Yasmine El Baggari, a native of Morocco and Planet Earth-based, is passionate about connecting people and bridging cultures to encourage a more peaceful caring world. She launched Voyaj, a platform that connects people from around the globe, for one-on-one meaningful exchanges to foster global understanding. For the past four years, Yasmine’s reach has included work with the World Bank, research at Harvard University, and the US State Department as an “Engage America” Ambassador. Yasmine has traveled to all 50 U.S. states, 40+ countries on her own and was welcomed with 250+ families globally. Her next stop? The Moon.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Yasmine El Baggari: Entrepreneurship is crucial to creating economic, cultural, and social opportunities for people everywhere. Collectively around the world, most new jobs are created by small businesses and startups.
Encouraging entrepreneurs and individuals to create new businesses, and training people to learn the skills to succeed in doing so will raise up peoples’ circumstances everywhere.
With new models of businesses and those with aligned missions offer opportunities for global cooperation, for greater health, for economic growth and for international communications, leadership and peace.
Tell us about your first experience with entrepreneurship.
YE: My first experience with entrepreneurship started at the age of 17 after I arrived in the U.S. as an exchange student. I taught French and Arabic to American students to finance my travel across America. The travel I experienced led to personal discovery that it is possible to travel the world by exchanging stories, skills, and ideas with people I met who the offered me hospitality, and sometimes even transportation in exchange.
What is your company’s origin story? What is the biggest reason you started your business? What did those early days look like and teach you?
YE: At 17, I applied to and was selected to join a delegation of 30 Moroccan exchange students for a year abroad in the United States. As a Youth Exchange Student Scholar for a U.S. State Department program, I was tasked with helping to bridge the gap between the Muslim world and the United States. I was, in essence, a young Moroccan ambassador to the United States and I felt the gravity of this task. Under the guardianship of my host family in Kansas, I learned a new language and a new culture. I was encouraged and challenged, and learned to share my life story and culture, so foreign to those with whom I now lived. The impact I noticed when I
communicated with attention and authenticity to those around me, astounded me. I was moved by interactions and shared experiences with many different people that created deeper understanding and poignant connections.
My U.S. experiences continued. I attended and graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts and earned a master’s degree in human psychology at Harvard University. There too, my interpersonal skills grew and my mission to connect people authentically was further etched in my heart. My thirst to learn more about positive human interactions even led me to travel to 50 states, 40+ countries, and stay in more than 250 homes. The deep alliances and understanding I shared with those I met along these adventures inspired me to found Voyaj, a platform that brings people together through shared experiences to deepen understanding. Voyaj aims to expand curiosity, to open hearts and minds, and inspire positive impact from and for people from every corner of the world.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
YE: I would not do anything differently. My respect for the process taught me so much from “doing” while making mistakes. I believe this philosophy allowed me to become a better entrepreneur. One of my biggest lessons is to make “Impeccable Agreements”. In doing so, I honor each commitment while also considering to what I say, “yes” to. It helps clarity goals and create alignment.
What does “success” look like for you? We’d love to hear your biggest, boldest dream? What do you think will help you achieve it?
YE: My boldest dream is this: to bring humanity together in authentic ways in the hope of fulfilling my vision– that one day we will all be together in peace and in unity. This is what motivates me every morning to continue to work on Voyaj. The challenge when I witness so much conflict, war, and interpersonal divisions because of stereotypes can be daunting. Yet still, I believe the human heart is capable of acceptance, generosity and love. I believe that one day humanity will more collectively realize this and the world will be a better place for everyone everywhere.
The possibilities of positive impacts are open-ended and critical, as evidenced in current global climate demands. We must cultivate and become dynamic global citizens for change.
What is your superpower as an entrepreneur? What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
YE: My superpower as an entrepreneur is my ability to connect authentically with every human being, making them feel heard and valued (and vice-versa), regardless of how much or how little we seem to have in common. I practice patience and ask the deeper questions to find our intersections and commonalities as well as our differences. I am continually fascinated by people’s stories, journeys, challenges, ups and downs, cultural heritage, wildest dreams, and what they are willing to share with me. Curiosity, curiosity, curiosity!
What are your personal driving principals, your top values?
YE: My top values are authenticity, openness, and kindness.
How have your personal principles and values shaped your company’s values and principles?
YE: So much of how I live and what I do is reflected by who I am. And I wouldn’t be creating and committed to Voyaj if it weren’t for the thousands of people and families I have encountered in my travels who have opened their homes, hearts, and souls to me. Voyaj has shaped me.
Do you have a mentor? Tell us about what makes them valuable to you and your business?
YE: I have many mentors for different aspects and reasons. People who urge me along when doubt creeps in, people who willingly share knowledge they have learned during their trials and lives help propel me and my mission. No one person can climb mountains alone, safely, while creating impact for good. It takes a team and I am deeply appreciative of the support I receive every time I ask from my mentors around the globe. Sometimes, asking is the hardest part — but I am getting better at it!
What role does mentorship play in your world (as a mentor or mentee)?
YE: I have been collaborating with Ravi from MentorCloud, and he has taught me the power and value of mentorship. Voyaj has been a partner of MentorCloud for years, and I can tell you that learning about the Art of Mentoring from Ravi has been life-changing and in perpetuating my business. Check out MentorCloud’s collaboration with the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, Mentor Makers!
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
YE: Sleep is my thing. I sleep 9 hours every night, and it makes every moment feel so present. I meditate during the day when my mind is too activated. For me, it’s always about finding balance between my mind, body and soul. This is a daily practice and commitment.
What are you reading or have read?
YE: The forty rules of love, the 4 agreements, Welcome Home!
Where do you go for inspiration?
YE: Aotearoa, New Zealand lately! I am part of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship and just returned from spending three months in country where I got to meet and learn about new models of governance, leadership, and most importantly, was deeply touched by the Maori culture. I also find inspiration in talking to strangers on the street. I’m always reminded just how much in common we have with everyone.
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, or words of wisdom to get through the tough days?
YE: Close your eyes, fall in love, stay there – Rumi
What is a problem that keeps you up at night?
YE: The division in our world and feeling of loneliness.
How do you think about helping others through your work?
YE: Listening, and asking questions.
What advice do you have for fellow (and aspiring) entrepreneurs building and leading teams?
YE: Don’t take no for an answer, and just keep trusting and moving forward.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as – as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
YE: I want to be known as a person who has brought humanity together in a meaningful way– a cultural ambassador for humanity!
Have you raised outside capital so far?
YE: We’ve raised funds from friends and family with aligned missions.
Where do you meet investors?
YE: I don’t intentionally contact investors. I rarely pitch. So far, I’ve met investors serendipitously or via warm introductions. I am interested in meaningful connections first, investors who are truly aligned with the mission.
How has your network helped you raise capital?
YE: I just finished a crowdfunding campaign, and I can tell you that it has been so heart-warming to realize how much my global community supports me and Voyaj. We successfully funded our crowfunding goal. Check out the campaign: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/make-the-voyaj-journey-become-a-founding-member
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