Renan Reflects: My Ashoka Internship

Why not combine an international work experience with living in an Islamic country with ancient culture and thousands of years of continuous history and traditions? This was the initial question on my mind when I first came across to the opportunity to intern at Ashoka’s office in the Middle East.  By serving as an Ashoka intern, I would be gifted with a deeply cultural experience, and at the same time would be working for the leading organization of social entrepreneurship—hence ensuring that my job would have a social-based purpose and a positive impact in the society.

Renan enjoying the view of the Nile from Ashoka’s office balcony

One of the main projects of Ashoka Arab World is the organization of our Induction event, when the new elected Fellows—individuals with innovative solutions for urgent social problems who are supported by the organization—are formally presented as a part of the oak tree’s team.  When I started my internship, the Arab World Social Innovation Forum (AWSIF) would happen in May, meaning I would be part of the team with the ambitious goal of bringing together influential leaders for advancing the agenda of social innovation and entrepreneurship in the Arab world.

Since the second half of 2009, the first arrangements had started for the success of AWSIF 2010. By the time I arrive in Cairo, the entire office was already putting all efforts in preparing the best AWSIF Ashoka Arab World had ever organized. My initial 4 months were dedicated exclusively for such event, especially in the co-coordination (thanks to Emily Kaiser, who brilliantly guided me and made use of her experience to show me the right path for the achievement of our goals) of one round table discussion on the second day.

Ashoka staff and interns at AWSIF 2010

This allowed me the experience of carrying out a multidimensional internship, in which I interacted with different people and handed different issues all the time. By working a little bit with research, marketing, logistics, planning and outreach I developed professional and personal skills that will be useful for my future career plans. To point some out: a sharp and precise holistic view and flexible thinking—especially after dealing with contingencies and having to take quick actions. Stakeholder focus might have been the most developed competence, because one should keep in mind all sustainable partnerships and private support when it comes to working for a non-profit organization.

The experience at Ashoka also led me to work my effective communication (clearly conveying and receiving messages, either verbal or written), to feel what goes on in an international work environment, and to understand the importance of the division of tasks and responsibilities: synergy is what makes a team strong and harmoniously synchronized. During the internship I analyzed information and situations, made effective decisions and thought out-of-the-box, not leaving behind the commitment to results.

After AWSIF 2010, I had the chance to work with Fellowship, and came across to people doing excellent work in a region that seeks positive change. By looking over such profiles fed me with inspiring ideas, and allowed me to see how individuals can change the patterns across society, making the difference and contributing to a better world. People as Magda Iskander, Azza Kamel, Rabee Zureikat and Abdelfattah Abusrour, just to mention a few, are revolutionizing the social sector with their great changing potential and wonderful initiatives.

During the last 5 months I also had the opportunity to make friends and to chill out with incredible people. Everyone should have a Dr. Iman, Doa’a, Nairy, Inji, Emily(s), Rebecca, Jamil, Anna, Peter(s), Wael, Maha, Mark, Amir, Farida, Elaina, Alex, Zoe in a lifetime. I’ve met the most generous individuals ever, and I do not doubt they all have a great future ahead of them. These brave individuals were the roots of our oak tree for the past months, and even tough some have left, the others will carefully drive Ashoka towards success.

Renan with Ashoka staff and interns at Sports Day

As a final remark, but not any less important, this experience would not have been that intensive and worth if it weren’t in Egypt, one of the most populous countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Brazilians are fascinated by this ancient civilization, and I would even take the risk and say I won’t be in such a magical place for a lifetime. Despite the similarities that nations under development might have, Egypt is unique: the honking horns, the koshary and grilled corn vendors, the lively night life, the tannura dancer, the Nile flowing down…Come to Egypt and leave your heart in the Pharaohs’ land.

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AWSIF Slideshow 2010

Check out the slideshow recapping the 2010 AWSIF event!  We’ve compiled photos of the gala dinner, keynote speeches, award ceremony, Fellows induction ceremony, roundtable discussions and more!

Once again, thank you to everyone who made AWSIF 2010 a huge success!

Ashoka Fellow Ali Hussein Hosts Blood Drive in Alexandria

As the young crescent moon hung over the bustling boardwalk in Alexandria on Egypt’s north coast, crowds gathered for what seemed to be normal weekend party on the ocean. Replete with traditional music, dancers, and carnival foods, this event seemed to have all the makings of end-of-the-week revelry. However, unlike any other party, this was a blood drive sponsored by Ashoka Fellow Ali Hussien’s organization Gamayet Zakaat El Dam and the Red Crescent. Ali created an environment far away from the traditional, intimidating clinics where people usually donate blood. Instead, he sought to shift the individual obligation to give blood into community-driven initiative thereby providing the blood needs of the people through positively influencing the overall blood-donating culture in Egypt.

The event was situated next to the Alexandrian citadel, built during the time of Salah Al- Deen, which was a perfect metaphor for the importance of giving blood as a matter of security for the people of the city and, moreover, the country. The boardwalk, packed with people unaffiliated with the event proved an excellent location because Alexandrians, who otherwise would not have known about the event, were drawn into the celebrations and as result donating blood. His organization, Gamayet Zakaat El Dam, acquired two mobile blood donation vans, which were aptly equipped to deal with the constant influx of blood donors. While people were giving blood inside, the crowd was entertained by a number of acts and performances which helped instill a feeling of community bonding around this important work.

Ashoka interns with Ali Hussein

The performances were delivered by a dancing group which showcased the local dancing culture including a group dance, ‘dancing’ horse, and whirling dervishes who spun deep into the night and mesmerized participants. As the performers twisted and twirled across the stage, a wave of joy and brotherhood swept across the faces of all the Alexandrians, as they saw themselves not only as a community of people, but a group of interconnected changemakers who could make a real difference in their community by donating blood.

During the event, Ashoka was also honored with an award recognizing Ashoka’s commitment to its fellows, community, and social entrepreneurship. But it is Ali Hussein who deserved an award. He was first moved to pursue this project when, as a administrator in a hospital, he saw many people dying simply because of a lack of donations to blood banks- highlighting the dire need for blood donations. Despite his best efforts, this is a problem due to misinformation about the process of donating blood, and the vital role it plays in saving lives.  Now in his third year as an Ashoka Fellow, Ali Hussein has done a superb job at executing his vision, but more importantly has made a real impact on his community. This one event provided life-saving blood for 235 people! The lesson we should learn from this successful event is that with a vision, initiative, and an excellent support network, anyone can become a powerful force of change in their community.

For more information on Ali Hussein’s important work, check out his profile on the http://www.ashoka.org/fellows, and more importantly, go to your nearest blood bank, and donate! A little blood goes a long way!

Blogger: Alex Thompson, Ashoka Intern

Ashoka Fellow Azza Kamel Uses Art to Educate Children in Underdeveloped Area of Cairo

In Ashoka Arab World’s continuous effort to highlight the profiles and achievements of our 10 new Fellows, we now bring you the story of Azza Kamel.  Azza works in the Children and Youth sector with a community education center called Alwan wa Awtar (Colors & Strings) located in El-Hadaba El-Wusta–Moqattam, an underserved area in Cairo.  She is bridging the social gap that children from underprivileged areas face by employing an experiential learning technique and informal education to enhance children’s development, confidence and learning potential.

Ashoka Fellow Azza Kamel

Countries in the Middle East face their largest youth cohort in modern history.  However, young people boast the highest unemployment rates, high exposure to health risks, and a low-quality educational system.  Public schooling in Egypt has come under heavy fire as graduating students do not possess the skills needed in today’s competitive market.  This is especially the case for the youth of the Egyptian middle-class, which is becoming rapidly impoverished.

Most of the underprivileged classes in Egypt are centered in the country’s slums.  The 2006 population census found that almost 15.5 million people were living in slums, the worst of which are in Cairo.  Efforts aiming to develop slum areas generally do not focus on children, most of which are enrolled in local public schools where there may be up to 60 children in a classroom and exhibit low attendance rates.  While a few initiatives have tried to improve these conditions none of them have focused on educating disadvantaged children or with preparing them to become fully integrated citizens…

Volunteer works with children’s art projects

…But Azza Kamel is!  Since 2001, Azza has worked in the community of Moqattam with the women of Fat’het Kheir: a grassroots volunteer organization which focuses on development through empowerment as opposed to charity.  Azza founded Alwan wa Awtar with 30 children from the area and based its model on experiential learning.  Azza opens the doors of her center to kids and allows children to spend time reading or painting, giving them a place to spend their free time, away from the at-risk activity that pervades the area.

Students at Alwan wa Awtar learn guitar

Azza instills values of tolerance, respect, freedom of expression, and self confidence indirectly through program activities and by providing role models for the children through her staff.  Alwan wa Awtar uses theatre and music to build the children’s confidence and teach them valuable teamwork skills, as they hold performances for their neighborhoods.  Children are also encouraged to conduct research and are introduced to debates, by participating in simulation models of international organizations like the League of Arab Nations.  The center also offers foreign languages classes through painting and cooking, and physics through craft-making.

Volunteer with students at Alwan wa Awtar

Learn more about Azza’s project at: http://www.alwan-awtar.org or join her Facebook group at: http://www.facebook.com/search/?init=srp&sfxp&q=Azza+Kamel+&o=2048&s=10#!/group.php?gid=23842902264&ref=search.

Ashoka Fellow Rabee Zureikat Pioneers Exchange Tourism

During the 2010 Arab World Social Innovation Forum, held May 14-15, Ashoka Arab World inducted ten new Fellows, bringing the total count of Arab World Fellows to 51.  The inducted Fellows are true social entrepreneurs, who  are pioneering  innovative social change in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

In an effort to highlight the Fellows’ impressive achievements, we will feature blog posts about the work of each newly inducted Fellow.  We hope their stories inspire you, as they have inspired us!

Our first featured Fellow is Rabee Zureikat of Jordan, who works in the Income Generation & Employment sector, pioneering new ways to empower the rural communities in the tourism industry in Jordan.

Rabee founded Zikra in 2007, an organization which works in exchange tourism.  He used his background in marketing and social networking skills to market his exchange tourism activities among modern youth in Amman and to encourage companies to adopt corporate social responsibility activities.  As enthusiasm for his program spread in Amman and in the rural areas, more people left their urban bubble to learn about their country and more rural people participated in the exchange by talking and teaching about their traditions, cooking, and way of life.

Rabee’s exchange tourism leads to equity by helping marginalized rural communities rediscover their strength and by taking economically powerful urban communities out of their protective bubble.  Both parties engage in a two-way  exchange in which each side learns and contributes. The tourism revenue is invested in the marginalized communities’ economic development, thus further narrowing the economic and social gap.

The trips have also succeeded in connecting locals of Al Karak with people from the city, bringing 20 tourists from the city in close interaction with 75 individuals from the local community and establishing broader interaction between 300 people from Al Karak and 1,000 visitors from Amman. The groups have developed bonds with each other and collaborated to find different solutions to existing problems, particularly through networks of professionals from the city. By interacting and working together, the rural and urban communities overcome stereotypes and create the potential for greater social change through cooperation.

Rabee has carried out 20 exchange trips to date, and has placed Al Karak on the international and national tourism map, generating many indirect income opportunities. Due to Rabee’s efforts, Al Karak is now featured in the Lonely Planet travel guidebook. The exchange tourism program, when applied in 5 areas over 3 countries, has the potential to generate US$1M in net revenue to be invested in the local communities.

Rabee stresses that the main elements of exchange tourism are gaining the local community’s trust and then taking a close look at its culture, assets, and needs in order to mould exchange activities accordingly.  Lastly and most importantly, exchange tourism is built on a mindset that believes that both parties contribute to the transaction and should feel they have something to offer in the relationship.

Rabee will spread his model in Egypt, Morocco and Lebanon by franchising Zikra to local COs that work with the community, and training their personnel on exchange tourism activities. In the next year, Rabee will replicate his model in Palestinian refugee camps in addition to other impoverished villages throughout Jordan. In the next 3 years, Rabee will bring his model to Lebanon. In the next five years, Rabee will establish his exchange tourism in Egypt with the help of Egyptian COs working with Bedouins on the Sinai Peninsula and Western Desert oases, improving their livelihood through the revival of traditional crafts.

In May 2009, Rabee was awarded the prestigious King Abdullah II Award for Youth Innovation and Achievement and was also honored at the World Economic Forum in Jordan. Rabee has also been named in Arabian Business Magazine’s “Top 30 Under 30” for recognition as an entrepreneurial leader in the Arab region.

Read more about Rabee’s project at:  www.zikrainitiative.org