In celebration of our 15 years empowering women, we are excited to introduce a retrospective collection of success stories from previous EWI alumnae. One of EWI’s board members, Howie Feinstein, is the contributing writer for this series.
Hella Akrout came to the United States with her parents from Tunisia, at the age of ten. Coming from a well-educated family, she earned her undergraduate degree from George Mason University, and an M.B.A. from George Washington U. She became a successful businesswoman, moving seamlessly between the U.S., France, and Tunisia in a variety of positions for several companies and N.G.O.’s. She spoke three languages, and contributed time and expertise to the community wherever she lived.
But something was missing. She longed to start her own business, one that would honor her family’s legacy:
“In the states, my parents and I were constantly looking for the real taste of olive oil that we knew from the olive oil made by my grandfather. My great-grandfather planted olive trees during the French occupation of Tunisia. In turn, my grandfather learned to take care of the trees and make excellent olive oil. At the same time, my business partner’s grandfather built his own mill, in 1938, to make olive oil for others. Ever since, the two families have been making wonderful olive oil.”
“We have aimed to produce the highest quality of olive oil possible. The olives come solely from Tunisia. All are hand-picked off the tree, and immediately extracted, cold-pressed and unfiltered. There are no additives or chemicals. The olive oil is cultivated the old-fashioned way, to produce high-quality, 100% olive juice.”
Facing the challenge
Her vision came easily, but planning and achieving this mission required more than just Hella’s business education and acumen. When she made the decision to proceed with this undertaking, her personal life was not in a good place.
Returning to the U.S. from abroad, as a single parent with two young children, she knew she could not make her dream a reality by herself – that’s where Empowered Women International came in. Hella encountered EWI alumnae and staff at an international fair, and was intrigued by the success stories she heard.
She enrolled in EWI’s “Grow My Business” program, and was extremely impressed with the hands-on, detail-oriented tutoring and guidance she received – even for an experienced business woman such as herself. She learned how to use the media to market her product; learned up-to-date sales practices from workshops; and mastered new software programs.
Equally, if not more, valuable, was the support she received from her fellow EWI students. Her confidence grew, and her sense of security mushroomed, through the camaraderie and unconditional support of the group experience. She credits EWI with the motivation and tenacity which set her on the path to both personal and professional empowerment.
“Being a Tunisian American, it is a dream come true to share the one good thing that is made in Tunisia, and done the right way, with my fellow Americans.” Thus, the creation of 1938 Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, an international success story nurtured by Empowered Women International.
You can learn more and see pictures at Hella’s Facebook page here.