With the support of WE’s Incubation Hub, Mia Zakaria turned her passion for creating handmade soap into a business that supports international development projects.
By Jesse Mintz
Ahed (Mia) Zakaria was in the kitchen, cooking up a surprise that involved chemistry and a considerable mess.
Her mom’s birthday was fast approaching, and the 13-year-old had the house to herself and the solitude she needed to show off the skills she’d learned during a soapmaking workshop she’d taken with her mom months earlier.
Mia decided to prove how much she’d learned.
The essential oils were prepared. The mold was ready. But as Mia took the melted, raw soap from the microwave, she slipped, spilling it all over the kitchen.
When her mom, Reem Sawaf, got home, she was certainly surprised—but it wasn’t the reveal Mia had hoped for. The pair spent hours chiselling the hardened soap from the floor.
Now 17, Mia thought back to that disastrous day as she walked to the podium to present her business plan at the WE Incubation Hub’s Social Entrepreneurship Program.
Launched in the fall of 2017, the 10-session program helps young innovators develop their world-changing ideas, providing leadership training and mentorship. Mia lists public speaking and teamwork as the main skills she learned, and her more fully developed business plan as the achievement. She plans to use her kitchen soap project to make a global impact.
Like most homegrown business founders, she started small. Mia first sold her soap in small batches to support her school’s fundraising efforts for the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto. Next, she gifted bars to the doctors and nurses at the Hospital for Sick Children, who had helped her years earlier when she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. Eventually, her soapmaking took her all the way to Jordan; her family is originally from Syria, and Mia wanted to donate soaps to Syrian refugees resettled in Amman.
“I thought I could take a passion of mine and use it to help others,” Mia says.
To scale production and support more causes, and her mother formed a two-person assembly line. One cut the raw bars, the other melted them down; one mixed the essential oils, the other poured them into molds and packaged them. By the time they had advanced to creating luxurious organic soaps made with lavender and poppyseed, Mia had discovered WE, and turned to the Incubation Hub to transform her business again—this time into a social enterprise that would support WE’s development work in Ecuador.
“My parents instilled in me the idea of being kind and always leaving the world better than when you found it,” Mia explains.
In Grade 11, Mia took a ME to WE volunteer trip to Ecuador. There, she helped build a classroom in a small community in the Amazon, working alongside locals and learning about their lives. She returned energized. “I always knew I wanted to do more with my soap,” she says confidently. “That’s why I came to the WE Incubation Hub, to help set up a social enterprise and give back to the community.”
With the support of WE, Mia took her business from ad hoc fundraising events to a strategic plan, and as a result, 70 per cent of the profits from selling her soap benefit WE Charity’s development work in Ecuador. The remaining 30 per cent is funnelled back into the business to help it grow. It’s a model she’s proud to say she borrowed from ME to WE itself. She calls the company ph Purely Human—a nod to the chemistry underpinning soapmaking and the humanity-driven philosophy that drives her work.
“The hub helped me dream bigger,” she says.
When we last spoke to her, she planned to launch a social media campaign to market to new audiences and create soaps that support various projects—from building schoolrooms to digging wells to providing much-needed access to health care. Taking a page out of ME to WE’s playbook, she wants to allow customers to back the causes they care about most. She has plans to hire staff and possibly partner with university residences to feature her soap on campuses.
“Every time you wash your hands, you can feel grateful for the hand you’re offering back to communities.”
The Social Entrepreneurship Program at the WE Incubation Hub is open to 14–19-year-olds who are taking action and making the world a better place. Please check out the WE Incubation Hub for more details on how to apply and to take your world-changing idea to the next level.