Young change agents from the Arab world convene at Stanford

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For three years now, Stanford University students, gathered in a student initiative called AMENDS, have invited promising actors of change in the Arab World to the Palo Alto campus to learn from each other, connect with global leaders and resources, and share, through TED-style talks, their ideas and experiences with the world.

Each year, the group selects 32 delegates from across the Middle East, North Africa, and the United States to be hosted at Stanford with the support of a few partners, including OCI, the Moulay Hicham Foundation, as well as Tech Wadi, an organization aiming to build bridges between entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and the MENA region. The delegates came to share their experience in one of the four categories: Empowerment and Education; Impact Entrepreneurship; Art and Culture; and Peace Building, Social Activism and Human Rights

Over the course of two days, participants took part in workshops to prepare them for the TED-like speeches they gave on the final day (watch them here). The first day comprised several storytelling workshops held by the Stanford School of Business. Judging from the quality of the speeches on presentation day, these workshops were fruitful. The delegates kept their audience’s attention for an entire day of presentation, and got them to laugh along as they relayed funny anecdotes about life in the Arab region.

The second day was about design (participants took part in several workshops led by the Stanford School of Design), as well as funding. In the afternoon, three mentors from TechWadi spoke to the delegates about funding.

One of the key points for Moroccan entrepreneur Youcef Es-Skouri, the founder of GeekFtour, was a comment from VC fund Vusion’s founder Elie Habib: “Elie Habib told us that we shouldn’t all [move] to Silicon Valley; [rather] we need to make the most of [our experience here], and then go back to the region” to benefit from the vast potential there.

The participants I talked to were unanimous about the quality of the workshops. “You understand why it’s the best university in the world,” said Es-Skouri. Still, the most interesting part of the event was the opportunity to liaise with regional players. For Abdallah Absi from Zoomaal, “knowing all the different initiatives that people are doing in the region is important. We have to work regional, and this opens doors for potential partnerships.” 

To ensure that the effects of the program and the new friends and partnerships will last, AMENDS held for the first time this January an annual reunion with ten alumni each from the first and second events at Istanbul’s University of Koç. Participants met again to help each other and attend a new batch of workshops. The partnership with Koç University worked so well that AMENDS put together a local team that will organize a Turkish version of the original summit.

Here are the delegates of the entrepreneurship group:

  • Abdallah Absi (Lebanon), CEO at Zoomaal, and head of the board of eClub, a club that supports student entrepreneurs in Lebanon.

  • Abdelkrim Boublouh (Morocco) is working on a medical caravan project to bring healthcare services to remote villages.

  • Ayd Asraf (Jordan) is working on Trip to Innovation (TTI), an idea accelerator that aims to create a platform to support entrepreneurship among Jordanian youth, providing mentorship in creative thinking and guidance in business skills. 

  • Banu Ali (Iraq), one of the head organizers of Startup Weekend Slemani and co-founder of e-commerce site ifrosh.com.

  • Youcef Es-Skouri (Morocco), CEO & Co-Founder of Evento and GeekFtour

  • Nacer Mohamed (Algeria) is working with the UN Alliance of Civilizations project to build bridges between societies through dialogue and cooperation.

  • Mostafa Shahat (Egypt) is the founder of GOL, which provides a professional network and job training for youth in Egypt.

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