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Social change leader

Focus on Egyptian education earns alum spot in national competition

By Susan White

A Memorial business graduate made it to the finals of a national competition that aims to use social solutions to address global challenges recently.

Mohamed Seyam was one of four finalists at the Canadian edition of the Skoll Global Challenge, which challenges participants to develop in-depth understanding of a global issue as well as identify solutions that already exist and whether opportunities for positive change are being missed.

Mohamed Seyam made it to the finals of the Skoll Global Competition, which is focused on developing deep understanding of global challenges.
Mohamed Seyam made it to the finals of the Skoll Global Competition, which is focused on developing deep understanding of global challenges.

This is the first time the competition, which is based out of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University, was held in Canada.

Mr. Seyam’s presentation focused on the education crisis in his native country of Egypt.

No clear solution

Mr. Seyam says Egypt ranked “dead last” out of 148 in a 2014 World Economic Forum report.

In response, he says he deepened his understanding of the context of the issue and its drivers by doing research and interviews.

“I realized the solution is fragmented; there is not a simple clear solution,” he said.

“The way forward requires collaboration among various existing stakeholders, who are working in silos, in addition to empowering emerging social champions who have the drive to help but not the necessary skills, information or connections to achieve their visions.

“I believe education is central to most other societal problems, and that without good education, a country will suffer economically and culturally in the long run,” Mr. Seyam continued.

“Additionally, I think that educational systems need to be reinvented the world over to account for differences in student talent, and focus more on soft skill development and less on memorizing irrelevant things that can be dug up on Google in a few seconds.”

View Mr. Seyam’s infographic for the Skoll Global Challenge.

Nurturing social enterprise

The local contest was held in February by Memorial’s Centre for Social Enterprise.

Started in 2016, the centre is a joint initiative of the Faculty of Business Administration and the School of Social Work that acts as a catalyst to nurture social entrepreneurs and strengthens social enterprises and the social entrepreneurial ecosystem in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We see our students as the future leaders for positive social change.” — Nicole Helwig

“The Centre for Social Enterprise provides opportunities such as the Skoll Global Challenge for students to learn through social enterprise related activities — opportunities to explore, grow and develop the skills needed for the 21st century,” said Nicole Helwig, the centre’s manager.

“We see our students as the future leaders for positive social change.”

A panel of judges from Memorial and the local social enterprise community evaluated presentations from Memorial students before selecting Mr. Seyam to move on to the national competition. It’s the first time the Skoll challenge was offered at Memorial.

“Mohamed’s submission and presentation stood out due to the thoroughness and clarity. His level of analysis and insight was excellent,” said Ms. Helwig.

“All our students who presented to our judges were impressive but Mohamed was clearly passionate at another level.”

Understanding before fixing

Many student competitions ask participants to find solutions to problems.

The Skoll challenge is unique in that it focuses on the importance of understanding an issue before attempting to fix it.

“Students are challenged to understand the solutions that are already out there and identify opportunities to leverage for positive change.” — Nicole Helwig

Ms. Helwig says this is a reflection of what she’s seeing in the evolution of social entrepreneurship education: rather than focus on solutions, participants are asked to be comfortable with complexity first. It is also a shift away from asking students to find solutions to problems that they often have no lived experience of or do not fully understand.

“We recognize that unlike traditional entrepreneurs who are encouraged to “fail fast, fail often,” social entrepreneurs working for social transformation risk doing harm if they jump straight to solutions,” she said.

“Students in the Global Challenge are asked to develop a deep understanding of a particular social or environmental issue. They do this through a mapping exercise to learn about an ecosystem and its complexities. Students are challenged to understand the solutions that are already out there and identify opportunities to leverage for positive change.”

As runner-up, Mr. Seyam won $500 and a chance to pitch his idea for an additional $10,000 in funding for his project which would allow him to further immerse himself in understanding the challenges of the Egyptian education system.

Mr. Seyam graduated with a master of business administration (MBA) in 2016.


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