She’s one of the MENA's most daring boss ladies: Sarah Arbi calls her meetings Hors-G and sets off to transform the way advertising is done in the Middle East, adding social impact to every single campaign her startup, G-Dice, creates.
Hailing from a small town 120 kilometres from Tunis, 27-year-old entrepreneur Sarah Arbi says her conservative origins did not influence her bold allure – though most probably triggered the inner rebel that drove her startup, G-Dice, to spearhead a fearless approach to marketing, infusing every single one of its campaigns with a social footprint.
Like most Arab youngsters coming out of high school, Arbi was expected to go into either engineering or medical school; so she studied engineering in college, but as she had to fund her studies herself, she worked as a journalist. It was the time of the Arab uprisings, and Arbi fell in love with communication. All throughout college, she was jumping around between schoolwork, two internships, and two different jobs so she could support herself. Although making money was part of the reason she worked, it was mostly to learn and gain experience in as many fields as she could.
It only made sense that when she graduated, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. “I had my diploma in industrial chemistry and at that time I was like, 'okay, it will enable me to do all the dreams I have like helping my family, raising money, getting married, but then like the communication and advertisement field was the dream, you can challenge your inner self or creative self or discover who you are,” Sarah says. That’s when she started G-Dice, a creative advertising agency based in Tunis that specialises in operational and strategic marketing, whose their recipe for success is as fun-loving and motivating as their founder: its social footprint.
"Every G-Dice campaign starts with a meeting, which we call 'finding the G-spot', and a brainstorming session that we call 'an Hors-G'," Arbi explains, not only showcasing the humorous side of Arbi’s agency but also her wild intent to break down barriers and challenge social norms. “I want to change people's mindsets because there are a lot of things that need to be understood and done; and to be able to do that you need to face people with reality; it's not haram to enjoy yourself, it's not haram or embarrassing to start working at 22; but you have to enjoy it, to do it with love, that's part of it too. I always say: 'don't do because it's a job, we are not here from 8:00 to midnight because we need to answer to briefs; we are here to shake things," she says with striking conviction. "If I stand up for ideas against pollution and for recycling it's because I really hate that as a person and I want to change that. And I am pretty sure there's about 1,000 other people like me who want to change it too," she says, admitting that her bold statements have led to criticism within the often narrow-minded community she lives in. “I was called names and judged because I like short hair and I mainly wear dengri; but it the end, once people they see the result of your actions, they can say or do nothing,” she asserts.
Your client wants an answer, and you will give him the answer but you will also challenge him to invest in something else that can be better for society.
But it's not all smoke and mirrors for this loud hustler, whose core focus is not a slogan or a catchphrase, but an unwavering requirement for every marketing campaign her company creates to have a positive social impact. “In Tunisia it's a big challenge and a big fight. But we are enabling people to restart building the country, to open and change their mind to be more positive, to be less stressful, to be more passionate, not to do it not as robot, but as a human being; I guess that’s what I want,” says Arbi. In her opinion, everyone is trying to do "the social thing but nobody’s really making any really difference".
When G-Dice started, most clients came through personal friends and small businesses, until its first big client, yogurt brand 'DanUp,' showed u and opened up way for the biggest recycling campaign Tunisia has ever seen, as she explains. "They had met me as I worked for another agency previously; I just called on the phone and said: 'I want to work with you.' He said: 'but you are already working with me,' and I told him I had quit but I had my own agency, and he said: 'Sarah this can't work.' and I started telling him stories on how I know I can make it better and he asked me to meet after a year, and take the whole year to do whatever I wanted. A year later, I receive an email saying that I was pitching DanUp and a brief. I needed to answer in two weeks. It was the craziest two weeks of my life because I needed to present 10 creative ideas for that brand, and we thankfully got the Job. That's where everything started," Arabi recalls.
"That's why we're called G-Dice; we are trying prove that you don't need to score 6 to be the winner; you need to find out how to win a game without scoring, but by linking all the dots instead; knowing that your client wants an answer, and you will give him the answer but you will also challenge him to invest in something else that can be better for society," she explains.
Sarah' shares that "the biggest problem was challenging them to trust young people. Tunis is much smaller than Cairo, so there are about 5 or 6 big agencies that have enough experience and have enough clients to work; we are like the little agency and we need to fight for it, and every time it was harder and harder. Today it's working but you we are not all about making profits; we are trying to like have a lot of business without losing the charm of believing in changing the world creating different campaigns and social things but being really clever about it."
Our culture has taught us that men are responsible for their families, even if that means giving up on their aspirations. So I did the TEDx talk to show my brother he can have faith in me as a woman.
Arbi says, however, it's not just her spirit that pushed the brand forward, but rather her team. “They invest energy, they invest trust, they do invest; I call them at 2AM and they always have my back,” she says. Today she regularly hires people with little to no experience in advertising at all and gives them an opportunity to learn and gain experience. "I put faith into people the same way people put faith in me," she says.
Just before starting G-Dice, the entrepreneur hosted a TEDxTalk about believing in yourself. "I did the TEDxTalk for my brother, not for the 2,500 people in the audience." she explains. "My brother is younger than me and after our dad passed away he decided that he will stop studying to stay with my mom and to find a job and just be the man of the house. This is what our culture has taught us, that men are responsible for their families, even if that means giving up on their aspirations. So I did the talk to show him who I really am and that he can have faith in me as a woman."
When we asked her what her greatest achievement, her encouraging her mother's own business came to her mind. "I began a startup for my mom, who is 69 years old and makes tapisserie, so I started a website, a fan page on Facebook and her products started selling. She always used to ask me when I would get married; but she started asking me when am I going to have a fair so showcase her work, and can I buy her a smart phone, because she wants to check Facebook. She's not asking me about marriage anymore. She is doing her thing, she is in love with Pinterest, she takes things, and she started doing it at home and then calls me to try to sell her products, so yes, I think I made her proud" Sarah smiles.
Photos by @MO4Network.
Photographer: Seif Mansour.
Interview: Valentina Primo.
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