Employee, influencer and social entrepreneur
As a young Muslim woman encountering negative stereotypes, Unilever Hero Ibtisam Habib has confounded expectations
Every year, we recognise pioneering individuals within the company who have brought our values to life and truly embody what it means to be part of Unilever. Our 2018 Heroes with Impact have gone above and beyond their day-to-day jobs. Their stories paint a picture of passion, purpose and drive.
As a Muslim woman in Kenya, Ibtisam Habib, Assistant Brand Manager, came face to face with negative stereotypes from the start. Education was not seen as important for girls, and working was not the thing for Muslim women. “My place was supposed to be in the kitchen,” she says.
Ibtisam had to fight to go to school and get an education – something she did with resounding success, graduating top of her class with a first in business studies. She was attracted to Unilever because of its sustainability credentials.
An early stint in marketing involved her in the relaunch of Lifebuoy soap in Kenya – and the brand’s life-saving mission to spread the importance of good handwashing habits increased her desire to have a positive impact on people’s lives.
As part of Kenya’s Heroes for Change project, she mentored volunteer college students and showed them how to implement Lifebuoy’s School of Five programme in local communities. The programme teaches the importance of handwashing with soap and the group she personally mentored reached more than 20,000 people. Overall, the programme reached 500,000+ Kenyans within two months.
In parallel to her day job, Ibtisam is also active as a social media micro-influencer. “I decided to start a page on Instagram, Hijabeefied, posting the story that it is possible to go through different stages of life while still being a covered Muslim,” she says.
She posted images of women who were doing a great job in their chosen field. “Before I knew it I had 1,000 followers and I thought, hey, does this mean this problem is bigger than I thought it was?”
Once word got out about her Instagram profile, Ibtisam received warm support from Unilever colleagues as well as from family and friends. Her following has risen to 35,000+ and she continues to challenge stereotypes about the role of a Muslim woman in society.
Ibtisam’s activities within and outside Unilever are having a real impact on her community and her country. “It important to stand for what you believe in, because you just never know who you’ll inspire out there,” she says. “So share your stories, share your journeys and see the magic that happens.”