Nermeen Abou Gazia, CEO, Al Alfi Foundation for Humanitarian Development offers insights into Egypt’s reformed educational polices, specifically so its greater emphasis on a “self-learning” approach. Nermeen explains how Al Alfi Foundation for Humanitarian Development is adopting a three-pillar approach by identifying young talent, investing heavily in youth and women empowerment initiatives and working closely with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education, whilst also discussing what entrepreneurship entails and successful management. Read the interview below to find out more!
You are currently the CEO of Al Alfi Foundation for Humanitarian Development. How does a normal working day look like for you?
Having been working for more than 25 years and being a mother of two children, my main priority is finding a work-life balance. I really have two work shifts: one where I am meeting with clients and going to meetings, and the other where I am being a mother taking care of my children.
My work is not a typical 9-5 job and I am not following the micro-management, as I strongly believe in my team and in the importance of ownership. We are a team that is not big in numbers, yet each employee has their own project or initiative which I allow them to execute accordingly. As far as work engagement are concerned, I am available 24/7. Personally, I find this convenient, as the flexibility allows me to multitask and provides me with a balance in life.
I am not following the micro-management, as I strongly believe in my team and in the importance of ownership.
You are currently managing several educational entities and initiatives with regional and international partners. Could you elaborate and explain what these initiatives are?
Essentially, we are working on three central pillars. Firstly, to identify the talents of different students and empower them through enrichment programs, so that we facilitate both the students and teachers. Currently, we are serving more than 150 students in the top international university, which is a considerably large number when comparing it to other NGOs in the Middle East.
Secondly, we strive to have a more horizontal approach because we consider scholarships to have a more vertical approach. The horizontal approach consists of investing heavily in youth and women empowerment initiatives, which we started last year. Additionally, we have gotten involved with both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education, in order to conduct and provide a global forum to over 8,000 youth from across Egypt over the course of three days. It is comparable to “Ted Talks”, as we bring in executives who deliver inspiring presentations during this forum to the youth of Egypt.
Lastly, we are working closely with the government, in particular with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education in order reach our objectives. For four years now, Egypt has been experiencing complete transformation, so we are striving to support the executive execution of the plan from different perspectives.
You completed your bachelor’s degree in Egypt, master’s degree in Germany and have in-depth understanding of the MENA- Middle East and North African education system. How does their approach to education differ and what aspects of the differing system do you applaud?
Egypt has been going through a large transformation. The main component that German and other international institutions are applying is encouraging the independent “learning” approach and investing in “lifelong” learning. In Egypt, we are striving to adapt this “self-learning” approach whilst simultaneously empowering the youth to develop the competences required to have the ability to work.
In addition, we are trying to implement “lifelong” learning, so that even if one has already finished their degree, they feel empowered to continue learning throughout their life. When I set out to do my masters, I was forty years old, making me the oldest among the others. I wanted to study something that would refresh my knowledge and my learning. The different ways of studying and teaching has been beneficial throughout my career trajectory.
In Egypt, we are striving to adapt this “self-learning approach” seen in mainland Europe, whilst simultaneously empowering the youth to develop the competences required to have the ability to work”.
Could you tell us about the path that led you to become the Vice Board Member to the National Council of Education in Egypt, what the role entails and how Egypt’s educational policies have developed over time?
Although the government and the current president are committed to improving the education system in Egypt, implementation has remained problematic. The population consists of more than 100 million people, meaning that making large scale change requires efforts and inputs across all sectors, boards and industries.
The NGO and I, working closely with the Ministry, are facing a plethora of challenges the community’s acceptance of the change, specifically so in relation to new technologies. The driving force for change is the students themselves, as they are hungry for change and equally so, enthused by new technologies. We have been working from several perspectives in order for Egypt to experience these global changes that are happening and to have the country realize how much potential there is for growth.
The foundation is striving to engage and play a vital role in this transformation, by realizing what is happening globally and bringing it to the community here in Egypt. It is important to note that with education globally, each system is always looking to improve. For this reason, we are not trying to fully imitate another education system, but at the same time, we look to other countries, as we are all in the process of adapting to changes in technology and other factors.
The driving force of Egypt’s change in educational policies are the students, they are hungry for change and enthused by new technologies!
You were the first female Egyptian entrepreneur to be nominated in the women mentoring leadership program 2007 and you are now currently a participant of our Women Talent Pool Programme. From your experience, what is the significance of participating in such programs?
In 2007, I had a wonderful mentor that was a top businesswoman in Sweden who really inspired me during our one month together. On both a personal and professional level, we were very much aligned and therefore still keep in contact. In general, such programs really empower me and give me a network comprised of women from different nationalities and cultures.
These programs have provided me with role models and given me the opportunity to present my country. They have motivated me to want to play a role in empowering future generations later on in life, so that one day, I too can be a mentor.
Program such as WIL have provided me with role models and given me the opportunity to present my country.
How important do you feel it is to foster and facilitate entrepreneurship and do you consider it as a tool to ensure sustainable economic growth and job creation?
Having your own project does not necessarily mean that you are an entrepreneur. For example, I have always considered myself an entrepreneur, even though I am an employee in a job. Being an entrepreneur is having a certain mindset that has no limitations. An entrepreneur is innovative, passionate, adaptable to change as well as creative.
For the organisation, ideas that one may perceive as normal that we are implementing here in Egypt, are new for us! As entrepreneurs, we are striving to change the mindset of the youth and women. This does not mean that we experience success on the first steps, but by working with all of the values mentioned above, initiatives can be achieved.
An entrepreneur is innovative, passionate, adaptable to change as well as creative!
To finalise our interviews, we conclude with a question from Proust, as such: what is a virtue you value most?
Perseverance is the virtue that I value the most. In life, you have to “run it with passion”. For example, last month we had this global forum, and everyone told us that we did not have enough time, as we only had two weeks to prepare. But we made it happen. I look at it and I say, two weeks ago we thought it was impossible, but by believing in ourselves and having perseverance, we made it come to fruition. This is why perseverance is the value that continues to inspire me.
Perseverance is the virtue that I value the most. In life, you have to “run it with passion”.