things done and teach our kids virtually. But before all this happened, I had an awesome opportunity to speak to one of my Sister-friends, Anisa Ismail, an Abu Dhabi-based educator turned entrepreneur. We first met at an event we both spoke at last year as panelists, before eventually meeting for coffee and loads of laughs. Because I find her to be such an incredible voice of wisdom and inspiration, we simply needed to have her share a little about herself with the Reinvented Family. On this occasion, Anisa and I spoke about being a small business owner in the UAE, what inspired her to launch the Unplugged Initiative and life as a Somali migrant who calls the global stage her home.
RT: Anisa, talk to us about what inspired your career in child education?
AI: I truly didn’t know that I wanted to be a teacher until my Aunt (who was a Primary School Teacher in the UK) introduced me to the field. I come from a big family, and I was naturally good with kids. My Aunt recognized that in me and during my quest for figuring out what career path I wanted to take, which included wanting to be a Police Officer, and a Fire Fighter; I somehow found my place in the Education field. My first day in the classroom, it was like something clicked into place. I knew I was where I was meant to be.
RT: Take us through your upbringing; where you grow up, fond memories about your childhood and teenage years growing up in the UK as a Somali immigrant; and of course the all-important question – what made you move to Abu Dhabi from the UK?
AI: I come from London, born and raised by a strong Somali woman who single-handily raised 7 children, in a foreign country, all whilst running her own business (mashallah!) Growing up, my mother always reminded us of our home country through stories and pictures. She instilled a strong sense of culture and religion in us from a young age. We were taught our mother tongue, and she spoke fluent Arabic as well. My mother was a hard worker and a hustler! My mother made sure we were family orientated, and we would spend the weekends with our cousins, or at the park somewhere. She planned family trips every summer, to different parts of the world in order for us to learn about the world and other cultures. I get my love of traveling from my mother.
My move to Abu Dhabi was a spontaneous decision that has lasted well into 9 years now. I was tired of the regular life in London and I wanted to do something different with my life. I was not too happy about the prospects of finishing my degree, getting a 9-5 and being in a routine that was unsatisfying. I searched for teaching jobs in the Middle East and when Abu Dhabi came up with such an exciting offer, I just had to take it. The plan was to try it for a year, and if I didn’t like it, I was going to go home. I’m still here!
RT: 9 years after arriving in Abu Dhabi and navigating a career as a child educator, you are now a proud business owner. Talk to us about The Unplugged Initiative, and what motivated you to start this business?
AI: During my years as a teacher, I was beginning to notice as the years progressed, more and more children in my class were becoming addicted to the I-pads and other screens at the school and at home. I also realized that their attention span as deteriorating quite quickly. I needed to find a solution. I realized there wasn’t really much information for parents and carers on the effects of the excessive use of technology can have on young children. I then quit my job and started KidzUnplugged, to create workshops for kids that highlighted the importance of play and creativity. I also ran training and workshops for parents, and nannies on how to create an unplugged zone in the home where children can go to detox away from devices and be productive. All in all, there was a clear problem and I just wanted to provide a viable and helpful solution to it.
RT: Talk to us about some of the challenges you faced as a young female entrepreneur trying to establish your brand and the work you are doing in this region?
AI: I think an Entrepreneur will always have a few different challenges that they face. With my situation, it’s actually pretty unique because of the fact that I am not in my home country, and being young, black and female has it’s own added challenges. Above all, I have come to find out my biggest challenge is me. I find that I get in my own way, and sometimes I don’t even know I am doing it until I spend time re-evaluating. Let me explain what I mean. There are times when I will plan on doing something, then I will make 101 excuses as to why it may not be the best thing to do, or even worse, I’ll procrastinate doing useless things. and in the end, when I eventually get round to getting things done, I get mad at myself for wasting time and not doing it any sooner. So when it comes to facing challenges, as long as I can get over being my worst enemy, I truly feel that I can face any challenge. I welcome them actually. They make me stronger!
RT: How has your confidence been impacted by your journey thus far as you worked on your business?
AI: I was raised by a very strong Somali mother who instilled in us from a very young age, the importance of being confident in yourself and pleasing God and no one else. She always taught us to fear no one but God and to walk on this earth humble but confident. To keep our heads high and never let another’s opinion affect our lives. Her words have helped me keep my head high and to keep going despite being refused and having doors closed on me whilst I built the company. It helped me to hold steadfast in the belief that the business will work out, in one way or another. It has also helped me to inspire others to do the same, in ways that I didn’t even know I was doing so.
RT: What advice can you give to young women looking to migrate to the UAE for career growth or to launch their business ventures in this part of the world?
AI: Prepare well. Trust in God. And take the leap. I say prepare because I want any young female coming here to have all the things she needs to help her settle as best as possible. Get the required education needed for the job posting you’ve applied for. Get your driving license from your home country. Have a viable financial plan for the first 6 months upon your arrival. Preparation is what sets the best foundation in order for you to succeed.
I say trust in God, simply because who better to trust your life with than God. No man or woman alive can do for you what God can do for you. Pray on your plans and trust in God the best of planners for protection and guidance.
I say take the leap because there is no time like the present. Once you’ve prepared all you can, just go for it. There is no point in trying to set aside a time that is the ‘best time’. Anytime anyone says they are waiting for the right time, they automatically get in their own way.
RT: So there’s Anisa the educator and Anisa the wanderlust. You’ve had the great pleasure of traveling to some pretty interesting destinations over the years. Which destination do you believe led you on your path to reinvention; just by virtue of experiencing the people, culture, and surroundings? Take us through the moments that inspired where you are today?
AI: Traveling is what I truly believed saved me from me. I say this because when I was younger, my mother used to always make it a point to take us on summer vacations to different parts of the world. She used to say one of the best ways to learn about the world is to go out and see the world, and discover how other people who share this earth with you live. That is why when I was at my lowest point in life, going through a heartbreaking divorce, alone and weary, I went to Bali, on my own for 10 days. That trip saved my life.
I was able to face myself, face my flaws and learn about how even though we may think we are in control, we really are not in control. This is where I discovered the power of speaking things into existence and the power it holds. My trip to Vietnam, a few months later, where I witnessed children happily playing with a makeshift football that they made out of plastic bottles and string. is where my idea of KidzUnplugged was born.
I can’t stress enough why traveling is the best medicine for anything you may be going through in life simply because when you experience how others are living, and what others have that they are happy about, you learn to be grateful for all the things God has blessed you with.
RT: How has your family in Somalia and across the world taken to your success? Who have been your biggest cheerleaders?
AI: My family is incredibly supportive and I thank God for them every day. My biggest cheerleader and support system is my mother, May God protect her always. I cant imagine how letting her 20-year-old daughter move to a whole new country must have been so difficult on her, but she put my happiness first, and for that and so much more I owe her everything. This has to work. It's a must.
RT: We at Reinvented Today are big on dream chasing. We believe a quintessential element of manifesting positive transformation lies with envisioning what you want to see for your tomorrow. Where does Anisa Ismail see herself and Kidz Unplugged in the next 3 years?
AI: I agree with manifesting your vision and purposefully speaking it into existence. In the next 3 years, I hope that the Unplugged Initiative can provide programs for families in different parts of the world, that will help them excel in their skills. I want the courses and products to be in homes of families, and for more families to connect whilst disconnecting.
In the next 3 years, I hope to be a Global Public Speaker, sharing gems of knowledge to large audiences. I hope my books touch lives. Most importantly, I want to build a legacy of knowledge of value, so in years to come, there are people benefiting from it.
RT: Any parting words of encouragement for our readers?
If there is ever a dream you have and can’t let go of, God instilled it in you for a reason. Do not be afraid. Lean into your purpose, trust God’s timing, speak it into existence and believe it’ll happen.
To tap into more of Anisa's thoughts and musings, connect with @Anisa_unplugged via Instagram!