26-year old Yasmeen Khamis is a young entrepreneur who has discovered a way, along with her friend and partner Farah El-Masry, to bring charity into development while allowing art to be a consequential factor.
This, she said, is the story of the Doodle Factory, a project that is co-run by Khamis and El-Masry to help sick girls and boys raise the money they need for their medical treatment.
one of the drawings of the Doodle factory
It all started less than three years ago when Khamis, who had been helping with fundraising for several charities, including a hospital dedicated to the treatment of people with burn injuries, heard of the story of Souad, a girl who needed LE 30,000 to undergo an operation that would have cured her severe hearing disability.
Khamis was certain she wanted to help the girl, but was unsure how to do so. Along with El-Masry and a photographer, Khamis took a bunch of colouring papers and crayons and went to the girl’s house at a village at the far end of Giza called El-Khossous.
Upon arriving at the family’s house, Khamis was not sure what she was doing.
“I did not have a clear plan in mind, I just thought that if this girl tried drawing something, then maybe we could use the drawing to somehow try and help her raise money for her operation. I was not sure what I was going to do, and I was not sure it was necessarily going to work. I just knew I wanted to try,” Khamis said.
Inside the dimly lit, humble house, Khamis and El-Masry brought out the papers and crayons. Khamis and El-Masry had no idea what to say to the girl, even though they felt she was capable of lip-reading. After all, they were not sure if she could actually draw.
“But things worked themselves out because once we got the papers and colours out, her older brother started to draw and she instantly joined,” Khamis recalled.
The visitors to Souad’s house spent about three hours managing and photographing an art session that ultimately produced three large paintings.
“We collected the paintings and left, but as I was leaving the house, I had no clue what the next move was,” Khamis said.
In a few days, Khamis and El-Masry decided that they could imprint Souad’s drawings onto large cloth handbags, while using crops of the drawings as imprints for laptop covers and notebooks.
Then, a few days down the road, a video of the art session and pictures of the art products were uploaded online to the page of a charity that Khamis and El-Masry had worked with in the past.
“It really did not take very long. We posted the video and the drawings in March and by May, we had managed to raise enough money for her operation,” Khamis said.
“It just sort of clicked that we could do this again and again for other kids,” Khamis added.
Neither Khamis nor El-Masry was interested in the basic charity fundraising approach.
“I think that it is not good enough to only collect money, not just because there is already a very saturated market for medical fundraising projects, but also because I think that development is better than just donations – it brings about a higher sense of purpose and also, in a sense, helps the children and the families feel that they covered the expenses of the required medication through their work rather than just being handed the money by someone who is more economically privileged,” Khamis said.
“This social concept is very important to our work,” she added.
With that guiding principle, in the summer of 2016, Khamis and El-Masry decided that their new project “The Doodle Factory” was not going to be a charity but a business.
During the past two years, they have helped children get the medical treatment they need through drawing.
They have also started to earn a small income from the operation.
“It is a very, very small profit that we’ve managed to start making, but if we want to expand and help hundreds and thousands rather than just tens of children fight their illnesses, then obviously the Doodle Factory has to be a successful business model,” she said.
The project is a labour of love and passion for Khamis and El-Masry, combining their love of art with their academic studies of business. Originally, the two young entrepreneurs had thought about starting a project that tells the stories of the traditional crafts.
“I was always thinking that, for example, so many people who go to buy nice engraved copper plates from Khan El-Khalili are usually unfamiliar with the lyrics engraved there or the story of these lyrics. I think handmade artwork is exquisite and learning the story behind it is part of appreciating its beauty,” she said.
For now though, Khamis and El-Masry are focused on the Doodle Factory, ensuring that their products are not just inspired by the imagination of young Egyptian girls and boys, but are also produced using 100 percent Egyptian materials.
“This is part of our cause, to promote Egyptian products,” Khamis said.
Khamis added that their future plans don’t just focus on health, although this is a priority for the first phase.
“Along with health, we want to work to improve education and shelter, as these are some of the most essential basics for children,” she said.
In an effort to expand, the products made by the Doodle Factory are not just made available online, but are also beginning to be offered at concept stores.
“We are trying to sell more and to reach out to more outlets with a plan of three collections per year: one for spring/summer, one for fall, and one for back-to-school.”
Khamis and El-Masry are committed to continuing by “making a colouring day, five days a week, for as many groups of challenged children as possible and branding the made-in-Egypt products first at the local level and maybe in the future working on an exporting plan.”