Interviewed by Editor-in-Chief, Patricia Bitar Cherfan
In an unconventional crossover, a car race doubles as an empowerment network for women to kickstart their own businesses.
Chahrazad Rizk, a powerhouse of Swiss and Berber origins, is the driving force behind the Rallye des Grâces, or Women Classic Rally. HOME sat down with the first Arab woman to organize a rally in an Arab country to find out more about the event itself — one that rallies behind women’s freedom while underscoring the importance of femininity. The women who attend are not just women but women with global impact, such as NASA astronaut Mary Ellen Weber, high-profile entrepreneurs Sha-Chelle Manning and Sharon Amezcua, and princesses Tania de Bourbon Parme and Helen de Yougoslavie.
How did the Rallye des Grâces start?
I am a woman who loves the rally. While growing up in Geneva, I would participate in the rallies there on a yearly basis. One day, I took it upon myself to propose to the organizers there to take the rally to Beirut—naturally, they thought of Beirut as an unstable war zone and thought it would be out of the question. That’s when my adrenaline kicked in, and I took it as a challenge to make it happen, regardless. I am someone who cannot take “no” for an answer — this word does not exist in my dictionary! As long as I have the health, and the means to do something, I do it. This is my philosophy.
And with this philosophy, the Rallye des Grâces was born?
Absolutely! The first rally happened and it was superb. I am constantly traveling the world, spreading the word about the Rallye des Grâces to the women I meet, and receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from them.
“Grace is found in every single woman. The tough demeanor is just a shield from potential danger.”
Where did the name Rallye des Grâces come from?
The name comes from the grace within a woman. I believe that grace is found in every single woman. The tough demeanor is just a shield from potential danger.
What is the principal objective of the event?
To help women. The rally is for all women who may have lost themselves in work or life to come out here, have a business-oriented exchange, and start feeling extraordinary again. It helps them get together, share their stories, and leave with incredible power and inspiration that motivates them to do even more. It helps them to network and ultimately make new friends that eventually turn into family that provide a support system for one another through life’s ups and downs. It is beyond an activity, and that is exactly the force that drives the event—the force of not being alone.
Can you tell us more about the beginnings of the rally?
The idea was developed in 2017. I chose Beirut because I really wanted to encourage tourism here. I also decided to give the event a business and economic spin, because it is important for me to see prominent internationals meet and exchange goods, ideas, and concepts. I was afraid at the very beginning—I was afraid of no-shows, and of course, I was scared of failure. Thankfully, the event has taken off well, and it’s molding into something bigger year after year.
Does the Beirut offshoot follow the same system as abroad?
Not at all. Elsewhere, it is purely a rally sporting event for women that lasts two days. The one in Beirut is different as I have assigned a business and a touristic aspect to it by giving women a chance to interact and network with influential entrepreneurs from around the world, and to get their ideas and businesses out here.
Is it an invite-only event?
I do hand out few invitations, but to participate one has to sign up. We get an influx of participant requests from women from a variety of backgrounds, from hotel and business owners to actresses and so on.
How do you see the Rallye des Grâces in 10 years?
I want to bring the whole world to Beirut. I want it to become more touristic, to also bring along the Lebanese to discover the world, perhaps through an additional rally event held abroad, such as in Argentina or Moscow. I also want to create a big group, made of a wonderful mix of the Orient and the Occident who support one another.
What is Lebanon for Chahrazad?
It is where I really grew up, where I met my husband at the young age of 24, and we’ve been married for 26 years.
What is your background?
I am an architect, a contractor, and I also work in international luxury real estate. I am established in five cities: Doha (15 years), Dubai (15 years), Beirut (20 years), Geneva and London (5 years).
What has Lebanon taught you?
Patience, and that’s because Lebanese people are very patient. Regardless of the instability, the unrest, and tomorrow’s unknown, the Lebanese remain resilient and patient.
How is the next rally looking?
It will happen sometime in April 2020. I am planning to include perhaps 15 Lebanese women in the upcoming rally, and create a mix between local but mostly international women. So far, the rally has mainly attracted the latter.