Elisa Sednaoui


Social Entrepreneur, Model, Actress, Film Director, Muse and Mother    By Hilary Diack

Blessed with beauty, charisma and no small level of intellect; multi-faceted, multi-lingual and multi-talented Elisa Sednaoui has been dedicating her life to a fulfilling community project for the past three years.  Born to an Italian mother and French-Egyptian father, she traces her early years back to the Egyptian town of Luxor. From there, her path in life has taken her to the heights of the world of haute couture, as model and muse for world-class photographers and leading designers.

Inspired by her childhood, and true to her passionate ability to throw herself unflinchingly into the challenges of whatever inspires her, Sednaoui has launched The Elisa Sednaoui Foundation. The idea is to create sustainable cultural centers, which function as a hub for artistic and life-skill development for Egyptian children, offering them a gathering place and haven for after-school hours. The pilot project takes place in Luxor.

Cairo East Magazine pondered how a highly successful model could find time to not only create a foundation that expands horizons, but to also juggle her roles as wife, mother and actively involved social entrepreneur. We take an intimate glimpse into her life.

CEM: Elisa, will you tell us about your earliest childhood memories?

ES: The kitchen in our flat in Zamalek, Cairo. I remember Ace of Base’s ‘All That She Wants’ playing on the TV. Coming home from my nursery school Stepping Stones and playing “to cook something,” which I would actually really bake in the oven. I must have been four. I have other memories of going to school in Cairo on my dad’s shoulders.

Who has been the strongest influence in your life?

I wouldn’t be able to limit this to one person. Of course my mother is the biggest influence, she is my own strongest example of a woman. To me she is a symbol of courage, humor, vision, ambition, heart and generosity.

I am grateful for all those I had the chance to meet, going through life, the number of people who have inspired me with even just a sentence or an attitude. Every day I meet someone I am grateful for. Even if it’s someone I’ll never meet again. I also love biographies, as the different journeys all trigger reflection.

You have a busy lifestyle, how do you rank your priorities?

Family first. My husband. My son is almost three and every moment is precious. And then the most meaningful part of my professional life, the social work. I wish I were able to spend more time with my friends than I do, but we do still get many opportunities to be together.

Was there a pivotal moment that acted as a catalyst for the creation of your foundation?

A few years ago I was working on another project in Egypt, >>

and by chance I visited a school in the countryside of Upper Egypt. It was August, and the month of Ramadan. A few volunteers were running additional Arabic, English and Math classes. The kids must have been around six years old. I was confronted by the thirst for knowledge of these children and their need to be offered additional opportunities for education.

I never dreamed as a child to be a model or go into acting, these are experiences which “happened” to me. What I dreamt of was to become a cultural attaché. As those thoughts floated in my head, they were fuelled by the desire I always had in me to work in something that would combine the artistic and the social, possibly in Egypt. So, when I was seven months pregnant, I made the first concrete steps towards the creation of ESF.

What are the guiding principles and goals of The Elisa Sednaoui Foundation?

Our mission is to help foster the next generation of world citizens and solution-makers who will enrich their communities. We do so by promoting playful cultural exchange and the building of life-skills among children and young people through experiential, hands-on type of art classes. We believe that children and young people should have the opportunity to follow their dreams and imaginations—to freely express feelings, thoughts, and experiences in open and creative ways. We created the ESF to help give children and young people these opportunities. We aim at building good future citizens by promoting tolerance while establishing a sense of self, rooted in dignity and respect. We strongly believe in fostering civic participation and engagement while encouraging social entrepreneurship and responsibility.

In what ways do you feel that motherhood has changed you?

It has made me more organised. More guilty at times. But I guess guilt is a big part of our education, isn’t it? It has also actually made me more patient and understanding with myself. I think I also feel more grounded. Seeing my son smile, or learn something new cannot be compared with any other feeling.

What important qualities do you wish to instill in your son?

It feels like it’s a little too early to say. But I try to teach him to appreciate things. To try and be patient when things don’t go exactly his way. To try to behave with others the way he would want them to behave with him. To be gentle and thoughtful. To be a good listener. >>

When time allows, which restaurants and places in Cairo do you like to visit?

Unfortunately I always come in and out, and when I’m there I don’t have time to do much besides working. I do however have the most fun nights in my Cairo friends’ homes. They are always surprising occasions to be remembered. In terms of restaurants and places, I really know too few of them. I have been to a few delicious ones all over town over the years, but I wouldn’t be able to remember the names. I like Le Pacha 1901 for the sake of the memories it brings back. I also like Cairo Kitchen in Zamalek, for its authentic, time-honored local cuisine.

Quick Fire Round:

What apps do you use the most?

Instagram, Dropbox and Amazon.

What is your favorite fragrance?

‘No Matter What’ by Liaison de Parfum

Which song is on your repeat list?

The Pink Panther anthem because my son loves it.

How would you define your philosophy on life in around 10 words?

Be truthful to yourself and others, give your heart and you’ll figure it out.

What do you feel most grateful for?

My loved ones, and being given the opportunity to dedicate myself to what I am passionate about.

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