Spotlight on Sarah Hanawi, TED Resident, Executive Director of Purpl

VT:  Tell us about yourself.

SH:  I always find this a hard prompt, I guess because it's so expansive! I'll try to start small. I've been driven for many years—since childhood, really—by a desire to understand people and their motivations, and help them understand and accomplish their goals. This has led to a long career in human development, both in the education sector and in adult learning and professional development. Currently, I run Purpl, a small business incubator I founded with my husband, Adel. We believe in the link between creativity and productivity, and that today's professionals are a new kind of self-directed leader. At Purpl, I work to design programs that foster this type of leadership, and then to aim advocate for and implement this type of development outside our walls as well. 


VT:  What's your favorite inspirational quote (if you have one.)

SH:  A quote that I find both calming and re-energizing when I’m coming up against something difficult professionally, is this one from Khalil Gibran: “Work is love made visible.” It centers me both in my own driving force and in what I’m trying to help others accomplish.


VT:  How have mentors played a role in your career?
SH:  I have had more role models than I have mentors, exceptional women from whom I’ve learned and been inspired on a number of fronts. One of the most influential of them has been my great aunt Mirra Komerovsky. She was a prominent sociologist, a champion for women’s rights both in charting her own path and in the research and work she accomplished, and just an eternally inquisitive and dedicated thinker, who let her questions and curiosity drive her path. I have been fortunate also to work directly with a number of women whom I call upon in my memory when I need to channel a certain strategy or attitude that I particularly admire and hope to emulate. Having those women as models for certain behaviors that don’t necessarily come naturally, but that I need to embody as I advance as a worker and a leader has been invaluable.


VT:  As an entrepreneur and mom, how do you manage it all?

SH:  It's an ever-changing balance. Since having my first, I've worked every combination of part-time, full-time, consulting, from home, in the office, virtually. I think there are a few key things that have helped me. One, to not condemn myself for those changes--they are all a function of wanting to do right by my family and myself. Two, making sure that my family time is truly family time—letting chores and other demands fall by the wayside if it means getting quality connections with the kids. And three, some very good advice I once got, which is that when you're doing work you love, tell the kids about it. Involve them in it, so they can understand what it offers you and be a part of that, too, not to mention learn from it.

VT:  We often encourage women in our community to always be prepared to deliver your "elevator pitch." Any tips?

SH:  Be strategic, but also authentic. Take a moment before any occasion or interaction where you feel you might need that pitch to reflect and think about which phrasings or angles feel most present for you that day, or may be most resonant in the environment you're entering into. And try to connect to your enthusiasm before you start to speak, so that enthusiasm is present from the start.


VT:  You recently did a TED Talk, tell us about that experience. What did you talk about? Any lessons learned?

SH:  Yes, I recently completed a residency at TED and gave a talk that should be up on line any day now. My talk was about the demands of the new world of work we are all part of, the competencies it takes to be successful in that world, and how workplaces and schools can better prepare individuals to thrive. The residency was an amazing experience; I was part of a cohort of 27 truly committed, visionary, and supportive individuals, and it was tremendous to be incubated after so many years of incubating! Lessons learned? I guess, that it's hard to choose just one idea to spread. I'd like to give some more talks! 


You can view Sarah’s TED Talk on How to Succeed in the Gig Economy.