WIN Spotlight: Molka Fendri

Hi, hello! Welcome to a fresh cut of "WIN Spotlight", our ongoing series that celebrates inspirational women in our community. Each interview features a member of WIN who is championing innovation at her organization. We dig into the diverse perspectives, influencers, missions, drivers, and dreams of these leaders, and of course share practical tips.

We're very excited to feature Molka Fendri, Associate Strategy Director at Smart Design, and a leader actively redefining what design can do for this world. Molka has served as Smart Design's WIN Ambassador for the past year, and recently led an incredible, mind expanding event on inclusive design at Smart in partnership with WIN. We met up for breakfast and coffee at Daily Provisions and walked around Gramercy on a gorgeous July morning.


Who are you and what do you do?

Hi, I’m Molka and I’m an Associate Strategy Director at Smart Design in New York.

I grew up between China, Tunisia, and France, and moved to New York 8 years ago for what was supposed to be a 6-month internship. You can probably guess what happened! I fell in love with the city and progressively found my way into what I do today.

Smart Design is a strategic design & innovation consulting firm whose approach is deeply rooted in human-centered design. We help companies and organizations identify the right innovation opportunities – in terms of products, services, experiences, or business models. My role is to build a deep understanding of people’s behaviors, motivations, and needs, and to combine that with an assessment of our clients’ business to identify and frame the right opportunities.

What I love the most about my work is that every day is different! Some days, you’ll find me in someone’s home trying to understand their lives and challenges, and some days you’ll find me at my desk, outlining global trends or creating an innovation roadmap. One other thing that I love is how collaborative our work is - and when Designers, Strategists, and Engineers put their heads together to solve a problem, that’s where the magic truly happens. I have learned so much by observing how people from different backgrounds think and create, and I feel so lucky to be working alongside such talented minds.

What are the life moments that most influenced who/where you are today?

This is such an interesting question to reflect on. I can very quickly think of the four or five moments that define my story. The common denominator? Strong female leaders who saw something in me that I sometimes didn’t see myself, believed in me, and pushed me in interesting directions every time. I am so grateful for these women (hey Catherine, Jeanne, Rachel, Vanessa, Nicole!) and I’m proud of the leaps of faith that I sometimes had to take to be where I am today. These ladies not only have an influence on where I am today, but also inspire the type of leader I want to become.


What is the best advice someone has given you?

“Jump in, figure it out later” – if you spot a great opportunity, go for it even if you don’t know what to do or how to do it. You can figure that out later.

That has been my motto since.  

We LOVE your confidence. Do you have any tips or tricks or advice for the women of WIN?

Confidence is multidimensional. Sometimes you feel confident in one area of life, and less in another one. You can feel super confident one day, and less the following day. And I’ve come to believe that that’s ok. One thing that I always try to do is to leverage elements of the moments when I feel my best self to fuel those when I don’t. It’s about borrowing certain ways of thinking or behaving from those moments of confidence and using them elsewhere. It requires quite a bit of reflection, but it’s really worth it.

Do you have any rituals or routines?

I never sleep without reading first – even for a few minutes if it’s already late. I find it to be the best way to finish the day and prepare my mind for the next thing. And as much as I love my Kindle and how convenient it is to take it everywhere, for me nothing replaces a physical book or magazine for that night reading moment.

What do you never leave the house without and why?

My red lipstick! I’m French after all :)

(Also, it helps with the confidence thing)

What is your favorite book and why?

Although I enjoy business, tech, and innovation books, my favorite reads are historical novels that blend facts and fictions and give you a glimpse into certain countries or cultures. Those help fuel my imagination and creativity while teaching me about real moments in history.

“The Feast of the Goat”, by Mario Vargas Llosa is my #1 favorite. It tells the story of Rafael Trujillo – the Dominican dictator who ruled the country for 30 years – and of his assassination by a group of conspirators. The narrative is divided into three overlapping storylines that give you the perspective of Trujillo himself, of the rebels, and of a third fictional character (but I won’t spoil it!). It is incredibly captivating.


What is your favorite app and why?

I love ClassPass. It is a monthly fitness membership that lets you book classes at boutique studios in all the cities they operate in. I love the diversity and quality of the classes that are offered, and the fact that you can so easily keep up with your routine in so many places across the US and internationally. As someone who works in innovation, I admire how agile they’ve been in creating, testing, and launching new features, offerings, and revenue streams. They’re constantly flexing their model to better cater to their users’ needs.

Two other apps that make my life easier: Citymapper (thank you for telling where to get on the train to be closest to the exit) and Pocket (thank you for letting me save articles and videos to look at later/offline).

What product, service, or industry do you think is most ripe for innovation? Why?

As an avid Broadway show and concert goer, I cannot wait for the live-event ticketing industry to be disrupted. It is so frustrating to know that even when you set up three alarms and have your credit card ready when tickets go on sale, you only have the slightest chance to actually get tickets because the show will be sold out in less than a minute (thanks, scalpers). And when you do get tickets, there are ridiculously high “service fees” and other obscure charges that are added to your bill. Also, why isn’t there a better way to know who in your extended network is attending certain shows? There are so many aspects of that experience that need to be redesigned.

What is your favorite quotation?

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” —Thomas A. Edison

It’s all about optimism and resilience!


Photos & interview done by Katie Burwick

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