Thursday, 9 June 2016

About one year ago, I was having a conversation with Freddy Rading and Hamza Bilbeisi about how we could impact the lives of Middle Eastern students using our resources at Babson College. We all knew we wanted to make an impact but struggled to agree on how we could use entrepreneurship to do just that.

Here I am a year later, extremely grateful and excited to say we have successfully completed our pilot Al-Tareeq entrepreneurship program teaching Syrian refugees- with the help of Rami Rustom and Sari Samakie at Fikra 3al Mashi. Together for nine days we travelled to the International Medical Corps education center in Zarqa, Jordan to teach our students how they could apply their passions to business ventures and how they could be a support group for each other in times of turmoil. Our students identified problems in their communities, worked in teams to develop business plans, and presented final projects to us at the end of the course. We even partially funded the best two ideas (albeit a small amount) and will keep tabs to see how these ventures turn out. It has been such an incredible experience, and we hope this is only the start for Al-Tareeq.

              Today marked the end of our first program and while we leave feeling proud of what we’ve done, we are also sad to say bye to our class of 2016. There were definitely both ups and downs, and at times I realized just how hard it is to be a teacher. But at the same time, this experience was rewarding and it motivated us to start preparing in advance for next year.

We’re registering as a social enterprise so we will be able to operate as a regular business and offer our programs to private schools across the Middle East, so that we can be a sustainable business. We will also keep working with refugees by continuing our partnership with Fikra 3al Mashi and using the revenue from aforementioned projects to fund projects for refugees, ensuring that they never have to pay for our services. While our high school programs will cover entrepreneurship and business skills, all refugee projects will cover researching skills before introducing basic entrepreneurship concepts.

              As a result of our first program running successfully, we’ve already made contact with three private schools in Amman, Jordan that are interested in our services for next summer. Our next steps are to register as a legal entity, draft out our full business plan, and begin to raise seed funding. We also hope to have our own location for next summer, as we think we would benefit greatly from having our own space in which to hold lessons.  We want to thank everybody who has helped us get to this point so far because what has helped us grow so much has been the feedback we’ve received from all of our peers. 
The beginning of Ramadan brought with it a few road bumps. At the start of Lesson Six, students were the most unengaged that they had been throughout the entire course as many of them complained about a lack of sleep due to waking up early for the iftar. Moreover, a few of our students didn’t even show up. Though we did not anticipate what was ahead of us, we were able to revitalize students by starting off with some activities that got them moving around the classroom. We moved the chairs and the desks and sat ourselves and the students on the floor in a circle in hope of bolstering a more balanced conversation. Lesson Six was a conceptual lesson, and we wanted Lesson Seven to be more of an active learning experience.

We began Tuesday’s class with an English vocabulary quiz, as we’d been introducing them keywords throughout the previous classes. However instead of passing out quiz papers we simply put English words on the board, one by one, and called on students to translate them into Arabic. This ended up being an effective way of energizing our students, as we made sure to call on everybody and create some sort of a competitive environment.

We adopted the same seating arrangement as the previous class and split the students into teams that they will work with for the remainder of our program. They had previously identified business ideas that they wanted to pursue, so the next thirty minutes of class focused on brainstorming. Again, students were a bit baffled by the concept and adopted more of a “note-taking” mentality as opposed to the team-oriented approach we wanted them to take, so we did our own example of brainstorming to help ease the process.

While many of the students really buy into what we’re trying to teach and believe that they can make a difference, a few of the male students are less engaged. They often distract their peers and make inappropriate comments and we constantly have to remind them to focus. While it is important to remember the circumstances, and that each student requires different attention when learning, it is stressful to have a majority of our class display an eagerness to learn only to be tainted a few students. It almost seems as though they are going out of their way to make the class difficult on us—but perhaps this is a defense mechanism and we need to work harder to allow these students to trust us.
 What is more encouraging, however, is while there are some students who take this opportunity for granted, we have students on the other side of the scale. One teenager, a 17 year-old boy who volunteers at the center for no pay, is an extremely talented video game designer. However, he has no intention of making money from it- despite getting interest from large companies who want to hire him- because he simply does it for fun and wants to give back to his community. It really is eye opening.

It is helpful for us to experience these problems because we are able to take note and approach future programs with more of an open mentality. We are growing every day and with your support we can continue to provide interested students with opportunities to make a difference in their communities. 

Monday, 6 June 2016

What a start to the new week! We gave students thirty minutes to finish off last weeks’ projects (identifying a problem with the IMC Center and proposing ways to solve it) before they had to present it to us. As is evident in the picture above, our students took time to think outside the box and create practical solutions that bettered the IMC Center. The cup holder pictured above, that says “water” in Arabic, was constructed completely by one of the student groups[DV1] [AAM2] —they identified that there were water cups scattered everywhere and made a product to fix it.
Once each project was finished, the groups presented their products, highlighting the resources they used, the value of their product, and who the “customer” was. We also introduced two key terms to encourage peers to help students modify their products, “devil’s advocate” and “constructive criticism”. To our surprise we didn’t need to probe the students to offer advice to the groups presenting- a nice improvement from last week. Everybody was engaged from the start and displayed genuine interest in helping each other improve their respective ideas. This was quite impressive and encouraging to see—however there were times when students were slightly too harsh on each other. We are going to cover these concepts again tomorrow in order to stress that “constructive” is the key word in “constructive criticism”.
We felt that starting off our week like we ended last week, with an engaging activity, was a great way to get our students active and thinking ahead for what will be our final few classes. This week students are going to focus heavily on their communities and how they can become leaders and motivate change. Similarly to the “Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship” course at Babson, students will now pitch an idea for a product or service that can be implemented into their immediate communities. Each student will focus on identifying the SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) as well as our own version of a business model canvas. Students will pitch their initial ideas in groups of two and then take a blind vote on their favorite three ideas. At this point we’ll start to introduce concepts that each team will be able to apply to their projects, like how to market the product/service as well as how to generate revenue streams.
To top it off, our major partner Fikra Al Mashi was recently recognized for their service to the Jordanian community. As a result, Al-Tareeq was also mentioned in the Jordanian media! We are not only honored but also motivated to continue working hard.

 [DV1]Tell the reader what the problem was that they wanted to solve.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Week 1 reflection

When we found out that we would have to change our curriculum into Arabic, we worried that it would pose a challenge for us to translate all of the concepts properly. Our curriculum is combination of Babson material and some original Al-Tareeq concepts and activities, so we were not sure how students would respond them, but we’re finding ways to keep them focused and active. However, we’re four classes in and the students continue to surprise us—it is going to be extremely hard to leave them.

Day by day, their engagement increases as they learn to solve problems by being critical thinkers and taking matters into their own hands. For the past two days, we’ve had students think about problems in their local community in groups of two. Some of the community problems they identified were lack of motivation in the local work force and inadequate facilities for students to engage in sports. We asked them to then come up with three potential solutions to the problems they’d identified and highlight the skills they thought they needed in order to start solving their problems.  Their solutions were both well thought out and possible to achieve. Once this process was done, each student pitched their idea in front of the class and received feedback from fellow students. We did have to probe the students to give each other constructive criticism, but after the first few pitches students provided each other with valuable feedback. This has helped them become more comfortable around each other and consequently, has led to an increase in participation from some of the quieter students in the class.

During each class we’ve made an effort to introduce new English vocabulary words that are common in the business world. Today, to take a break from conceptual learning, we decided to change things up a little bit. Students had twenty minutes at the start of class to look around the center and find something that they thought needed fixing. Then, with monopoly money, they were asked to “buy” a certain amount of resources that they felt could address the problem. Then they spent the rest of the class designing a product or service that they believed would address the problem. This activity brought our first week to a close in hope that students apply the concepts that we’ve taught throughout the week.

Next week we’ll start to challenge the students to get into teams and start to formulate basic business plans for the problems that they highlighted within their community. We’ve already worked with students on the business model canvas and believe that basic business plans are not out of their reach. We ourselves are learning just as much from these students as they are learning from us. It has been a great experience so far, and we’re already looking forward to next year.

Monday, 30 May 2016

First Day of Class

We’ve touched down in Amman and commenced our first Al-Tareeq entrepreneurship and emotional intelligence program. The first day brought with it a plethora of emotion, as we weren’t sure what to expect in terms of engagement and attendance from the students. The class itself is taking place in Zarqa, forty minutes outside of Amman. We arrived to a room filled with 21 eager students, 14 girls and 7 boys. At the last minute, we decided to translate the curriculum into Arabic to ensure our lessons resonate with the students.

For the first hour we began with two engaging and active icebreakers to help the students feel more comfortable around us and allow us to get to know them. Once we got down to business, we were taken aback by how the students responded to our material. They participated constantly, asking questions, working together, and showing more and more confidence as they presented ideas to their classmates. One 17 year-old student even speaks Arabic, English, Japanese and is learning Chinese- how incredible!

After our icebreakers, we introduced some new concepts in both English and Arabic and showed the students a case study on a local problem. We asked them to form teams, identify the problem, brainstorm solutions, and then complete a basic business model canvas sheet. While at first we were hesitant to ask so much of them, the students surprised us with their passion and dedication to the project. Their solutions were innovative and original, and we were beyond impressed.
What our case study served to show is that nobody is born with an entrepreneurial spirit; rather it is a mindset they can learn. It is a specific set of behavioral tendencies that set entrepreneurs apart from others, and our students started to realize that they themselves could have an impact on their community through entrepreneurship. We want them to understand that not every business needs to be venture capital-backed and that entrepreneurship takes place in all levels of business, no matter how small.

Our first class was an overview of the entire course—the next 9 days will be a more in-detail study of all the concepts we introduced on day one. Day two will cover problem-solving skills and introduce idea generation. Check back tomorrow to learn more about our students!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Our Journey to Entrepreneurial Courses

Along the journey of setting up our organization, reaching out to partners, and further developing our curriculum, we have constantly been reminded of the plight of the Syrian refugees. While the average Middle Eastern student may face a multitude of obstacles due to political situations and other related regional issues, Syrian refugees face a particularly unique struggle. The refugees are in dire need of structural support, and could greatly benefit from a comprehensive entrepreneurship learning program. More importantly, what these students need more than anything else is structured emotional and social support.

Al-Tareeq’s Entrepreneurial Course aims to address all of these issues. The main focus will be to empower these students to pursue their aspirations and solve problems in their communities using an Entrepreneurial Thought and Action framework. We have poured a lot of thought and resources into ensuring we can teach this while still keeping it relatable to their everyday struggles. It will be impossible to teach a program that is removed from their background of hardship and the hurdles they’ll need to overcome to succeed.

A significant part of our curriculum will be dedicated to addressing the specific requirements of the Syrian refugees. We will be dedicating multiple hours per week to giving the students a safe, trusting space where they can open up, discuss their emotions, and create an environment of trust and encouragement. This part of the curriculum will be dedicated to providing a foundation in response to their turbulent backgrounds, so that they can begin to think about how they can tackle social problems with entrepreneurship. We will aim to build an open space that caters to their emotional needs, addressing a multitude of the obstacles they face, such as family and personal issues, political issues, and trauma. We are also planning to include social activities like movie nights and other such events that bring the class and teachers together, as well as provide a source of continuous positivity and understanding.

Ultimately, our goal is to not teach our program in a vacuum. We are working to create the intersection between emotional intelligence, social support and entrepreneurial excellence this summer for these students who, we believe, could truly benefit from it.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Introduction: Our First Blog Post!

Welcome back to Al-Tareeq’s blog. I hope you have all taken some time to navigate our new and improved website, thanks to our new team member Stefano Perrotta.

From September to December, we were all extremely excited about our new venture, which brought us together to make all the progress that we did. However that excitement often made us rush decisions in hope that we could make an impact immediately. While our intentions pointed us in the right direction, we did not take enough time to evaluate our ideas and think about how we could realistically start to make a difference in a community we all value very much.

The last few months have been a great reflection period for our team. We have realised that to make the type of large scale difference that we intend to make, we need to ensure every part of the process is transparent, well thought-out, and meaningful. Our original plan was to host an independent program as a platform to teach high school students in the Middle East, but there is a lot that must be done beforehand. This remains our plan, and reflects our core value proposition, but for the time being, as we grow and expand our network, we have found an exciting opportunity to pursue in the meantime. We will be partnering with Fikra 3al Mashi this summer to teach our curriculum through them. This will be a perfect opportunity to connect with local students and develop our program.

Thus, we have outlined a series of short-term and medium-term goals that we feel will propel us in the right direction, and enable us to carry out each task with extreme detail and passion. To determine what we hope to achieve, we plan on creating very basic interactive videos describing what entrepreneurship is, and uploading them to our website. The hope is that we’re able to use the analytics to find out which areas and types of demographics are interested in learning more about our subject. From that point, we’ll be able to better decide where to focus our time on in the following summer.

Other short-term goals include the supporting of existing social projects, both financially and by simply raising awareness about many different social ventures in the Middle East. Our real goal for the coming few months is to spark a conversation about entrepreneurship in hope of inspiring young, ambitious, regional leaders. We want Al-Tareeq to be a platform for students to excel.