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Women Entrepreneurs in Action: Cycling for change

From organizing a grueling bike race to raise money for women craft workers, to establishing a life-coaching business, Yasmine Khater hopes to bring about a bit of peace and a lot of change.

The 25-year-old Egyptian-Singaporean blogger has lived in six countries and can count many cultural and spiritual influences. With her project "Gone Cyclin’," she hopes both to help other women entrepreneurs and to inspire young people to make a difference through sport in far Asia.

“The Gone Cyclin’ initiative started on an adventure trip that I organized to Malaysia,” says Khater, who grew up in Saudi Arabia and traveled extensively before moving to Cairo in 1996. “My friend told me about this race in southeast Asia’s poorest and youngest country, Timor-Leste.”

Her aim was to train for one of the world’s toughest mountain bike races and cycle 420km, raising US$25,000 to help 360 women craft workers support themselves.

“The idea of pushing myself beyond my physical limit interested me, and to be able to do good while I was doing it had me sold,” Khater says.

According to Khater, the tour was the brainchild of Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta–an independence leader who won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize and is president of Timor Leste–as well as being part of his recent Dili-City of Peace campaign to promote the peace and beauty of the country.

“The vision for Gone Cyclin’ is to inspire young people to make a sustainable difference to society, through promoting sports as a crucial element of well-being and espouse an environment-friendly initiative,” she says.

Khater modeled the project and her life on a philosophy her grandfather once shared with her. He told her that he could leave her with property, but it could be lost; he could leave her with money, but it could be spent. However, he said, “I can leave you with education, and it will always be your friend."

Khater had previously explored various social causes in a search for the opportunity to challenge and understand herself better and discover what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. “I tried several activities, but none fit me until my best friend told me about [student-based organization] AIESEC,” Khater recalls, “which would give me the opportunity to network with people from around the world and travel anywhere I wanted.”

Khater joined AIESEC in her sophomore year in 2003, partly because she saw it would give her the chance to have an adventure. Six months later, she found herself in Ghana, sitting in a plenary session with youth from more than 30 countries at the Regional African Leadership and Development Conference, which focused on HIV/AIDS.

“The experience was transformational, it still remains so vivid for me the moment I realized that the people in the plenary were tomorrow’s leaders.” Khater says. “Just like them, I had to believe I could do something remarkable… That’s when my journey with AIESEC and life really embarked on finding my life passion which is creating peace and promoting peace.”

She believes peace is not only found among people, but more importantly, within them. Challenging beliefs and defining one's own path are fundamental to creating such peace, she says.

“My AIESEC experience is still a part of my life,” Khater explains. “Even here many of my close friends are ones I met during projects, or travel with AIESEC. We are all so connected with the passion and the drive to make a difference.”

Starting the Gone Cyclin’ project with two other AIESEC alumni was challenging for all. "There have been multiple challenges, especially because of the time constraint, because we were all working professionals,” she explains. The challenges ranged from physical training, working with a team that has little communication, to getting the permits for finding partners and fundraising.

According to Khater, one of the most inspirational experiences was during her first long weekend trip to Mersing, Malaysia. “Not really sure what to expect, we set off in the midst of holiday traffic through the crazy, crowded highways of Johor,” she says. “I can still feel how fast my heart was beating because I was so terrified. I was thinking 'Why was I on a bicycle in the middle of the afternoon heat on the highway?'”

In the searing heat on hilly roads, Khater wanted to go home. But she met a stranger along the way who shared his story with her and taught her the value of perseverance.

“I believe that everyone is destined for greatness,” Khater says. “And after 11 long, hard, challenging months from the idea to the creation, from the collaboration to the empowerment, the Gone Cyclin’ Initiative has raised over SGD20,000 in funds to empower a community of 360 women weavers and craft makers in East Timor.”

Khater also recently set up a life coaching business called Transpiral to teach groups and individuals to build synergy between mind, body and soul.

“Coaching is about action, actions are transformational, which is the root to my company’s name: Transpiral. To transform there will be growth, which will never be horizontal or vertical. It’s like a spiral which will impact all areas of your life to ultimately achieve peace,” she says.

From the shy child who preferred books to people and believed life was essentially simple, Khater has created a world of change and balanced her life according to her beliefs.

“The impact has been phenomenal,” she says. “Everyone I have coached has achieved the goals they have desired, and even those who haven’t have grown from the experience, continuing to work towards what they want to achieve.”

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