Love and sacrifice: The Zena Sfeir Story
For Zena Sfeir, Aitia VP Marketing, a strong sense of purpose is key to making an impact and improving lives
It’s funny how no one thinks they have a story worth listening to. That’s what Zena Sfeir, Aitia (formerly GNS) VP Marketing, said as we embarked on her interview.
My eyes widened as her story slowly unfolded. Talk about resilience. When you combine that resilience with a huge capacity for love and a mindset of service, the sky is the limit. Zena’s journey is proof.
Zena was born and raised in Beirut towards the end of the Lebanese Civil War. So, in a way, the war felt ‘normal’ to her. Looking back decades later, she says she still remembers it as a happy childhood, despite the conflict. While her family hid in the bomb shelters, she thought of it as free time to play with her friends and her neighbour’s dog.
During those early years, she learned three core lessons that illuminated her path, first as a volunteer in The Red Cross, and later as an entrepreneur, podcaster, and healthcare leader. She says those same lessons still drive her work today.
“Resilience was not an option, but a way of life,” explained Zena. “We always believed the war would end and we would start again,” she said. Resilience was and still is a key driver in her life. It was a choice her family taught her to believe that the war would end.
Throughout the war, Zena always looked up to the volunteers from The Red Cross who were responding to the conflict. They had no political agenda; they just helped people.
“They were like angels. I looked up to them because they dedicated their time and lives to help others,” she says.
Service and sacrifice
As soon as she was old enough, Zena signed up as a volunteer EMT. Right away, she loved everything—the teamwork, the service, the training. Along the way, she also learned a great deal about sacrifice and service.
She says she’ll never forget the day she and her team were the first responders to the scene of a bombing. They knew that if they went into the site to help, they might not come out. They could get caught in another wave of bombs.
“My Red Cross partner and I looked at each other, and in that moment, we knew what we had to do,” she says. “We went into the bombing site to rescue the victims.”
Years later, that Red Cross partner became Zena’s husband. Considering how they met, it’s no accident that they share so many of the same values—values that they are now passing on to their children.
Maybe the most important and foundational of those values is love - showing care to others so they can feel secure enough to thrive. “Too often, people are afraid to talk about love, but I think we should—especially at work,” says Zena.
Because of the environment in which she grew up, Zena considers safety to be imperative. Just as her parents made her feel safe amidst the chaos of war, she feels that we can always do more to make each other feel protected and secure. And to Zena, that’s the very definition of love.
Her pharma journey
Long after her time at the Red Cross, Zena continued to pursue resilience, service to others, and love. After completing her master’s degree, she discovered that she could combine her two loves—science and service—in pharma. She joined AstraZeneca in Europe, then moved back to Lebanon to serve as a regional brand manager. At the time, the region was still the midst of war, so the team had to be agile, moving around to adapt to the changing political realities.
After advancing to a new role, Zena discovered something that changed the course of her career. She learned that less than one percent of online healthcare content is in Arabic, despite huge demand for information and immense healthcare disparity and inequity in many Arabic-speaking regions.
“I wanted to empower patients through health literacy, so I left pharma to co-found a Startup called Sohati meaning “my health.”
Sohati became the WebMD of the Middle East, providing a trustworthy source for health literacy in a language people could read and understand. For Zena, it was exciting, challenging, and rewarding, knowing that the company was responsible for impacting healthcare inequity in such a profound way. As the platform grew, the company also found more ways to help their 10 million followers through teleconsultations and online products.
After launching and growing Sohati, Zena followed her husband to America—now with two daughters in tow—and went back to school at Harvard University to upskill in digital strategy. She then spent time serving in a non-profit in Boston as they navigated the pandemic before returning to life science as Head of Marketing at Aitia, where she was thrilled to jump into the exciting world of AI and Bio informatics.
Now, she helps biopharma companies accelerating their R&D to discover and develop novel therapies to get drugs faster to patients.
Together with her husband, Naji Gehchan, she has also launched a podcast called Spreadloveio (check it out at https://spreadloveio.com ). The podcast was created to inspire people in healthcare to lead with love and compassion. It showcases healthcare leaders around the world who are bringing genuine care for people to thrive, resulting in positive impacts for the company and global healthcare.
Starting a podcast was a whole new challenge for Zena. “We didn’t know how to do it, but we figured it out,” she says. “Now, we commit to one interview every week and we love it!”
For Zena, everything she does is about making an impact—whether she is impacting her children through her parenting, impacting leaders in healthcare through her podcast, or impacting biopharma and ultimately patients through her daily work. Along with love, impact is an important word for her. She believes that anyone can make a strong social impact anywhere if they are committed to keeping their purpose front and centre.
Above all, Zena strives to be resilient, lead with love, and serve others, all with the intention of making the world a kinder, safer, and more loving place. As she puts it:
“I am a storyteller, amplifying missions of people just like me, who want to help improve lives.”
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