top of page

Q&A with Nadia Wassef

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Nadia Wassef, Writer, Co-founder of Diwan Bookstores

How could you describe your career path in few words?

My career has followed unexpected paths. After graduating from the American University in Cairo with a master’s degree in English & Comparative Literature, I was interested in gender and worked for development organizations and women’s groups in Egypt. Then I went back to university and did a second master’s degree in Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. I assumed that this degree would empower me to resume my interests in gender and development. Instead, I went back to Cairo and partnered with my sister and some friends to open a bookstore—Diwan. In 2002 this corner bookstore was a novelty in Cairo. Ten years later, we were a chain of ten shops and many more bookstores had opened throughout the city. Embarking on my professional career, I never imagined I would be a bookseller. Then fifteen years later, in 2017, I withdrew from bookselling, went back to school again, this time for a third master’s degree in Creative Writing. And in 2021 my first book was published by Farrar Straus & Giroux in the US, Corsair in the UK, and it is being translated into eleven languages. In short, every phase of my life has begun or ended with a return to learning, to school, and it has always produced a seismic shift in my life path and in my thinking.

What was your most challenging experience, and how has it changed your mindset?

Ten years into our venture, we had over-expanded and were at risk of complete failure. Everything that I held dear in Diwan seemed to be crumbling. We shut several stores and tried to shrink to a manageable size, but then the Egyptian revolution began, ushering in years of economic instability. This experience has made me rethink and re-evaluate the meanings of success and failure. I think Diwan’s real success is in its social impact, its survival for the last twenty-one years, and in the many human relationships that survived alongside it and nourished it. I know that for me today, I am proud of a business venture that made a larger impact on society than it did an income. Bookselling is not the most prosperous of economic enterprises and yet is the most valuable. I have also come to realize that true success is often something that others don’t necessarily witness, and it does not have a universal metric. I know that in business success is always defined in financial terms, but I think it’s time to rethink the way we value and judge businesses and their contributions. Capitalism has run its course and to survive and prosper, we need to help it reinvent itself.

As a woman entrepreneur, what questions do you keep getting asked?

Most interviews throughout my professional career will at one point ask me one of two things. Either, How do you balance your family life with your work life? To which I will always say, “I don’t have a clear answer for that as it is a constant struggle, but I do know that not enough men in business get asked that question. Or they will ask, What is the biggest challenge you encounter as a woman? My answer remains the same: “it is not my problem; it is society’s problem!” The mindset I hold is underpinned by the decision to go through life refusing to be penalized for being a woman or treated differently. I think the biggest challenge we face, the biggest decider of our lives, is our access to education. In an age where we are aware of intersectionality and its impact, to further women’s causes and life trajectories, we need to look closely at class, education, and race, not only gender. We need to be conscious of the language we use and the contexts in which our realities unfold. They are different; we are each different.

Recent Posts

See All
Subscribe for us to keep you updated with our latest articles

Thanks for subscribing to our newsletter !

© 2021 Trusted Magazine (by Trusted Advisors Group)

Subscribe to our newsletter

bottom of page