Hani Al-Dajane discusses journey with Yalla!Lets Talk
“As diverse as the world is, the narrative is not. And it’s really up to us to change that narrative.” - Hani Al-Dajane, a startup lawyer and Co-Founder of Yalla! Let’s Talk.
Yalla! Let’s Talk. (YLT) is a media and events platform for Arab-identifying Millennials and Gen Z. They are driven by creating representation and addressing stigmatized and underrepresented issues in our culture and community as a whole. They do weekly Virtual Cafés, have a media publication, the Third Culture Talks podcast, video content, the YLT Café Series in 6 different cities around the world, and an annual conference (YLT CON).
I had the pleasure to have a casual phone conversation with Hani Al-Dajane who is the CEO and Co-Founder of this very unique platform.
Can you please tell me more about yourself, your background, family and education?
I’m Palestinian-Canadian and I grew up both in Kuwait and in Mississauga. Like some Arab-Canadians can relate, I came to Canada at the young age of six years old and moved back to Kuwait in grade 10. Then, I moved back here for University. I can appreciate that this might be tough to follow but I can almost guarantee that someone reading this would get it.
I have a pretty big family – I have four other siblings and 6 nieces and nephews who I love to spoil.
In terms of education, I got my BBA from the University of Toronto Mississauga, my Master’s degree from the University of Toronto, and then went on to law school at the University of Ottawa.
I’m a lawyer and a long with YLT, I’m the Co-Founder of Emerge LLP, a law firm dedicated to helping startups and small businesses with legal services. I’m also an entrepreneur who is passionate about building social impact companies such as YLT.
What inspired you to create Yalla! Let’s Talk, I am very curious?
There are two folds to the inspiration: First, I realized people around me tend to avoid uncomfortable issues and I wanted to change that. At the same time, I felt like I was too Arab in some spaces or not Arab enough. I felt misunderstood, judged constantly, and to be frank, I felt alone. I came to realize that it’s not that I was by myself, it’s that we don’t often see the narratives or perspectives of Arabs living or growing up in Canada or the US, in mainstream media or see enough representation – be it in executive teams or conferences. As a similar story to many Millennials out there, I thought the solution to this problem was…….Youtube!
I thought to myself: Let’s start a Youtube channel where we can bring these people to talk about underrepresented issues and show the world different Arab-identifying Millennials with different narratives. I asked a few friends to come and be guests on this Youtube channel called “Yalla! Let’s Talk.”, and after we shot a few episodes, I quickly realized that people felt more comfortable talking without the camera on but those conversation were still important.
Youtube pivoted into a youth-led initiative with the Canadian Arab Institute as a key partner. Almost exactly three years later, YLT has evolved into a media startup and an events platform for Arab-identifying Millennials and Gen Z. Today, I’m happy to see this passion project evolved into an organization that is driven by creating social impact for Arab-identifying Millennials and Gen Z around the globe.
Grateful and excited to be building this social enterprise with Co-Founder Mays Alwash, Product Manager Meis Al-Falahe, and of course a whole YLT community of passionate and enthusiastic Arab-Identifying Millennials and Gen Z.
Some young leaders from your organization attended the Economic Club of Canada's event with the Former President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. I find this HUGE, tell me more please?
Absolutely. We were invited by one of our partners, the Canadian Arab Institute, to attend. My own takeaway is that the business landscape is changing, and being forward-thinking doesn’t just mean integrate more technology – It also means strengthening your efforts with inclusivity, the environment, and community.
What is your vision for Yalla! Let’s Talk. for the next 5 years?
It’s to continue to amplify the voices of a group of people that is often overlooked – Arab-Identifying Millennials and Gen Z who grew up or live in Countries like Canada. By sharing diverse narratives, at the same time, tackling underrepresented issues, we are creating much needed representation in media outlets and spaces that we often don’t hold.
I see our events platform growing in different cities around the world, beyond the current six cities YLT expanded to, with more opportunities for people to have a space to talk, a space to inspire, and a platform to connect.
I also see YLT creating a lot more content that would have a great social impact yet be entertaining and something people can watch and consume. More specifically, I also see us growing our writers pieces on our online magazine, growing our podcast to bring on diverse guests, and growing our video content to include more story-telling pieces and a show that showcases different perspectives.
What advice do you have for young Arabs in the community who are looking to create their own media or events platform?
I think the best advice I can give someone right now is understand and always clarify your “why?”. What I mean is why is this online platform or media company something you want to build, and after establishing your why, JUST START and be comfortable with failing and adapting. As you saw with YLT and like many other companies, it’s normal and probably even expected to pivot, understanding your why as a company will hopefully keep you and others inspired. At the same time, we often expect that we will be successful right at the start – the reality is, it takes years and many failures and resilience to move forward. If you want to learn more, you should read “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek.
I really hope that you enjoy this read. To learn more about Yalla! Let’s Talk please visit https://yallaletstalk.com/our-story/