By Ioanna Moriatis, photos by Ahmad El-Nemr | This story appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of AUCToday.
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “We but mirror the world. … If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. …We need not wait to see what others do.”
AUCians definitely don’t wait. They initiate and take the lead. You find them everywhere — from business and education to technology and policymaking — making a difference and leaving an impact, particularly when it comes to community building.
Education for the New Generation
“I was always interested in education as a vehicle for liberation and empowerment,” said Seif Abou Zaid ’08, ’17, CEO of Mavericks school. It’s this understanding of education that led him to seek a new approach to schooling in Egypt.
Mavericks, Egypt’s first blended learning school, was founded with an approach to education that focuses on personalized learning that fits the individual needs of students; an emphasis on hands-on activities that make the learning experience fun and engaging; character building; and open-house education, where students are not confined to the traditional classroom and all parts of the school are learning spaces. Students are empowered to make decisions starting in Pre-K and KG1, choosing where to learn and which activities to do during the day.
“We’re not interested in comparing students to each other,” Abou Zaid highlighted. “We want kids who accept themselves, have self-awareness, and challenge themselves and each other.”
Though many praise the school for its blended learning techniques, this is just a tool, as Abou Zaid pointed out. “Actually, for us, blended learning is not the end game,” he explained. “What’s beyond blended learning is this idea of being child-centered, of following the child’s interest and challenging students to be the best versions of themselves. If technology is a tool that can empower this, then so be it.”
Having majored in political science, minored in history and earned a master’s in public policy from AUC, Abou Zaid always focused on how he could make an impact on the community. “I was interested in the sweet spot or common ground between education as an empowering tool and public space,” he said. “This is where I saw myself, hopefully, doing meaningful things.”
Abou Zaid started out working on two startups before founding Mavericks, both targeting middle and high school students as well as middle managers. He quickly found that the impact at this stage wasn’t what he wanted. “We wanted to build a different generation, empowering people to be mavericks — or think outside the box — and influencing the present and the future. This is what a student-centered learning experience is all about.”
Hoping to expand the Mavericks model across Egypt’s governorates, Abou Zaid established two campuses in Cairo and one in Damietta. The aim is to spread this new learning philosophy to the many students who still don’t have access to quality education inside and outside of Cairo. “The impact we can have now is to set an example,” he affirmed. “Later on, we’re really interested in scale. We want to provide high-quality education, but at a scale that actually has the right impact for the millions or billions out there who deserve access.”
Education is one space in which impact can be made. But what happens after schooling ends? A major challenge in the Egyptian economy now is the large population of unemployed youth.
Omar Khalifa ’08, CEO and founder of Shaghalni.com, saw a chance to expand opportunities for Egyptians by making the recruitment process and job market more transparent.
Through Shaghalni online platform, blue and grey-collar job seekers share their skills and experiences by posting their profiles and promoting their skills — giving the chance for employers to hire them directly.
Khalifa’s idea for the platform was sparked after observing AUC’s successful employment fairs each year. “We have the best companies coming to campus,” he said. “I never had a real issue finding a job. However, I always wondered, ‘That’s great, but the majority of working-class Egyptians don’t all enjoy the same employment opportunities.’”
Shaghalni started out as a printed journal promoting middle-skilled jobs. Then, Khalifa switched things around, publishing individual profiles of job seekers for employers to browse. To have a real impact, though, Khalifa decided he was going to have to go online.
Although he faced difficulties raising funds at first, he eventually put his own money into creating a beta version to test out. Today, two years later, there are 90,000 users and 8,000 companies posting on Shaghalni’s website, and a mobile app is in the making. “It proves that if you believe in something and you’re passionate about it, things will actually work,” Khalifa commented on his investment in the project. “If you don’t put your money into it, no one will.”
Now, Khalifa’s passion is drawing him outside of Egypt, pushing him to continue growing and making changes in the job market.
“My passion is helping people,” Khalifa asserted. “When you receive feedback and see people getting jobs — these people have families; they aren’t just individuals — it’s worth so much more than money. Shaghalni is successful in Egypt, but we want something that can go regional. We’re nowhere near where we want to be, but I think we’re making a difference. That’s my passion.”