We become more confident when we see people like us succeed

Episode art for tech sisters stories featuring manara

Today on Tech Sisters Stories we’re excited to have Iliana Montauk and Mai Temraz from Manara.

Manara is a social impact startup whose mission is to unlock human potential and diversify the global tech sector while uplifting the economies of the Middle East & North Africa (MENA), with a focus on Palestine and women.

Iliana is the co-founder and CEO of Manara and Mai is the Program Manager. They’ve both previously worked together at Gaza Sky Geeks and they’re both Fulbright Scholars.

Listen To Iliana’s and Mai’s Stories

Key Lessons from this Episode

  • Manara’s vision is to become a platform that creates community connections and supports people at every stage of their career 12:00
  • What makes Manara graduates so special 14:20
  • Confidence is a huge challenge for people who come from non-traditional backgrounds 16:30


Grace Witter: as salaamu alikum. You are listening to Tech Sisters stories. Tech Sisters is a community that supports Muslim women in tech, through storytelling and sisterhood. My name is grace and I get to interview the amazing women in our community. Share their stories and the lessons they learned. Today’s episode is a little bit different. We have two women from Manara, which is an amazing organization operating out of the MENA region. you might’ve seen some of their stories have gone viral. There’s a lot of success going on there, so we’ll be talking to them and find out what’s going on. This is a really, really cool episode. I really hope you enjoy it.

Today on Tech Sisters we are super excited to have Iliana Montauk and Mai Temraz from Manara Manara is a social impact startup whose mission is to unlock human potential and diversify the global tech sector while uplifting the economies of the middle east and north Africa with a special focus on Palestine and women.

Iliana is the co-founder and CEO of Manara and Mai is the program manager. They have both also previously worked together at Gaza Sky Geeks and they’re both Fulbright scholars so mashAllah. Very smart people here. So happy to have you on.

Iliana Montauk: Thank you so much for having us.

Mai Temraz: Thank you so much for having us grace.

It’s really exciting to be here today. Wonderful.

How Manara started

Grace Witter: So let’s just start at the very beginning. What inspired you to take action and start Manara in the first place?

Iliana Montauk: Yeah. So Mai why don’t you go first?

Mai Temraz: Yeah, I will jump in here. So I started by volunteering with Manara early last year. And to be honest from that moment, I know that this is what I want to do.

Full-time and Iliana was, if this makes you so happy, you should really join us. And I decided that this is really what makes me happy and I wanted to join Manara. Really early on. I was the first employee because I want to see it build up from the ground. I quit my job and I joined Manara because of mainly three reasons.

The first is the team. I already worked with Iliana and I knew Layla. So it was a team that I really was passionate of working with. And the mission. The mission is something that I’m very much passionate about and it’s something that I really wanted to be part of. It’s really about empowering women in the middle east and being able to uplift emerging countries like Palestine.

And it’s something that I just knew I wanted to do full-time.

Grace Witter: Oh, that’s wonderful. What a big sign of commitment and belief. Oh, that’s so great.

Iliana Montauk: For me a big part of this journey was actually being in Gaza, living there for two years and meeting people like Mai and Layla there. I mean, Gaza is just full of ladies like them who are well-educated really strong resilient ambitious and just don’t have opportunities locally. It’s the only region of the world where girls outperform boys in high school math, there’s a very strong self perception of stem skills in the female community, in these regions.

And when you look at the university participation rates, women are going to universities at the same rates as men and studying scientific fields at the same rates or higher rates than men. But then when you look at the employment rates that doesn’t translate and that’s for a variety of factors, it’s pretty complex.

But when I moved back from Gaza to the United States back home, I was working for Upwork. My team could hire engineers from anywhere in the world and out of around 200 or 300 engineers, we literally had only two women and only four people from the middle east and north Africa. And so I was trying to figure out how do we connect these people to these amazing jobs that I knew were much better than what people in Palestine were having a chance to do at the time.

And Manara kind of stemmed out of that.

Why women start to drop out of the job market in these areas

Grace Witter: Oh, that’s fantastic. I really resonated with what you said about how women in these areas are very strong in stem, especially in university, because I’ve definitely noticed that in Tech Sisters, but we’ll have more people in this region who are doing computer science degrees, who are starting off in mathematics are very confident in their stem skills.

But then it starts to drop out once they enter employment. You said there’s a variety of factors. You want to go into that a little bit?

Iliana Montauk: Sure. Maybe Mai can start with a description since you’ve probably experienced some of it yourself.

Mai Temraz: Yeah. I think a lot of factors plays. First of all women are really encouraged into studying such topics in the university because it’s more of a prestigious thing to be an engineer or even a doctor in the community.

And it’s not mainly because they want to have a career that field. And then after that, it, it starts during the college itself where boys are able to do a lot of. hands-on and participate in competitive programming and a lot of activities that women sometimes are not as encouraged to participate in.

So they start to lose interest and their focus is mainly just to really get high scores without actually practically practicing the topics they are studying. And then once they graduate first of all, the opportunities are not as available for women as for men and you know, in a lot of countries, I think sometimes women will hear is we have few opportunities.

We’d rather give it to men because they are supporting families. And that’s why they prefer hiring men over women sometimes. And for some families some carriers are more acceptable. So for example, they would even, if a woman is graduated as an engineer, she would be encouraged to work as a teacher, something like that with productive working hours, rather than being a software engineer.

So a lot of the. It’s just plays into making it really hard for them to even think of pursuing a career. And other times, sometimes even if they do, locally, the only opportunities that are available, low skills opportunities in that field. So they will end up being data entries or just providing technical support, which will also just take that passion of being a successful software engineer from them.

And they will stop pursuing work opportunities in that field.

Iliana Montauk: One of the biggest opportunities in this area is for people in the region to learn about remote work. Because when you work remotely, you work from home. There isn’t the dynamic that sometimes in these societies is discouraged around. Oh, my daughter is going to be in an office, surrounded by men she doesn’t know. Or the work hours might be late and transportation in the dark. Things that are a little bit less Common don’t happen with remote work. With remote work, you get the flexibility of setting your own hours frequently of being at home of being able to be more involved in the home, if that is a family expectation.

And that’s one of the things that we’re really excited at Manara is that we’re able to support middle Eastern north African engineers. Want to relocate if that’s their dream or with staying locally and working remotely, if that’s their dream. And we’re seeing that people aren’t always aware of that yet, but that’s beginning to change.

We have some women that we’ve helped get jobs in Palestine. And in other parts of the MENA region who went from earning $20,000 a year. To earning 40,000 or 50,000 or 60,000, or even a hundred thousand dollars a year remotely. And not only are they earning a lot more, they’re also working in an environment where they’re learning a lot more.

Grace Witter: That’s incredible. That’s so life-changing for them. And that’s going to be impacting the whole community around them as well. We definitely see at Tech Sisters, people who are doing career changes or students who are just considering technology coming into it because they want to work remotely.

So maybe they wear niqab and they cover their face and they’re not comfortable working in an office or for any other reasons that you said remote work just has a lot more flexibility. Perceived as a lot safer, you have a lot more options. So yeah, I, I work remotely and so I am I’m here for it.

Iliana Montauk: I did notice though, in our community that sometimes people are really hesitant about it when they haven’t heard of it before. It’s not something that’s very well known. And often they worry that they’re going to miss the opportunity to go into the office and make friends. People often in our community are quite social and they like those social interactions, or it might be their first or second job.

And they really want to make sure they learn as much as possible. And sometimes there’s this perception that you learn more when you’re in the office, working with people who can just step up to you and help teach you. I’ve noticed that journey for several women in our community. And I can say that when they eventually did make the switch, they’re all so, so excited and happy about it because the caliber of their teams, the speed of their teams is really accelerating their learnings. And we’ve created a community for them while they were in the Manara training program, they connected with each other and now they can go into coworking space and each work on their remote jobs.

But still have contact with each other and we’re remote work when you do it the right way. When it’s not such as that you’re some kind of outsource resource that nobody cares about, but when you’re actually a part of the team, you end up feeling those really strong connections on the team, even when you’re not in the office together.

Grace Witter: I really liked that you made that distinction because I think that is kind of why a lot of people felt a backlash from remote work. This, this last couple of years, it wasn’t done properly. There wasn’t a lot of trust in these people. Weren’t given autonomy in their roles. So yeah, I think when people are fully integrated in the team, Despite any location. It is a really fulfilling thing and online friendships can be very fulfilling as well.

The realities of remote work in the MENA region

Grace Witter: You mentioned the coworking space. I’m curious about what the infrastructure is like to support remote work in this area.

Mai Temraz: It’s something that we not at Manara support directly, but it’s something that we encourage.

As Iliana mentioned, we are building the complete community and we try to support them even after they, , get placed and they accept the job. So if they decided to relocate, we can talk more how we support them with that, because it’s also terrifying for some of them who are sometimes traveling for the first time.

But when they decide to take a remote offer, we try to support them as well, by making sure that they succeed, they don’t feel lonely. And we start to suggest things that they can do. Like for example, being able to set their office, probably being able to manage their time set boundaries because sometimes it gets tricky.

If you’re all day is working and you can set some boundaries. Especially in places like Lebanon, Palestine, specifically, and others, they all have electricity and internet problems that sometimes can be a challenge in their work. So that’s why they start to work from a co-working spaces that they find. it is something that locally that it started to be available because especially after the pandemic and with COVID, a lot of people started to work from home and work remotely started to be more known and at all, if people are switching. So that’s why they started to invest more in coworking spaces. And my knowledge is now more in Palestine. I know that there’s a lot of places existed, even in Gaza that support people, especially with access to internet and electricity so that they can successfully be able to work remotely.

Grace Witter: That’s really interesting. On my team at work, we have a couple of people in Kenya and Ghana. Very similar issue. So they’ve been really investing in coworking spaces and it’s very common to hear them say the power’s out. I’m going to go to the co-working space. And it’s a really, it turned into a really nice place for other people in the community, get together and learn from each other.

And you have these support groups that are springing up just because everyone’s getting. That’s really nice.

Mai Temraz: Yeah. And a nice thing. As we, as we are growing in Manara, we starting to have small communities of Manara in different countries that sometimes they end up planning to work together in places so that they don’t feel that lonely.

Even if they working with other companies we’re having that with people working remotely. Even with people relocating, they end up trying to stay part of that community. And as we grow, I think this is going to be bigger over more supporting community for them in their countries and abroad.

Grace Witter: Oh, that’s wonderful. That shows such a huge investment you’ve made and other people are making in you. And I’m really happy to hear that this isn’t just , one time deal that you’re still supporting them afterwards, and people are still connecting with each other.

Iliana Montauk: Yeah, just to add to that a little bit.

Our vision ultimately is to become the platform that creates those community connections, that support people at every stage in their career. So it starts with that first job. that first job that you get can make a huge difference for the future of your career. If you get a job that really untapped your full potential and puts you on a growth trajectory versus one that kind of limits you and limits your resume.

But it doesn’t stop the first job, it can also be being the first woman engineer on an engineering team. It can be experiencing your manager’s questions about Palestine or about Muslims at work and not knowing how to respond to that. It can be later going up for a promotion or not even knowing that you should be going up for promotion that you need to, or becoming a manager for the first time or switching from being a backend engineer to an ML engineer.

Ultimately, I think what we’ve really stumbled across with Manara as we launched it to be a job placement program. And what we found is that people love that, but what they love the most is the community. It’s very hard to measure the impact of community, but it’s very clear for those of us who see it, that it’s happening.

And it happens in it. Samples where for instance, somebody recently in our community was interviewing at Google and had just. Failed an interview at Metta at Facebook. And it was really shaken by that before going in to his Google interview. And somebody else in the cohort was messaging him every day before his Google interview saying, you can do it.

I know how smart you are. I’ve seen your performance, et cetera. And we have a screenshot also from one of our slack teams for our fifth cohort, which is a hundred percent women where the women are writing to each other about their first mock interview that they have. Let’s all one law. My brain just froze.

I couldn’t focus anymore. I was so nervous, you know? Oh my gosh, it was the new grad from India, but I still got so nervous, you know? And now you look back at those names of those women who are supporting each other at that moment, they’ve all reached their dreams. They’re at Google, they’re a top companies hiring them remotely.

They’ve achieved their goal. But you look back at that moment earlier in time, when you see they had to get scared together, they had to support each other together in order to make it through that very long and difficult journey.

Grace Witter: Ah, that’s a wonderful, the bonds that you have there that they’re forming organically is so valuable.

mashAllah and it’s such a rewarding thing for you to see that I’m sure. Cause I know that when I see the people in the group talking to each other, so happy.

What’s the secret to Manara’s very high success rate

Grace Witter: But that’s another question that I really wanted to ask you. So the success rate at Manara is crazy high. You have, what is it? A 71% referral to hire rate at Google. what’s the secret sauce? What’s going on?

Mai Temraz: I think it starts from early, early when recruiting. We try really hard to recruit the top talent in the countries we are reaching out to. We try to partner with local organizations, universities, work with professors to make sure that we are targeting and recruiting the best of the best in those countries.

So it starts from there. And then with the program that we are doing, we really, really develop very quickly as a small startup. We learned from. What’s working and whatnot. And we change and improve our training program very fast to make sure that we are really preparing them for those interviews and setting up for them for success.

And we give them access to a lot of resources that they need during that process. Going back to the community, it is the community, the community of them supporting each other. Being there together the top of the top from all those MENA countries. Challenging each other, motivating each other.

And then also the community of mentors and experts that are there to help them at every step on the way. They help them during the training, they are teachers, mentors, English partners. TA’s that really are there to help them technically and soft skills to make sure that within four to five months they are really ready and graduated.

And our bar is very high. Sometimes we hear from our participants that the interview with Manara to graduate is a little bit more difficult than actually interviewing when you’re trying to really , setting them up at a very high level, so that. We’re building this reputation and making sure that our partners know how high of a talent exists in this region and keep motivating to come back and hire from us.

So it is through the whole process that we make sure. And it’s a lot of hands on support as well. We really hold their hands through the process.

Iliana Montauk: So you said it’s so, so, so beautifully. The only thing I have to add to that is that confidence is such a huge challenge for people who come from non-traditional backgrounds.

You know, there’s this huge pool of undiscovered talent in this region. That’s why we’re here. But it’s undiscovered because. It feels to them like going to Google, going to Meta, where we have similar success rates, by the way we heard from Meta’s team that they have not seen success rates like this with any other diversity solution that they’ve ever implemented.

But for the participants for Manara’s users that are coming into our into our program. These companies feel like an alien planet. And there is so, so nervous about what feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity, that a huge part of our solution is not just training them and preparing them for the kind of roles that tech companies want. So these people are all computer scientists already when they come into Manara. Some of them are the top computer scientists in the world through competitive programming competition. You know, we’re emphasizing that background, making sure they really understand what it means to work at a global tech company, the soft skills involved with that.

But in addition to that, we’re working on their confidence at all stages and they become more confident when they can see that people like them are successful. So we hear this often from our community. Oh, I see people in my cohort. I see people in the previous cohort, people who look like me, people from my country have done it before that we used to be told by people who were reaching out to inviting them to apply that the sounded like a scam.

It sounded like it was too good to be true. Well,

Grace Witter: that’s a big part of why I do Tech Sisters. Honestly, it’s to share these stories. And so that women can just relate to each other and see other people going through similar situations.

It’s such an invaluable thing, especially for those of us who are coming from these non-traditional backgrounds.

Just to know that you’re not alone, that other people are going through it.

Mai Temraz: Yeah. And just that this is only confidence is also mainly an even bigger problem for women. So at the beginning when recruiting them, they always feel that this is so hard for them to do. They won’t qualify, they don’t even try.

And they exclude themselves really easy. Very early in the process. And then once we accept them, I always keep hearing, is that, did you just accept me because you wanted to fill out the spots for that available for women? I feel that this is the only reason you accepted me and then they outperform and they graduate and they succeed and they get their job.

And then once they do, if the interview was easy, I was lucky and I don’t know why they hired me. So I think one of the reasons that. Really try to keep supporting, especially women, even after they land their job is sometimes that can be a challenge that stopped them from growing. If they keep doubting that they deserve this or that they really can make it and can succeed and they deserve it.

So confidence also is something that we’re trying to really work on and build that confidence by the community.

Grace Witter: Getting off to such a great start. If you graduated from Manara, you can take on anything,

Iliana Montauk: you know, we’ve that actually from some of our graduates.

Yeah. Like Dahlia from Gaza and some math from the west bank, they both wrote and spoke about how the main impacts for them after they got into Google was suddenly feeling like they can do anything. You know, Google felt like such an incredible outsize dream. If they were able to achieve that, there’s nothing that they’re not going to be able to do.

Mai’s and Iliana’s favourite Manara stories

Grace Witter: Ah, that’s so cool. And that’s a good segue too, because there are lots of stories from Manara that have gone viral, like Dahlia’s. What’s some of your favorite stories.

Mai Temraz: For me to be honest, dahlias and even Ruelas story are close to my heart just for one big reason. it was immediately when I joined Manara and the war on Gaza was during that time.

And it was very, very difficult time for us and for our community and both Dahlia and Rola received their offers. And then the war happened. Okay. It was really very difficult for us and just hearing from them how frustrated they are. They really thought that we just got it and now we might lose it, but they kept motivated and you will hear, hear from them over and over that this is what really kept them alive and motivated them during this difficult time, they were reaching out to their companies, telling them that can we start even just after the war, we don’t want to lose it.

We still want to do it. And they’ve done. They survived it and they completed their internships and now they are back and motivating others. So I think it was just that, because it was the first few stories in a, such a difficult time that really inspired our community

Grace Witter: oh, that’s really wonderful. What’s your favorite story Iliana.

Iliana Montauk: Oh my goodness. You’re going to make me choose my favorite babies.

Well, I’ll give you a preview of a story that’s still in the making. This is somebody and we don’t usually speak about this very often, but the people go through a lot of different situations with occupations. So I’m going to keep this one anonymous. And I’ll actually tell you about one that’s already happened.

This is somebody who ended up getting a relocation opportunity and she was thrilled. It was her dream. But then when she was looking at leaving Palestine, it wasn’t clear if her husband was going to be let out of Palestine. Because there’s a frequent thing that happens to seniors in college, where they get put into prison for being politically active for essentially trying to work towards independence.

And if you’ve been in prison and you have that on your record, then sometimes that makes it more difficult for you to exit the country by the authorities that are in charge of things like that. Thankfully it all worked out. They were able to get his record cleared and they were able to leave the country successfully.

But this is just one example of so many, these people that we’re working with are going through so much. You cannot even imagine everything they’re going through. And, you know, there’s the things that are related to the region, but there’s also, you know, we had a participant who was in Sudan during the coup.

Oh, my gosh, reach him for two weeks. We didn’t know what was going on. Right. So, and we had a couple from our first cohort who in the last war in Gaza, they they had a missile, literally land in their baby’s room. And thankfully it did not explode. You know, these are our alumni, a husband and wife, couple.

So there’s things like that all the time. And then there’s the normal life stories, the ones where a mom had surgery during the cohort and the daughter was taking care of all of her siblings and still doing her full-time job and interviewing a top tech companies all at the same time.

You know? So there’s all of that. I think the stories that ended up for me feeling the most meaningful are the ones where people took longer to get their dream. They weren’t at the top of their cohort, it didn’t immediately click, but they did not give up. And I always tell them, it’s not about where you end up or how quickly you end up there.

It’s about getting there eventually. There’s just countless examples of people who stuck to it. One of them recently khulud and she was looking for a remote role. Wasn’t really sure that she wanted one at first. Wasn’t really taking the job, hunting that seriously and then decided no, no, I really want this and was so shy and the interviews kept looking away.

Kept saying that everything, you know, what did you achieve in your past role? If she was asking a question like that, what was always, we did this, we did that and never taking any credit that I did X, Y, Z. Right. And we kept coaching her on this. And eventually she ended up with two offers, like, you know, The six interviews in one week, two of them ended up being offers that she was really excited about.

She ended up like, not sure which one to accept, cause she wanted both of them, but you know, she was so excited about both of them. So she got there, but it took her more like 12 months and it takes up their people sometimes four months. And I love those because it takes that resilience of not giving up.

When you’re the last person in your cohort, who is still job hunting.

Grace Witter: Yeah. That’s it. The resilience it’s amazing. I can actually get my head around. The challenges that they’re facing and they’re still able to perform at such a high, high, high level. Yeah, like you’re saying Google would be very easy after that.

Iliana Montauk: It’s not always easy for everyone, but sometimes it is. Yeah. And and I want to just add to that. We’ve talked about the community of how important it is for them to connect with each other. We’ve only started touching on how important the international community is. And so one thing that we’ve learned.

Is that people who are in tech globally are starving to achieve social impact. They want to be working at their wonderful jobs at Google, Uber, et cetera. You know, Microsoft, it’s very intellectually stimulating. They want to be in countries where they can provide a great life for their families, but they miss their home countries.

Or it might not even be their home country, but they feel a desire to contribute to social impact. Ideally by leveraging their actual professional skills and not just by going and volunteering at a soup kitchen or something like that. Right. And so when we partner with hiring companies like Google, like Meta to hire engineers, we also engage their employees in the process.

Mai spoke about the mentorship roles that are available, the mock interviewer roles that are available. And often we don’t even know the challenges that our engineers are going through until one of the mentors brings it up and says, well, actually, do you think we could slow down the interview process for a while?

Cause her mom’s having surgery next week and we’re like, well, tell us, all right. So what we’re building is a an approach that works at scale. We can work with. We had a hundred people enter our last cohort and Mai is literally the only person running it. But it works at scale because what we’re facilitating are those community connections.

Everyone gets their mentors. We track the satisfaction of that at scale. So we can always jump in and intervene if something’s not working. And that kind of, you know, multiple different types of communities, the mentors, the mock interviewers, that people in your cohort means that everyone finds somebody, that they can connect to somebody that keeps them encouraged and move forward.

Grace Witter: Hmm. Oh, that’s really wonderful.

How Manara graduates give back

Grace Witter: I have noticed that with the social impact as well in Tech Sisters so many of us want to use our professional skills and want to do something with them. There’s another group called Dean developers, which has hackathons for the community.

Has anyone from Manara started a social impact startup or has started a business to give back or anything of that nature?

Mai Temraz: So maybe not yet, not yet, but our giving back is a huge at Manara and even very, very early on. As soon as they graduate and land the job, they immediately reach out.

I want to start giving back, how can I start engage and give back? They all really want to . To engage and give back. They start by supporting each other and by coming back and being TA’s speak to the ones who are currently joining new, our new cohorts guide them through the process because they’ve been there.

They also come back and help them with the early mock interviews. This is how we’ve done it. These are really early. They are so excited about giving back and our vision is that at some point they will be able to come back and become mentors. They will be able to come back and become actual, more experienced mock interviewers.

And at some point after a few years, they will start their own social impacts and be able to hire people from the region. So I think the impact is really huge and it is uplifting the whole region. Either way, if they decide to stay in their countries and work remotely or relocate either way, it is supporting the region by having them giving back.

What’s next for Manara

Grace Witter: Oh, that’s fantastic. That’s really wonderful to hear. And I’m wondering what’s next? What’s the future for Manara.

Iliana Montauk: Yeah. So we’re growing, we’ve been running on the super bootstrappy team and now we’re. Working towards growing this so that we can have more impact. So we started in Palestine, we just extended beyond Palestine into the rest of the region two cohorts ago.

And the countries that we were able to reach very quickly were Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and a little spattering of the other. This next cohort, our goal is to very much service Lebanon because we see a very strong need there, Jordan, because there’s also a lot of talent and a lot of people looking for better opportunities there.

And some other countries as well, maybe Algeria or United Arab Emirates or Saudi. So number one is expanding and growing. We found something that works. Now we’ve gotten to the point where it works well enough that we need to figure out how can we give more people access to. Number two is more of a focus on remote opportunities.

So we see a big desire in our community for remote opportunities, especially amongst women. We don’t see as many companies hiring remotely from this region yet, and we’re confident that’s going to change quickly. And we want to be a part of accelerating that and, and making it available to women specifically, the barriers towards hiring normally from this region tend to be that company.

Need to have an entity in order to hire remotely. They’re not necessarily set up to hire through contractors, but there’s platforms like deal.com, remote.com and others that facilitate this, and they are expanding into this region. So it will be possible for more companies to hire from there. And the other challenges for new grads and recent grads.

This region is rich with talent, mostly at a younger level. There is also more senior talent. There are tech companies that have been growing and people who have had that experience there. But we’re working to develop solutions so that these recent grads who are looking for remote jobs can hit the ground running.

Cause we know that’s what companies. And last we’re building this all out into a tech platform. So we started off, you know, less than a year ago. We were still in Google docs and Google spreadsheets. And now we have our own engineering team. We’re just hiring a designer. And we’re building out our tech platform.

We already were able to facilitate over 600 mock interviews. And I want to say around an equivalent number of mentorship hours. So something in the range of 1,200 employee engagement hours in the last six months, again with only Mai running this and nobody else. And we would not have been able to do that without the tech platform.

Grace Witter: Oh, that’s amazing.

Iliana Montauk: So in the future, our vision is to be the platform that high potential job hunter. Join right out of college from emerging markets and it guides them into their first job. It makes the process fun instead of overwhelming and lonely, and it helps them be successful. And then from there we can support them at the future stages in their career to.

Mai Temraz: Yeah. And one thing I w would like to add, I think we’ll be part of the future. Manara will be investing more in women in the region and early ages. So we would like to start supporting them very early on so that they can pick things like computer engineering as a career, support them during college and then start investing in them and have them be ready for.

Because we are losing a lot of them early on some we’re losing them once they decide to study other stuff other than tech. Even if they like it. And some we’re losing them after graduating. So that is part of the community we want to build, build in those countries and invest in.

How people can get involved with Manara

Grace Witter: Oh, that sounds so exciting. I really wish you all the best. What can people do if they want to be a part of the next phase of Manara.

Mai Temraz: As Iliana mentioned, we’re growing. So there is a way for them to even be part of the Manara team and if they want to, and they can find all of the openings on our website to participate in our program.

Also, as Iliana mentioned, we’re now running two cohorts a year. And the applications are always open to one of those cohorts. And all of the information is also on our website. Now we are currently recruiting and the applications are open and we’re screening them for the cohort that will start in may or summer 22 cohort.

So if they are interested, they should at least fill out the application form and start the application. And let us know if they have any questions.

Iliana Montauk: Similarly, in order to be able to support that cohort, we’re obviously going to need to increase our employee engagement. Our goal for that cohort is to double the size compared to our last cohort.

And so we’re going to need double the number of mentors and mock interviewers. So people who are at tech companies or startups, especially software engineers, we’re always looking for more software engineers, especially women’s software engineers to engage. But also other fields. So technical recruiters are really helpful to help with reviewing resumes, but also, you know, product managers, designers, any, anything at all.

If you can help at least to support somebody with improving their English meeting with them regularly. Or participating in other ways to grow people’s soft skills. So for that, it’s also on our website. Our website is www.Manara.tech, T E C H. Manara. For those of you who don’t know it means lighthouse in Arabic.

So it’s all about shining the light for the future. And we would love to engage more people in this space.

Grace Witter: Oh, that’s wonderful.

And I’ll have the link in the show notes as well for anyone who’s listening. I have had such a great time talking to you both. I feel super inspired. Now it’s those last few questions that I talked about?

What Iliana and Mai are most proud of

Grace Witter: So what is the thing that you’re most proud of and why is it so special for you.

Mai Temraz: I would say making the decision to join Manara because I’m every day, overwhelming, inspired and proud of being part of everyone’s success journey, seeing how they started and where they ended up. Part of that, even if a played small part of that is something that makes my day inspires me and keeps me motivated.

So I think that is one of the decisions that I’m most proud of and just growing Manara and see the impact grows and really be beyond just the supporting of.

Iliana Montauk: For me, it’s so hard to choose just one thing, but I’ll say that it’s what I’m hearing from the community on the ground. So in places in Palestine specifically, cause we started there, we’ve been there the longest we’ve heard from people they’ve said things.

You’ve created a revolution in Palestine. Oh, what do you say to that? Another one we heard is we talk about you at our tech companies every day with our managers. Cause we were like, oh, your manager’s worried about, you know, now our managers are also applying to join. So it’s clear that there’s a need.

And, you know, we shown up to fill that need it. Wouldn’t be spreading so much if there weren’t that hunger there. And I’m so, so glad to be able to fill that hunger people deserve it. And

Grace Witter: it’s like what you were saying before. There’s always been that talent and you’re just facilitating it and helping support them to making those connections.


Iliana Montauk: exactly. Hmm.

What Iliana and Mai regret

Grace Witter: What’s something that you regret or that you wish you did differently.

Iliana Montauk: And I regret that I didn’t hire more people to the team sooner. This vision is bold. It needs to be staffed by top talent. And we’re still at a point right now where we’re a five person team Mai has been.

Overburden to the point where she hasn’t had a chance to think as strategically. Cause she’s still sitting there and literally scheduling hundreds of mock interviews herself. So I regret not hiring more software engineers and designers sooner to build out the tech platform. I regret. You know, just not hiring a recruiter.

I think the reason I didn’t hire sooner is that I didn’t think I had the time to do the work and do the recruiting at the same time. But once you find an excellent recruiter and they can represent you for those early stages of the conversations and source the right talent, it makes a world of a difference.

So we are catching up, but I do wish that I had done that sooner.

Grace Witter: Five people it’s amazing to accomplish so much. You must work so hard.

Mai Temraz: You can imagine. But I would say for me to be honest, I’m not regretting, but I really wish I joined. Even earlier with sooner than I joined. It’s just, I’m so passionate.

And I was hearing Iliana and talked with her about it and I just, I don’t know, I hesitated and I didn’t want to take the risk. It was just a difficult time for me. And a lot of things was going on, but I wish I had just joined earlier, but I think I joined early enough.

Grace Witter: You’re the first one.

Iliana Montauk: We can pay a salary as soon as we had raised our investment fund it.

What Iliana and Mai are most grateful for

Grace Witter: Oh, that’s wonderful. And what is someone or something that you’re most grateful for?

However you want to answer it.

Mai Temraz: I would say it’s weird, but living in Gaza is something that I’m really grateful for. It was super, super, super tough, the hardest years of my life, but it also made me who I am and it made me resilient. It made me passionate caring. I believing in that there is a lot that we can do, and there’s so many ways that we really can support Palestine and Gaza beyond what normal people think.

So I think that is something that I’m grateful for, even though I’m supporting from a way right now, I wish I will be able to go back soon, but people who live in Gaza built a very thick skin and they literally can survive anything after that.

Iliana Montauk: I wanted to mention that, but since Mai already did all my things and obviously Mai went through much, much more than I ever did when I was in Gaza. I left during the wars and, and, you know, Mai and other people had to stay for that. But two other things that I would add Advisors and investors, the people that I get to talk to who care about our vision, want to help us be successful.

It’s just out of this world, how much I learned from them this week. I talked to Mathilde Colin just before this call, literally, just before we met, she’s the CEO of front Patrick Collison, one of the. CEOs of Stripe introduced us to her. And he’s also one of our investors. Last week, I was on a call with Kim Malone, Scott, the author of radical candor.

Who’s also an advisor to manana and every time I talk to people like this, I learn things that thankfully I learned through them. So I don’t have to learn it the hard way. They really, really accelerate our success. And the other second one I wanted to mention was a pivotal, pivotal moment in my career was when I had arrived at Gaza sky Geeks the organization that I ran in Gaza where I met Mai and Layla, I had a four month funding runway. After two months I found out that the organization was going to be shutting down that my boss was leaving and we hadn’t raised more funding. And I decided, no, no, we have to keep this thing going because we had.

Facilitated the first ever investments in history for Gaza start ups, but we had no money. We were partners with Google, for startups. It was called Google for entrepreneurs at the time. And they put out a call for a grant requests for twenty-five thousand dollars. We met years later, I would not have bothered to apply for a $25,000 grant at the time that could keep my lights on for several months.

Right. And it was specifically around women and , how to support women or create more engagement of women or set up women for more success. That was not a focus of the organization in Gaza at the time that forced us to focus on. And we came up with some great ideas. It’s actually, when I started working with Mai as well, and we brought up our women’s participation rates from 25% to 49% in just one year.

And ever after that, I’ve always been passionate about helping women in tech. Before that I was one of these women who. I don’t see how our lives are different or, you know, we’re experiencing the same as men. We’re fine. What’s this, what’s all the fuss about, but as we explored what was going on in the community, and then of course later, as I grew in my career, I started experiencing it as things myself do.

I just became really, really aware of the. Challenges women face, even things like just, how do you communicate with women? That’s so often the default for how products are designed, how marketing is designed is actually for a male audience. And as soon as you start focusing on the women audience, Generating your messaging and your product designed for that experience.

It’s different. So I am so, so grateful to Google for having provided that funding with that focus because it brought my attention to it and it’s become a career path really since then, you know, my social impact mission, but also my full-time work.

Grace Witter: Ah, that’s really cool. So out of that very difficult time of having to find funding very, very quickly.

You’re able to find this new passion and new purpose in your work in your career. That’s really impacted so many people.

Iliana Montauk: Yes. And Gaza sky geeks organization I was running at the time has maintained that commitment ever since I left. So it was not at all a part of the organization’s focus until that grant came along.

And because we saw the success that we were able to achieve with that grant so quickly, because. To know this community after really focusing on it for awhile that has remained. And nowadays 50% of everything that Gaza Sky Geeks does is for women and everyone, I think on the team agrees that it’s also just the right thing to do, because that’s where the talent is.

Final thoughts

Grace Witter: Yeah. Wow. That is so cool. It has been so nice. Is there anything that we haven’t covered or any last things that you’d like to have?

Iliana Montauk: I would just like to thank our sponsors and I meant to say this earlier, when Mai was talking about the screening and training and vetting process, Mai please bring my attention if I forget some of them, but educate us.io has been an incredible sponsor for us and code signal.

They are both platforms that are involved in helping people. Technical interviews or how to screen talent and find talent. And they’ve believed in us and basically given us almost full discount for years in order to support our mission. And we would not be able to be here without them. We’re not able to afford products at the regular rates for things like this at scale.

So there’s them also zoom sponsored us for a long time. Slack is sponsoring. We have a lawyer who offers pro bono services. Who’s based in Jordan class and legal. So thank you many, thanks to everyone who believes in our vision and is willing to give us a lending hand along the way. Fantastic.

Mai Temraz: And it just takes a lot of people, sponsors investors, advisors, our small team or community.

Everyone believed in what we were doing and they played role in helping us succeed. And with the sponsor that Indiana mentioned, sometimes you can. Imagine that a subscription of $20 into a course can be something huge in all of the places that we’re serving. So some of them are really small things, but they play huge impact because it is a lot it’s sometimes it’s a week expenses in places like Gaza or Palestine.

Being able to offer something like that, for them really accelerate their learning and give them everything that they need or some of the things that they need to be able to succeed and reach. So I’m, I’m glad that you mentioned that Iliana, it’s something that is being part of our success and our participants’ success.

Grace Witter: Oh, that’s fantastic.

Thank you both for coming on and sharing all of this about Manara. I am so happy to hear more of a story. I feel like I kept seeing Manara and LinkedIn all the time. So I’m really so very, very happy to talk to you both and hear the story behind it. Yeah. Thank you for coming on. I really appreciate it.

Mai Temraz: Oh, thank you so much for having us. I enjoyed it a lot and it really means a lot when people It’s found us and would like to learn more and be part of spreading the word and sharing our stories and our participants success. You all play a really important part at this early journey that we’re we’re at.

So thank you so much for reaching out and having that.

Grace Witter: And thank you so much for taking the time to listen to this story. I really hope you enjoy it. I loved, loved, loved, loved talking to them. And even after editing it, I feel so inspired by everything that Manara is doing. So, if you liked this episode, please consider following us and leaving a review. It really helps to get the word out and to just have more people know about Tech Sisters and the really cool stories that we have on here. And if you are a Muslim woman in tech, please go ahead and join our slack community. It’s free. It’s fun supportive. And we have a really great time there. That’s all for me. And I’ll see you next week with another episode.


Thank you for sharing your story with us, Iliana and Mai. Jazakallahu Khair! You can follow Manara on their website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you liked this story, be sure to check our other Tech Sisters Stories and get to know the amazing talent we have in our community.

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