Enas El Masry

The universe is built on dualities that, in harmony and balance, propel life forward. Resembled most notably as Yin and Yang in Chinese philosophy, this duality spans everything from night- day to good-evil and masculine-feminine. Unlike popular belief which confines the masculine and feminine to assigned genders, they are in fact energies that exist within all beings and all systems - business included.

For so long, the practice of business - among other aspects of life - has been driven predominantly by masculine energies which favor power, reason, and survival. Meritorious as these traits are, alone they throw the practice off balance. We see this in conglomerates and big companies striving to grow and make a profit at all costs, even when the cost is unfair trade, abuse of labor, and other unethical practices.

In response to a status quo that cries out to be healed, many small and local businesses are bringing back the balance by reincorporating feminine energies such as collective growth, community inclusion, and compassion. Contributing to this worldwide movement is Lokali, a Cairo-based concept restaurant that is all about freshness and local goodness.

The story of Lokali is not one of a single founder but of four ladies - Alia Adel, Yomna Khedr, Maha Eissa, and Nada El Shafei - who were brought together by friendship and their passion for food.

“Growing up in a family that appreciates homemade everything, I learned the value of fresh, chemical and preservatives-free food; the major value behind the concept that gathered the four of us to start Lokāli,” says Yomna.

“Modern cuisine made with 100% local ingredients is a challenge we value, but it is also something we like to play with. Based on that same value, Lokāli as a restaurant and a brand came to life,” adds Alia.

But how could tuning into the practice’s feminine energy propel the Lokali ladies to turn their shared passion into a successful business?

1. Intuition and Flow

Among the common byproducts of tuning in to the feminine energies is attracting what one wants, a story that rings true to the Lokali ladies. With degrees in Communication and Media Arts, Journalism, Business Administration, and Finance, the four were thrust into the postcollege life in earnest to put their academic knowledge to practice.

For some, the journey was enjoyable while others felt that every day spent away from their true passion was torment. “A few days before leaving the country for my MSc, I realized I had been doing the wrong thing all this time, spending countless years in misery. So I decided here to take this leap of faith and follow my passion,” says Yomna who put her years in marketing and teaching behind her back to pursue a degree in the culinary arts. Similarly, after eight years in public relations and digital marketing, Maha quit her job to join the Egyptian Culinary Institute.

Meanwhile, speaking of her journey as a banker, Nada adds: “This was not enough. I always dreamt of doing something else aside from my job; something interesting, something that involves a service to people.

“A good business idea was going to go to waste if I hadn't [opened Lokali].”

It is not uncommon for reason to overshadow intuition, a condition that is often fuelled by fear of the unknown. But when the feminine and the masculine entwine in balance, value and success become inseparable.

For two years following the conception of Lokali, the four worked tirelessly to ground it in thorough business and market planning, all the while self-funding their endeavor. “Everything was calculated and forecasted to the best of our abilities,” explains Alia. “The F&B market in Egypt is particularly lush and so competition is fierce. We needed to bring our best foot forward to the market.”

As with any shared project, each partner brought her own strengths to enrich the overall outcome. In the case of Lokali, Nada’s experience with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) gave the entire team an insider’s perspective into the world of start-ups and local businesses.

“I'm now on both sides on the spectrum,” says Nada. “EBRD does a lot of work to help start-ups around the world and I can now see what one needs to actually start from the ground up.”

Lokali opened its doors in January 2019.

2. Community

Success and survival are synonymous in business, but what does success mean?

Predominantly masculine business success is centered on competition and individual victory. However, in the wake of balanced masculine-feminine practices, more businesses are working towards the collective success of communities.

“As a local business, there is a social responsibility towards the local communities working to sustain their production,” say the Lokali ladies.

According to Amy Hartzler, director of the US nonprofit Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, 68% of the money spent on local businesses is retained and reinvested in the community as opposed to 43% spent on chains. Meanwhile, in British Columbia, research finds that independent retailers recirculate 2.6 times the amount of revenue circulated by chains by creating more jobs within the community.

“Oftentimes, amidst all the imported goods and while the world has become very globalized, food is mass-produced. And so we forget about our local heritage. But as you may know, sourcing local is now becoming a worldwide phenomenon that has jumped forward from being in the backseat for decades,” says Alia. “Egypt's local variety is not only dense but it's also seasonal and very fresh. As an agricultural country, we produce some of the best crops on this planet. And with that production comes a rich food culture.

“At Lokali, we want to showcase this food culture. We want to bring back those indigenous flavors and incorporate them into modern cuisine.”

Living up to their name and the values they promote, the Lokali ladies also go as far as entirely decorating their restaurant in locally made artwork from around the country.

3. Nurture

For many people, the first exposure to the manifestation of nurture is a mother who feeds and grows her youngster. That’s why it wasn’t foreign to the ladies to nurture their business and their community.

“Mothers, as sacrificial as they are, automatically make way for their young. We think it's a choice, but it's not. To accommodate babies, one has to sacrifice other aspects of their pre-baby life,” says Nada of her experience as a working mother who caters simultaneously to her family, her job at EBRD, and to Lokali. “But Lokali is like another baby to me with its own demands.”

Despite these seemingly overwhelming responsibilities, Nada is reassured by the support she gets first and foremost from her team. “Little sacrifices could be made but I have a good partnership in running it, so I'm able to rely on my partners to make sure the boat is not only floating but navigating smoothly,” she adds.

To them, the idea of growth is pretty simple: “The grass is greener where you water it. We started this out of passion and have continued giving it passion and care.”

While the four continue to support one another and collectively nurture their business, they also project this energy outwards, extending to the entire community. “We are always present at Lokali and we're always overseeing things as much as possible,” says Alia. “Lokali is your local restaurant that has managed to build a sense of community around it and that sense of belonging is what I feel made it grow.”

To maintain the masculine-feminine energy balance at the heart of their business, the Lokali ladies continue to grow at a slow but steady pace.