Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Active Citizen Summit 2.0 Story

The story started when I volunteered few years back to teach a module on entrepreneurship to a class of 16-year-old school kids. One day, just before the end of the academic year, a kid consulted me about his business idea to clean boats during the summer holiday. He came from a poor family, and was short of money. I gave him $150 out of my pocket as a good deed and never asked about the money again. When the new academic year started, I was teaching a new class. During the recess that same kid approached me to pay back the money I gave him. I refused! But then to my surprise, he started talking about how his business did very well during the summer, that he made enough money to hire couple more kids from his neighborhood to assist him! He was looking into officially registering the business but he is aware that lenders are not keen on financing business activities by kids.

The next thing I know, I was developing an entrepreneurship development project called “Chance” for the Bahrain Youth Pioneer Society. The project would ideally target young people aged 16 to 25 with business ideas but who don’t know how to go about them. Nevertheless, I never had the confidence to launch the program, always feeling that it is not yet there. So, when I was presented with opportunity to participate in the Active Citizen Summit 2.0 and utilize the knowledge and experiences I would gain throughout the summit toward further development of the project, I was on the next flight to Chicago.

It wasn’t my first time to visit the USA, but it was my first time to visit Chicago in an exchange program with 18 delegates from across the Middle East and North Africa. Coming from different cultural and professional backgrounds ensured the delegation’s group and one-on-one discussions – over the 22 days spent together – are always refreshing, exciting, and fruitful. I learnt about the initiative to build a library in the Sahara Desert of Algeria, the challenges facing Kurdish women empowerment in Iraq, the activities of the International Institute of Debate in Tunisia, the strength and weaknesses of the entrepreneurship environment in Iran, the cultural interfacing programs by the student union in Israel, the business incubation projects in Yemen and Lebanon, and much more.

I was thrilled to find out that my internship would be in the Chicago Urban League, who for nearly a century, has opened the doors of opportunity for sustainable African-American communities through advocacy, collaboration and innovation. I am glad to have had the chance to experience how such an esteemed nonprofit organization works continuously for economic, educational and social progress for underprivileged African Americans in the south side of Chicago. From entrepreneurship development programs that target the residents of low-income housing estates to work force development programs that target school dropouts, I came across many individuals, both employees and programs’ participants, who have one thing in common: the determination to change and transform lives.

Throughout the summit, I learnt a lot about entrepreneurship, sustainability, social impact, innovation in economy, public speaking, business planning, and leadership ethics through a series of daily workshops in DePaul University, panel discussions by Chicago’s successful entrepreneurs, meetings with the city and the US Department of State officials, and visits to business incubators, accelerators, and startups. I sensed the strong presence of education, innovation and collaboration initiatives across the Chicago’s – and perhaps the USA – entrepreneurship ecosystem, which seem to have been stimulated by the US President, Barak Obama, speech in Cairo University in Egypt when he said “all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century”.

Big thanks to the American Council for Young Political Leaders, for their diligent efforts throughout the summit in creating and organizing an excellent cultural, social and professional exchange experience. Armed with the collective knowledge, experiences, and support from the summit’s alumni and built relationships, I am determined to launch the “Chance” project, and create a positive social impact in my community. It is time to chip in big money in small business ideas!

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