By Katie Marie
Ahmed Sameh (MA ’18, MA ’20) is on a journey to help himself and others get in touch with their authentic selves.
In the nearly 10 years since he founded his social enterprise Emmkan, it has grown from a career guidance hub for young people to become Egypt’s first organization for developing social and emotional learning (SEL) workshops and tools that help people of all ages to better understand themselves and others.
“When you’re connected to your true self, you are way more confident, more at peace when it comes to mental health and less fearful of judgment or failure,” Sameh explained. “Better social and emotional awareness enables you to live more intentionally. It lets you have healthier, more harmonious relationships.”
For much of the company’s existence, Emmkan has focused on supporting and teaching Egyptian youth. Starting just two years after Sameh graduated with a bachelor’s in computer engineering and an MBA in marketing, the company originally aimed to help students explore their personalities and make better career decisions.
Almost immediately, though, Sameh’s focus began to shift.
“Instead of using the safe space we created to discuss career or academic choices, many of the students talked to us about stress and challenges in their lives. Some had experienced severe traumas and didn’t have an outlet to deal with them,” Sameh recalled.
Today, Emmkan offers workshops and retreats to K-12 and university students at schools across Egypt, including AUC. Through its free Student Ambassador program, Emmkan also trains and mentors high school students, empowering them to lead community development and volunteer projects.
In 2015, after several years as a practitioner, Sameh felt compelled to return to school — this time to AUC, where he obtained two master’s degrees in international and comparative education and philosophy.
“I only had a very basic introduction to the humanities in my own undergraduate degree, and felt like I needed to expand my own knowledge in order to be able to dig deeper in our work,” Sameh explained.
“Better social and emotional awareness enables you to live more intentionally. It lets you have healthier, more harmonious relationships.”
Bringing together educators from different fields, AUC’s Department of Educational Studies (formerly the Graduate School of Education) provided Sameh with the opportunity to connect with and learn from other practitioners. “Many of the students are teachers or administrators working on the ground,” he said. “This experience has given me one of the most powerful networks I have in my career.”
During his master’s studies, Sameh also learned the professional language needed to explain his passion. “At the Comparative and International Education Society’s 2016 conference in Vancouver, I attended a workshop about social and emotional learning. I had never heard the term before, but I understood that it was exactly what I had been trying to do. I finally knew how to explain Emmkan’s mission.”
Play to Learn
More recently, Emmkan has sought to broaden the reach of its programs, sharing SEL knowledge via its Instagram, TikTok and YouTube channels. It has begun to develop learning tools for adults, the first of which is an SEL card game called Share. Several editions of the game have been published, including versions for friends, families and married couples — the last of which has become a bestseller. Share is tailored to the Egyptian social context, and the decks are bilingual in both English and Arabic.
While anyone can purchase the game, it has become a popular tool among life coaches, psychologists and others working in SEL and mental health.
“Our pivot to focus on all ages is really aimed at amplifying the impact of SEL to the community level. Adults, especially parents, or couples with these skills can create a more supportive environment for children to grow in,” Sameh explained. “If SEL is adopted more widely, this will create increasingly authentic and balanced communities. The change would be massive.”