Girls Take the Lead as Sherkitna Trains Public High Students in Entrepreneurship

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A new initiative is launching in Jordan to help public high school students develop entrepreneurship skills during the school year.  

Sherkitna, a non-profit organization launched by Al Jude for Scientific Care and headed by Maher Kaddoura, aims to invest 200 JD (around US $300) in 500 schools in Jordan, to help  students startup businesses between January and May 2012.  

Run in collaboration with Jordan's Ministry of Education, the program works by coaching a set of teachers and supervisors, one from each school, in entrepreneurship skills, and allowing each to a lead a group of 8-12 students to create a fledgling business at their respective school. 

The 200 JD, which is invested by corporations (Wamda is one such sponsor) or individuals, is fully treated as startup capital; any profits made belong to the team, and are split in half at the end of the five month period. 50% is divided among the team members along with the supervisor, and 50% is reinvested in sustainable projects at the school. Sherkitna will also award the top most profitable business with 1000 JDs, in hopes students will continue to pursue business creation as a life goal.

The program aims to improve education for entrepreneurship one step at a time, with instruction that's intentionally slightly hands-off. Supervisors are  given 2.5 hours of training, including a tutorial video demonstrating marketing, production, and financial management strategy with a dose of comedy. Supervisors then impart the lessons to students, develop an idea with their team, and then execute it. If anything goes awry, they can call upon Sherkitna's mentors throughout the school year. Students are also allowed to give feedback about supervisors to ensure transparency.

Thus far the structure has worked well, producing profitable businesses in 9 out of the 10 pilot schools, says Sherkitna's Operations Manager Maen Zaghloul. Perhaps not surprisingly, given current trends in education in the Arab World, it was the girls' school teams that proved the most industrious. 

"Some of the best projects included an embroidery company, a pickle-creating company, and a company serving hot drinks like tea and coffee at school to complement the available juice.

"These were all run by girls. In our society, at this age, the girls are more serious, more productive, and more willing to achieve than the boys." These market needs are also very real for high schoolers; the top company made a full 400JD over their 200JD in a matter of months, Zaghloul notes. 

The program also has a broader societal impact. "Most of the girls now have better marks at school because they are more engaged," says Zaghloul. Parents are grateful, and families will likely continue to support their daughters in entrepreneurial ventures, since many of the families run businesses themselves, he explains. 

With this kind of introduction to business creation in a society where women entrepreneurs are not the norm, undoubtedly the program will have a positive impact on Jordan's economy. As a swiftly growing youth population threatens to accelerate unemployment across the Arab World in the next decade, there's no time like the present for the initiative to create more jobs, and more women-led jobs. 

The ultimate goal, says Zaghloul, is to spread an entrepreneurial virus. If each of the 10 or so team members at each of the 500 schools affects 10 of their friends by spreading entrepreneurial spirit, 50,000 people will be affected, he counts. If they in turn influence 5 or so family members, that's 250,000 citizens that Sherkitna is hoping to "infect" with the idea of creating a business. And in the future, they may expand even further by looking to parner with Injaz al Arab, which also works to train students with the skills needed to start a company.

"Most of Jordanian citizens rely on the government for employment, but we will encourage them to rely on themselves. If we are able to influence 250,000 people, and only 10% end up creating companies, this will still have a big impact on Jordan."

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