By Meriem Djanati.
Imene Henni Mansour is a young Algerian social entrepreneur, activist and women’s rights advocate. She is the co-founder and CEO of Innocom, a communication agency in Algeria. She is also the manager of Khibra Academy, a professional training school.
Imene started social activism and voulnteering in 2012 by creating the first computer science club in her city. Imene is very passionate about technology and education, as she works hard on promoting IT training in her community and especially for girls. For this reason, she joined Maharat Program, a World Learning program that aims to help girls build themselves and create their own strong path careers. Imene's dream is to create a digital ecosystem to consolidate all lovers of comptuer science and technology.
In July 2018, Imene launched her project Mecaniciana. In Algerian dialect, Mecaniciana means a female mechanic. However, this term is rarely used due to the absence of female mechanics. Imene noticed this absence and how women in Algeria rarely have any knowledge about mechanics nor the opportunity to learn about it. Men, on the other hand, usually learn about the basics of mechanics when discussing cars, or through their fathers or brothers who give them a basic training. "When a woman needs to fix her car, she always asks men in her environment to help her take the car to the mechanic. She is completely isolated from the world of mechanics,” says Imene. As a women’s rights advocate who wants to increase access to education for women, she implemented the project of Mecaniciana to help women be independent and resourceful, as well as to guarantee their safety in case of a malfunction when a woman is driving alone at night or in an isolated place. "Mechanics is a science like any other science, and each science can be learned easily." For these reasons Imene wanted to involve women in the science of mechanics.
Mecaniciana offers a training for women with different ages and from different fields about cars and mechanics. The training is divided into two parts: the first part is about theory; it deals with generalities that answer questions such as: what are the different kinds of cars? What are the types of engines? How do engines work? What are the best practices to preserve the car? When and how to talk with the mechanic? The second part is a training workshop in the garage where women learn how to change the car’s handle, how to change oil, how to replace the wheel, and how to fix other issues. Although the training is for a day only, it is intensive and informative enough about the basics of mechanics.
The major obstacle Imene faced while working on this project was the negative feedback received from men, who did not like nor accept the idea of women being independent, and claimed that women should not be dealing with mechanics. Comments of mockery, anger, and insults on the internet were shared by men who accused women of trying to take the men’s roles in society. Imene responded to this by affirming that Mecaniciana is an educational and basic training that does not produce female mechanics, but rather introduces women to the science of mechanics. The reaction of people to this initiative only highlights the importance of raising awareness about the stigma towards women who are interested in mechanics knowing the basics of mechanics and help them be independent and active. Therefore, Imene plans to continue with the implementation of Mecaniciana by organizing more similar workshops in different regions in Algeria. She also plans to offer more detailed sessions to further develop the mechanical skills of women, because she was very impressed by how motivated the participants were to learn.
Imene’s message to young people who want to start their own social startups is:"Follow your passion and don’t be afraid to take risks. Study your project well and don’t wait for the perfect plan to start your business. Focus on brainstorming ideas to identify the real needs of people in your society by putting yourself in their shoes and seeing things through their perspective and not yours. A good social entrepreneur should be very open-minded."