Once she set her sights on entrepreneurship, Zara Huseynova didn’t waste a moment. At only 18 years old, with $200 in savings, she launched her first of many companies, a bridal and evening dress rental business in her native Azerbaijan. Within just a few years, she had transformed this business into Alza, a chain of brick-and-mortar shops including a two-story boutique in Baku. This success prompted her to establish WoWoman, a financial independence and empowerment platform for women, which landed her a spot on Forbes’ “30 Under 30 in Europe” list in 2019.
WoWoman, which provides mentorship to entrepreneurial women as well as training courses in coding, design, and business management, is a project close to her heart. Inspired by her own mother, and impelled by the strictures of her society, Zara believes that financial empowerment is essential for women to live independently, free from unhealthy, limiting, and even dangerous relationships. Since 2015, WoWoman has successfully helped more than 10,000 women gain the skills necessary to create empowered, financially independent lives.
Zara, an alumna of MIT’s Global Entrepreneurship Program, continued to expand her reach as an influential speaker and advocate for women’s entrepreneurship. A highly inspirational TEDx Talk in Germany in 2017, and a standing ovation at the One Young World conference in the Netherlands the year after, were followed by a role as a Facebook Fellow after WoWoman was chosen as one of Facebook’s top 100 communities.
In 2019, after reading reports about the negative impacts of climate change, Zara began to search for a way to use her entrepreneurial experience within the climate-tech space. She reached out to Yee Lee, Terraformation's VP of Growth, whom she knew from his previous role at Facebook, and asked how she could get involved. In October 2020, she joined Terraformation as a business development consultant and has been instrumental to the company’s growth.
She is now the Regional Director of Business Development for Commonwealth of Independent States, Central and Eastern Europe, and Middle East and North Africa. “I love the team and I love the mission,” she says, “and I feel that I can contribute and make an impact.” She also notes that Terraformation’s workplace culture, with its flexible hours and support for women and families, dovetails with her values and advocacy as the founder of WoWoman.
Zara’s entrepreneurial background has provided her a deep familiarity with the challenges faced by partners in building a project from the ground up. “I understand what those people feel, what their fears are, what their challenges are, what their thoughts are,” she observes, “so I can relate to them quite well.”
The obstacles standing in the way of success can be considerable. Huseynova notes that water shortages, seed shortages, and the need for training in land and nursery management are common issues; a lack of financing also hinders the ability of many projects to scale. “But I think that’s another unique aspect of Terraformation — that we’re trying to tackle every single bottleneck,” she says. From financing support to technical assistance to identifying markets for sustainable forest products, “this full circle is something unique to us, and our partners are happy to work with one organization that addresses every element.”
While each restoration case is very different —which requires flexibility and agility in problem-solving — Terraformation has a time-tested solution. As Zara points out: “Trees are our superpower.”
Zara is energized by the idea of “greenpreneurs” and innovative approaches to making restoration projects financially sustainable. She believes a blend of entrepreneurial, scientific, and Silicon Valley technological talent gives Terraformation a distinct advantage: “We can move at a completely different speed.”
And given the pace of climate change, speed is imperative. “I want my kids and grandkids and future generations to still be able to enjoy this planet as much as we are enjoying it now,” she says. By building strong partnerships today, we can secure our future for generations to come.
Zara Huseynova is Regional Director of CIS, CEE, MENA Business Development at Terraformation. She's been supporting Terraformation's work since October 2020.