This is how Dawsat is reinventing the Middle Eastern diet

Rafat Abushaban

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Mas Watad graduated from Al-Quds University as a nutrition specialist in 2003 and decided that, rather than simply raising people’s awareness regarding eating habits, she would do something a bit more ambitious.

As a mother of two and a lover of the Palestinian and the Middle Eastern cuisine, Watad appreciated the variety of culinary options available to her and to her family in Palestine, but could not help noticing the absence of a region-specific nutritional guide to healthy eating.

Moreover, Watad felt that “traditional diets based on calculating calories do not always work.”

So she designed in 2003 her own numerical system of classifying foods, and she called it Dawsat. She also launched her Dawsat Wellness Center, where she shares advice on healthy eating using her new method.

Speaking to Wamda, Watad stressed the holistic view behind her approach, which “takes into account the fats, proteins, calories, and food category of any given item.” Plus, she added, it “better suits [Middle Eastern] dishes.”

Everything, she explained, is assigned a Dawsat number based on its ingredients and their cumulative effect on the body. “If you eat a mankoushe [Mediterranean bread with thyme], you register six Dawsat...A cupcake is 10 Dawsat, and so on.” This way, one can track his diet and lose weight even while eating sweets and the like.

Dawsat nutrition session with children. (Image via Dawsat)
Dawsat nutrition session with children. (Image via Dawsat)

The Dawsat model
Dawsat aims to solve obesity and related health issues facing the Arab world, where six of the 10 fattest countries are located, and where high rates of diabetes are rife.
Watad devised an instructional approach to the matter, and put it into effect in the support groups she established for women, especially mothers, across the West Bank. “The journey started with 10 women in 2003 who increased in three months to 100 customers,” Watad recalled.

The approach took over a decade to hone and perfect. Today, its popularity is such that the Dawsat Wellness Center in Tulkarem, for example, plays host to 1,000 customers who attend weekly meetings to eat healthy food, lose weight, and get in shape.

The business model revolves around the Dawsat advice and service to women and families offline/online (advice, guidance, follow up and tips). The cost varies between areas and type of service offered. The Tulkarem center started at around US$ 30 per month.

Watad trained women on the method and has certified trainers (called ‘Dawsat Wellness Entrepreneurs’) who opened micro-franchises to propagate the Dawsat model.

Using tech

Utilizing technology is very much part of Dawsat’s repertoire. In addition to its robust online activity, the company has made available a free app for smartphones (Android and iOS), which now boasts over 30,000 users. The app offers a guide of using the Dawsat method and following tools with the wellness entrepreneurs. It is also working on adding new features before year’s end.

Dawsat App in action. (Image via Dawsat)
Dawsat App in action. (Image via Dawsat)

Impact and expansion
According to Watad, international and local health specialists have attested to the effectiveness of the Dawsat system. She and her team have compiled an exhaustive list of Middle Eastern foods, with each entry followed by detailed information — from its nutritional properties to its Dawsat number.
Once the Dawsat concept had proven successful in Palestine’s wellness centers, the team embarked on the first phase of going global. Dawsat has now established wellness centers in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

“We started growing fast and I had to keep traveling to spread awareness of the Dawsat method for months. We had a significant impact from appearing on various renowned TV shows, Youtube videos, and elsewhere,” Watad said, mentioning that Dawsat had an online show for Ramadan foods with over one million views on Facebook alone.

Maintaining a presence on the web has benefited Dawsat, as people in any part of the world can arrange online meetings with its wellness agents in order to adopt a healthy diet and start slimming down.

Today, there are 20 core employees assigned to the startup and 65 wellness center leaders working in Palestine, Jordan, and the Gulf countries. These wellness centers retain 50 percent of the company’s revenue.

Mas Watad presenting her online show. (Image via Dawsat)
Mas Watad presenting her online show. (Image via Dawsat)

Looking ahead
Watad and her team are looking to further expand their services. They are eyeing tucked-away corners of the MENA market and even have their sights set on making inroads into Europe. To that end, Dawsat has established a London office. At the moment, she is targeting MENA women living in Europe and in the US. Though the business model that will be adopted abroad is not yet developed, Watad plans to use her experts in various MENA wellness centers to connect to European customers, Arabic-speaking mostly.

Marketing and branding the startup beyond its home base pose challenges, but not insurmountable ones, Watad explained. “We are competing with US and European companies,” Watad pointed out. However, such companies pay little attention to Middle Eastern cuisine, she noted that “in the MENA region we have very limited competition.”

As Dawsat specialized in Middle Eastern cuisine, it manage to develop a full guide pertaining to this cuisine. In theory, the measurement tool can be applied to other cuisines from any part of the world, but this was not yet 'analyzed' by the team.

In order to forge ahead and spread the Dawsat concept further afield, the company will need to secure an investment. Watad is in talks with potential investors, but no deal is finalized yet.

Feature image via Dawsat website.

Original article was published on Wamda on Aug.8th, 2017

Rafat Abushaban

Founder of Riable and consultant to several international organizations in entrepreneurship education and researcher in innovation systems and seed funding methods with 10+ years of practical experience in the MENA region, Europe, US and S.Korea
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