When asked about her vision for a world where food waste and gender inequality is not a reality, Menna Shahin, Egyptian food waste advocate and feminist, sees that “we can all collectively contribute to protect the planet and build a fairer world.”
“I want to help make sure that every stakeholder in society plays a role – the individual, the customer, the producer, and civil society,” she tells Egyptian Streets, “it is essentially about how we can create a sustainable, circular model of production and consumption for the world, and allowing women to control their own narrative and empowerment.”
Shahin’s fervent spirit of activism began in her early 20s, when she wasn’t allowed by her parents to travel on her own. For nine long years, she saved enough money and eventually travelled to Europe for one month, visiting seven different countries independently. “This experience changed my life and my way of thinking. Peer pressure often constricts you to become like the others around you, but travel changed everything in me,” she says.
Reflecting on the magnitude of impact on travel on her own personality and life, Shahin was inspired to share this experience with others. Through one post on social media, many people approached her for advice and were encouraged to travel on their own as a result of her experience.
“The feedback I received was huge, and so I decided to launch a page to expand the cause because I believed it could inspire and help more people. Since then, we have reached half a million followers in our Facebook group,” Shahin says.
This gave to birth to ‘She Travels‘, an initiative that encourages women and girls to break peer pressure and stereotypes, and travel on their own without fear.
“We started to carry out workshops for these women to build their personalities and empower them, and organize trips for those who never traveled before, as well as providing life coaching lessons to help them try new things they’ve never tried before,” she notes. “We managed to help many girls travel on their own and receive life coaching guides, and we publish their stories and details of their trips, life and the challenges these girls are facing and which in turn can inspire other girls.”
Initially, Shahin faced a lot of backlash and criticism, receiving comments that women traveling on their own without a mehrem (a member of one’s family or a partner) is “forbidden”. “I was obliged to speak to the parents to convince them to allow their daughters to travel,” she says, “however, I think that society’s perceptions are slowly changing, and a lot of girls are approaching me, which reflects this shift in perceptions.”
“I feel like allowing a large number of girls to travel, especially for the first time, is what really pushed this societal change to happen gradually,” she adds.
Fighting Hunger and Protecting the Planet
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After her success in launching one impactful initiative, Shahin’s force of activism to change the world for good persisted, leading to another highly relevant and pertinent initiative for our world today: Tekeya app.
Being the first initiative in Egypt and the Middle East dedicated solely to combat food waste, Shahin and her husband launched it in the context of the rising alarm of the issue of food waste around the world today.
For the first time in 2020, the United Nations General Assembly designated 29 September as the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste (IDAFLW) to raise awareness on the importance of the problem as well as to promote global efforts and collective action.
Food waste is not just a humanitarian concern, Shahin says, but more importantly —an environmental one. “When we waste food, we waste all the energy and water it takes to grow, transport and package it,” she adds.
To solve this, Shahin designed a circular model to ensure sustainability in the value chain. Tekeya is a mobile app that helps restaurants, café shops, hotels and groceries sell their fresh untouched surplus food to customers with discounted price, which in turn helps protect the environment through reducing food waste. Similarly, the most vulnerable will also be protected, as there will be a continual supply of freely donated surplus food to charity organizations to fight hunger and help those in need.
“We thought a lot about how we can create something that everyone can use, and we are also working on a bigger model that can start from the beginning of the value chain until its end, so that we can find ways to recycle leftovers and cover the entire value chain,” she adds.
A mother, pharmacist, Tedx speaker, entrepreneur, food waste and women empowerment advocate, Shahin is just one of the activists working to actively shape the world the want – with passion, resilience and strong commitment.
“Our journey is still very long, but I will not stop,” she asserts, “I want to spread to the entire Middle East and Africa, and truly help everyone make an impact.”