Spotlight on Ashoka Nominator : Judith Van Raalten, Jordan

In the first edition of “Stories from Ashoka Arab World’s Nominators Network and Spotlights on Ashoka’s Nominators” – we welcome Ashoka’s newly elected Fellow, Sami Hourani and dedicate this space to spot a light on Sami and his nominator Judith Van Raalten.

Want to be in the spotlight too?! Let us know about the social entrepreneurs you meet! You can nominate a social entrepreneur for the Ashoka Fellowship by clicking here.


Follow the interview below with Judith to know more about her changemaking journey!  and How did Judith know that Sami will make it to the Ashoka Fellowship?  

1- What social issue are you most passionate about?                                                          image013

I am passionate about youth’s social and political inclusion and civic engagement as a solution to the socio-cultural struggles youth face on their way to adulthood represented by restrictive mobility and unemployment. Societal challenges of marginalized young people across cultures and countries motivate me to work hard to make a difference.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area in the United States, from where I contribute to the Jordanian social entrepreneurship scene via strategic planning and fundraising to positively impact local communities across the Arab region.

2-   How did you know about Ashoka?

One of the long-term initiatives I am a part of is “Forsa –” Forsa is translated to English as “opportunity.” The overall goal of Forsa is to provide in an open, egalitarian and free way access to educational, professional, and skills development opportunities for young persons from any background in the Middle East and North Africa, and to build the capacity of underprivileged young people to thrive in their personal and professional lives.

For Forsa I am always looking for the latest opportunities, and, since the start of Forsa as a blog in 2008, I have posted about Ashoka, sharing the support opportunity for young entrepreneurs in the Arab world.

3-    Tell us about the situation when you first met Sami Hourani?

Over seven years ago I met Sami in Amman where I was conducting a three-month research on Palestinian refugee identity issues in Jordan. His extensive network and intuitive understanding of the social and political spheres in and outside of the Palestinian refugee camps contributed immensely to the data collection and analysis of the research and made him an invaluable collaborator. It was a great start of a fruitful partnership that developed into a pioneering social venture, called “Leaders of Tomorrow,” which has now become a leading citizen sector organization in Jordan and the Arab region.

4-    What drew your attention most about Sami as a social entrepreneur?

Sami does not believe in change by itself, but rather in empowering and mobilizing people to develop, invest and serve local communities. Sami has a warm personality; he cares for his family, relatives and friends, and extends this caring to his peers, his community and his society at large – you find this in all his work.

Sami is one of those rare finds—an emerging young leader with outstanding achievements who always performs with utmost personal authenticity and integrity. His honesty and lucid reasoning reaches across cultural and socioeconomic divides. He is obsessed by his cause of empowering young people and breaking the cycles of elitism. For that he has a listening ear for youth from any background and has the ability to generate new ideas and set those in motion through innovative projects and initiatives.

5-    How did you know Sami Hourani was a good “Ashoka Fellow fit?”

Ashoka looks for leading social entrepreneurs who are creating a system changing impact in society. Ashoka social entrepreneurs pioneer new ideas that are implemented for the first time in their communities and sectors; such ideas should solve the root causes of social problems and have the potential to be replicated and scaled up. Sami does exactly that; he is a leading innovator—creating groundbreaking ideas that address the problems of youth exclusion and apathy. Sami’s initiatives reach the hearts and minds of people at the grassroots level, inspiring and eliciting the citizenry to engage publicly and make a difference in their local communities. His visionary thinking and sound judgments tackle the challenges that youth and more, broadly, citizens in general face nowadays. As a strong leader he easily connects to others, and, with his intellectual talents, he quickly analyses social and political situations.

More about Judith Van Raalten:

Judith is a development professional; she currently serves as the Director of Development at Leaders of Tomorrow organization. She has co-founded several initiatives that support youth in the Arab region to jumpstart their professional careers and mobilize young Jordanians to take on changemaking roles around issues they care for in their local communities. Previously, Judith was a Fulbright Scholar to Jordan from 2009 – 2010 researching the social and political identity of young Jordanians of Palestinian origin and lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Hawaii. 


Judith is the nominator of the recently elected Ashoka Fellow: Sami Hourani.

Ashoka Fellow – Sami Hourani, Jordan                                                                                 Sami Hourani

Leaders of Tomorrow Organization

Website | Facebook  | Twitter

Sami is a pioneer in the Arab world, breaking the vicious cycle of elitism and nepotism in young people’s accessibility to education, skills development, and civic engagement opportunities. Within a context where opportunities for personal, educational, economic and civic engagement are only circulated within closed circles of the privileged, youth have become passive and apathetic towards the social and political scenes. Sami is creating a shift in the norms of thousands of youth by introducing a new way for youth to counter this disempowering trend and become an active, educated, and motivated generation.

Sami is Founder and CEO of Leaders of Tomorrow organization in Jordan. He was elected into the Ashoka Fellowship in March 2014.

Don’t miss reading more about Sami’s idea, strategy, impact and himself as a person on Ashoka’s website here.

If you know a social entrepreneur like Sami, Nominate them today to join the largest professional network for social entrepreneurs around the world, Ashoka Fellowship, by clicking here.


Deadline Approaching for “WOMEN POWERING WORK” Competition!!

Women Powering Work: Innovations for Economic Equality Online Competition!

Women Powering Work: Innovations for Economic Equality Online Competition!

The online competition Women Powering Work: Innovations for Economic Equality, launched by General Electric and Ashoka Changemakers, that seeks innovative solutions that will advance economic opportunities for women in the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and Pakistan, is approaching its entry deadline of November 6, 2013.

The competition is calling for initiatives that enable women to achieve economic equality, strengthen their families and communities, and benefit equitably from economic growth. The judges will pick three winning entries which will be awarded US $25,000 in unrestricted funding each.

As the competition is focused on the MENA region, Ashoka Arab World is happy to spread the word and we call on any individuals, organizations or partnerships that aim to improve economic equality for women in the MENA region to enter the competition or for people to nominate any relevant initiatives. Entries will be assessed on the following criteria: Innovation; Social Impact; Sustainability.

Please hurry though, as the deadline for entries is approaching fast; the entry form must be completed in its entirety and submitted by 6 p.m. EST on Wednesday November 6, 2013.

To enter an idea or nominate an individual, organization or partnership you think may be eligible, visit Ashoka Changemakers website, which you can do here:

You will also find all information regarding the competition at this webpage, including more information on eligibility and criteria and how to present your entry in a way that gives it the best possible chance of succeeding.

Good Luck to all you Changemakers out there!

An oasis of hope, an oasis of health: A Health & Hope Oasis in Wadi El Natroun…

A sleeping unit at Health & Hope Oasis

The picture above may very much resemble a doll house, only if it were smaller, yet it’s actually one side of a sleeping unit at the Health & Hope Oasis: a recreational center for children with cancer and their families. Following the belief that the cure for cancer can’t only be found in hospitals, Ashoka fellow Magda Iskander joined hands with the Association of Friends of Children with Cancer in the creation of the oasis.

The oasis is located on a farm in the beautiful natural setting of Wadi El Natroun, off Cairo- Alex desert road, secluded, away from noise and people; it truly is an oasis, of hope and happiness. Walking around, you can’t help but be inspired by the work done there, all units covered in mural, painted in numbers by the kids of the surrounding area, with the help of artists coaching them in the importance of colors and the various forms of art expression for nature appreciation.

The oasis can host 250 – 300 children and their family members (particularly those from remote places) for periods ranging from 3-12 weeks as needed to complete the treatment, and recovery process. It will also have the potential to provide temporary employment opportunities for parents of children with cancer on the farm and the neighboring farms, as well as training in income generation activities that they can use when back in their own villages. HHO will also connect the needy parents to other NGO’s that can provide loans to the parents.

Boys painting by numbers

As a thank you to the neighboring kids, a mural was also carried out at their school, young kids, spent many Friday mornings coloring, painting and learning new forms of art- for a good cause, for other kids their age, with cancer, to have the right to play and become free of restraints, free of hospital walls and most of all, free of the belief that because they’re sick, they’re bound to their beds and their childhood years are over.

Kids from the neighboring school, Friday morning in front of their school's mural

After visiting the place, all I can think of is the HHO motto:

A child with cancer has the right to play, to breathe clean air, and to triumph over despair”

The oasis aims at starting its work by October; volunteers are always welcome, for mural, help in activities & support!

For further information:

Health & Hope Oasis:

Ashoka Fellow Magda Iskander profile:

Fellows Speak Out: Influencing International Agreement & the Case of Current Climate Negotiations

Our Fellows represent some of the region’s most innovative social innovators – Arabs that are experts in their fields, and have committed their lives to bringing about positive social change. Our ‘ Fellows Speak Out’ series on this blog will present a platform for  these leading social entrepreneurs to share their views, to spread their message and to describe their daily work to create lasting impact in the Arab world.

The first post comes from Wael Hmaidan, a social innovator from Lebanon who is promoting youth activism by identifying ‘local heroes’. Based on his own experience as a climate activist for Greenpeace, Wael is now working to spread social activism amongst young people in the Arab world through his ‘league of  independent activists’; IndyACT.

Picture of Wael

Ashoka Fellow Wael Hmaidan

What would cause any individual to leave everything at the drop of the hat, and live for two weeks with little food and even less sleep, and without any pay during the UN climate negotiations? It is the same reason why IndyACT exists: passion to save the planet. We first and foremost are activists working for a better future for us and generations to come.

People think we enjoy our work (which we do, though sometimes we wish we had a different job) and some believe we might be paid well for it (in fact most of us are not paid, let alone paid well). But we at IndyACT do know one thing: if we do not reach a strong agreement on climate change in the Copenhagen UN summit at the end of the year, life on earth will be threatened.

A typical day in the life of a climate activist is not a normal day by anybody’s definition (maybe only normal to the climate activists themselves). Take the Climate negotiations sessions for example; up by 6am to finish up yesterday’s work, 7am is breakfast time (or better known as the only meal of the day), 8am is when the meetings start. You spend the day lobbying, lecturing, intervening, organizing events, meeting delegations, publishing reports, etc. By 11pm, those of us who aren’t on editing shifts to produce the daily NGO newsletter at the negotiations head to the hotel to work and prepare for the next day, we are lucky when we are in bed by 2am.

Being a change maker working on climate policy negotiation is not an easy job to do. You have to be at the top of your game 24/7, reading and following on any climate change related research, discussion, or policy position every day of the year. You also have to be an expert on foreign and domestic policy of each country, their economies, political issues, social behavior, etc. in order to know how to talk to delegates, how to influence countries to change their policies, and how to get the NGO community to stay united at all times. You have to understand that while you are doing all these enormous tasks, you are considered a hero if you are able to change one sentence in the whole negotiation text.

By Wael Hmaidan – IndyACT (

Young Entrepreneurs: The Power to Create their Own Solutions

The “Youth Problem” in the Middle East has received much attention and research from around the world. With 63% of the population in the region under 29 years of age, there should be millions of educated, able-bodied youth to actively contribute to society. Instead, over 25% are unemployed. Many complete a university degree, only to find that there are no available jobs, let alone ones that provide a deeper fulfillment by utilizing their higher education.

People reflexively look to the government for help. In a region dominated by the public sector as opposed to private enterprise, government jobs are highly sought after due to their security and prestige. Earlier this week, an article applauded the Tunisian parliament for “fighting youth unemployment” by passing a law that will allow earlier retirement for public employees. The new policy could potentially result in 7,000 vacancies primarily for new university graduates.

Though this will certainly help to alleviate youth unemployment in Tunisia to an extent, this type of program does not provide a long-term solution. The government can only support so many employees, and more civil servants will do little to increase the economic competitiveness of the Arab world. Instead, we must begin to look to the private sector – particularly that outside of the oil industry – as the future for economic growth and prosperity, more specifically encouraging new, entrepreneurial endeavors.

Arab business elites have already begun to recognize entrepreneurship as crucial to the future success of the region in the global market. Fadi Ghandour, CEO and founder of Aramex, one of the leading logistics and transportation companies in the Middle East and the first company from the region to go public in the U.S. Nasdaq stock exchange, states that, “young Arab entrepreneurs are the future of this region…they are the job generators, they will, with their innovative and creative ideas have an impact on the direction our economies will take.” He calls on the private sector to “invest in its youth and…assist them to create their own future and compete in the global market.”

The necessity of increased entrepreneurship seems to be catching on. A recent TV series presented 16 Arab youth with weekly challenges in engineering, design, business, and marketing, culminating in a final original project. Such a large-scale public promotion of entrepreneurship is encouraging.

At Ashoka, we believe in the potential of youth also as social entrepreneurs, with the ability to provide innovative solution to some of the region’s most pressing problems. One of our current fellows, Ehaab Abdou, has also recognized this potential, creating a program that helps young social entrepreneurs generate and implement ideas for economic and social development. Another fellow, M’hammed Abbad Andaloussi is facilitating a connection between the private sector and the Moroccan education system, working to develop the entrepreneurial skills and capacities of students.

We must stop looking at the youth population as a “problem” and instead begin to view it a demographic with incredible potential: their own “solution”. Arab youth are more educated and technology-savvy than any previous generation, but this knowledge is under-utilized. The private sector, government, and citizens alike must work together to ensure that youth have not just the skills, but also the resources and encouragement to transform their innovative and creative ideas into reality. Youth are not just the future, they are the present, and we cannot afford to wait.

Free Thought and Social Change: Lessons from Iran

Over the last few days the world has paused to watch the protests against the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Political figures speaking out against the government’s iron fist have been muted. Iranian football players making statements by wearing green wristbands during the FIFA qualifier have been retired. In addition to threatening, attacking, arresting, and detaining protestors and opposition supporters, the Iranian government has tried to block access to the internet. However, people in Iran are finding increasingly innovative ways to get their views known to the outside world. Academic institutions like Tehran University continue to be hotbeds of free expression. Social media tools like Facebook, Youtube, BlogSpot and Twitter are being used by the Iranian people to get around the internet blockade to broadcast their views on the election and images of the protest. Young Iranians are documenting the events with cell phones and cameras.The actions of those in power in Iran highlight a global problem of censorship and disrespect for freedom of expression. The Arab world is not exempt from this problem, with those in power in the region violating the individual’s rights to free thought and free speech everyday. Against the backdrop of Iran’s youth struggling to have their voices heard, the need for an environment that respects free thought to enable social transformation becomes clearer than ever.

The issue of censorship of free thought has motivated social entrepreneurs throughout the Arab world to protect the right to free expression. They are creating a safe environment for people to exercise their inalienable right to free speech so Arab societies can be transformed from within, just as the Iranian people are using their voices to express their desire for change. Emad Mubarak’ s organization, The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, is working to establish academic freedom as a right in Egypt, where the system of higher education is constrained by governmental and nongovernmental censorship. Emad’s strategy targets students by educating them about their freedom of expression. He also helps professors pursue research and teach without interference. These grassroots efforts to encourage healthy dialogue help combat injustice and give confidence to the next generation of leaders in Egypt.

The current situation in Iran shows us that social media and digital technology play a significant role in the struggle for change. Ashoka Fellow Ranwa Yehia is partnering with citizen sector organizations (CSOs) in Arab countries to hold Arab Digital Expression Camps that train young people in creatively using digital technology. Ranwa recognizes the importance of the internet in facilitating social change and free thought in the otherwise tightly-controlled public space in Middle Eastern countries. Through her camps, Ranwa is empowering youth by giving them the tools and the skills to use modern technology to communicate their opinions and to connect with others who share their views.

Ranwa and Emad, along with a number of other Arab social entrepreneurs, are helping young people see the value of their opinions and breeding strong leadership through their social ventures. Many thanks are owed to the brave people in Iran, who, instilled with the spirit of social entrepreneurship, risk their lives to tell the world their stories. Citizen leaders are helping people in the Arab world and across the globe to take a stand; these Changemakers are defending the right of every person to speak and to know the truth. When controversial views are stifled, people lose faith in their ability to change the status quo. Where freedom of expression is oppressed, the need to support social entrepreneurs that promote free thought and protect the individual’s right to speak differently is ever stronger.

Sports for Gender Empowerment

Ashoka Arab World and Nike celebrated International Women’s Day this year by organizing a ‘ Sportsday for Gender Empowerment’.  The celebration seeked to showcase an exemplary collaboration between the Citizen Sector and the Business Sector using an innovative approach yet simple tools.

The venue where the event took place, El Gezira Youth Center, traditionally designated for young men, was selected with purpose. It is one of the many youth centers in Egypt where girls seldom play sports without restrictions, which was why we held our event here, in order to reclaim women’s right to Youth Centers. We also invited renowned athletes to act as role models for the girls and women, and a number of Ashoka friends to celebrate the success of the program. Boys and men were there to share the same field with female players, trainers and athletes. The event brought together 250 guests.

Ashoka fellows who have benefited from the Sports for Gender Empowerment Initiative in Egypt participated in the Sports Day. Among them were Magdy Aziz, Maha Helali, Reda Shoukry, Magda Iskandar and Seham Ibrahim. Ashoka Fellowship candidates Azza Kamel and Balsam & Lulwa Al-Ayoub also attended the Sports Day to get acquainted with the Initiative .

In addition to Nike, Samia Allouba, icon of health and fitness in Egypt and owner of the leading Egyptian chain of Gym, Dance and Fitness Centers was one of the Sports’ Day’s key contributors. Samia first introduced the fitness culture to many Egyptian women through television in the late 80s, and later to young girls through her Gym classes.

The day was a smashing succes, with kids having come by bus from far outside the city to take part in the activities. All attendees, kids and adults, girls and boys, Ashoka staff members and guests, thoroughly enjoyed the various sports activities that were organized on this sunny Saturday. Activities included yoga, aerobics,  girls’  soccer, and some sizzling breakdancing moves, as you can see for yourself in the following video-clip.

We’d like to thank all our sponsors, contributors, and attendees for helping us realize this event to promote girls’ participation in sports. In Samia Allouba’s words: Girls, ” You can do it!”