While Women’s History Month has come and gone, there are still many women who are making history and are worthy of celebrating year-round. I’m sure you know some, or perhaps many, as women are certainly the backbone of our society! One of those women is Leyla Uysal, a social entrepreneur, whose timeless tale is worthy of praise and recognition. The National Women’s Business Council reports on anecdotal evidence that women are drawn to mission-based initiatives and firms, and that their pursuit of social entrepreneurship can be an important engine for the economy.
What is a social entrepreneur you might ask? According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, social entrepreneurship is “a for-profit business model that strives to make a positive impact on social issues or the environment.”
You may be familiar with some popular brands that were founded by social entrepreneurs including Toms and Warby Parker. Others that may not be household names include Ajiri Tea, a company that creates employment for women in Kenya and whose profits from sales are donated to the Ajiri Foundation to pay school fees for orphans in western Kenya. Another one that may be new to you, but are certain to be hearing a lot more about, is Bajêr Watches, founded by Leyla Uysal.
Leyla’s story is a timeless and very personal inspiration as she created her company to give back to the community in which she actually grew up.
Leyla was raised in a war-torn Kurdish territory of Turkey on the Syrian border known as Suruc. Although Turkey is rich in culture, tradition and art, as a Kurdish female, she was part of a conservative and traditional culture that limited women’s public expressions. “While women and girls were subjected to some very strict rules and regulations, this did not deter me from dreaming. I had a will to survive, to remain strong and somehow better the world and conditions for those in my female support group,” Leyla says. Despite the fact that most girls were not sent to school, her parents, knowing that education was an important key to getting ahead, sent her. “I was the only girl in my class in school, and I am thankful that my parents took the risk to send me; there were a lot of rewards.” Once her family was able to move out of the region, Leyla went to college, where she was exposed to all that an advanced education has to offer. “I was the only girl from my tribe to have attended college, and knew that other girls needed to have the opportunity to be educated.”
Following college Leyla made the bold decision to leave Turkey and move to the United States. She knew she had been able to seize an amazing opportunity and her thoughts began to percolate about how she could help women back in Turkey who performed hard work—at home and with the family—but who were not able to benefit from that work.
What drives Leyla?
With her deep ties to her Kurdish culture, she created Bajer Watches, whose timepieces showcase the timeless talent and strength of the incredible Kurdish women she grew up with.
Much like Madame Defarge, who knitted secret messages into a scarf in the Dickens classic “A Tale of Two Cities,” these Kurdish women wove their stories and feelings into rugs, with a secret language. Bajer has taken these designs and decoded the secret language into timeless pieces that not only make the wearer feel good… they also do good!
With Bajer, Leyla has showcased the traditions and culture of the Kurdish women she grew up with. Its collection names and colors are based upon the natural elements of the Kurdish heritage and region. As a social entrepreneur, she is also providing assistance to the women and children in the region, as Bajer supports the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that provide them educational and financial independence, while also helping their overall well-being.
How is Leyla spending her precious time? Besides being the CEO and founder of her company, she is furthering her education at Harvard University; she is also a wife, mother, designer, businesswoman, and social entrepreneur. While there seems to not be enough time in the day to do all of that (and Bajer Watches are incredible, but can’t actually add any more time to a day!), being a “doer” is what motivates Leyla.
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