Born in Las Cruces, NM and reared in Plano, Alaa Khalil is giving back to the city that shaped her multi-faceted career. Alaa is a speech language pathologist and runs her own speech and occupational therapy clinic, Epic Therapists. She’s also mother to her one-year-old son, wife to UT Southwestern neurologist Mohamed Shabana and runs Chai Talk Pro with the Traveling Hijabista, her online pseudonym.
Chai Talk Pro is a women’s networking and empowerment group for young professionals from international backgrounds living locally and in the wider Metroplex. The group is especially helpful for recent transplants to the area, but all women are welcome. The group provides not only networking opportunities, but learning opportunities, too. At each meeting, a professional from a certain field comes to speak on self-improvement and entrepreneurship.
And why the nickname the Traveling Hijabista? Alaa also provides travel guides through social media, and wears a hijab in honor of her faith.
“I found that women who have the right community and resources have a less difficult time achieving their goals versus women trying to do it all by themselves,” said Alaa. “That’s one of the main reasons why I started [Chai Talk Pro].”
As a speech therapist amid family members also in the medical field, Alaa didn’t have immediate access to business advice. She stepped outside her circle and was able to open a clinic thanks in part to networking. Soon after, she began brainstorming on how to offer that opportunity to any woman who wanted it.
The professional culture in the United States is one that glorifies busy-ness, she believes. Alaa’s Chai Talks challenge the necessity for constant production. Perhaps by setting aside time to sit down for a cup of tea with other professionals – who could eventually become friends and confidantes – women can advance their careers.
“When Chai Talk started I was a new mom struggling to find myself,” said regular attendee and entrepreneur Sima Awaida. “Chai Talk became an outlet for me as a mom where I could go and mingle with other women who inspired me. Since then, I’ve started my own sugar-cookie business, Sukkar Cookie Studio, that I’ve been able to feature at Chai Talk events – which has in turn led to growth as a business.”
Initially, Chai Talk Pro meetings happened at coffee shops run by women to support female business owners. Later, talks moved to Zoom. Doctors and counselors were invited to speak on dealing with stressors of quarantining and the very real fears people felt – and still feel – about COVID-19. Some group members were also dealing with the grief of having to stop invitro fertilization treatments due to the pandemic. Alaa invited speakers on this topic as well. A silver lining to Zoom was that the presenters no longer had to be local.
After a couple months, the group decided to move Chai Talks to Instagram Live. This way, these chats are accessible to more people both during the event and after. Each live chat saves to Instagram TV, and is accessible any time after the event.
Not only has the group continued to meet virtually, but it has also been supporting our community in other ways. This has included providing Plano ISD with PPE, creating Amazon wish lists for teachers and providing parents with helpful resources.
To celebrate its two-year anniversary this month, five female entrepreneurs will each have the chance to present her business idea to a panel of Chai Talk Pro board members through Instagram Live. The panel will choose two winners to receive a grant of $1,000 to help start their businesses. “Our motto is ‘empowering women one cup at a time,’” said Alaa. For her, the grants are just another way Chai Talk Pro can do that.
“I named it ‘Chai’ because chai is a mixture of a variety of spices and herbs. It’s a combination that can make the perfect chai latte. In this community, we all come from different backgrounds, culturally and religiously, from all over the U.S. When we all come together, we form a perfect latte,” Alaa said.The Traveling Hijabista > Join the Chai Talk Pro mailing list >