What happens when two American college students start a club focused on entrepreneurship in the Middle East? They end up setting out to transform the entire region by unlocking the entrepreneurial potential of an entire generation of young Arabs.
Aboudi Al-Qattan and Frederik Rading are young–college juniors and seniors, respectively. They had been close friends for over a decade when, as students at Boston’s Babson College, they decided to form a club that would marry Frederik’s passion for entrepreneurship with Aboudi’s interest in his Palestinian heritage. Through a few months of iterative development and a lot of online outreach, their club gradually grew into Al-Tareeq (Arabic for “The Path”).
Al-Tareeq’s mission is ambitious: implement summer entrepreneurship courses for high school students across the Levant in order to inspire the region’s youth to create socioeconomic growth. Here’s how they plan to do it.
Al-Tareeq: Training the Next Generation of Arabic Entrepreneurs
Where to begin? The Middle East is one of the most troubled parts of the world, and Syria is ground zero. Presidents, generals, and the United Nations have so far tried and failed to bring stability and prosperity to the region, while millions have been forced to flee their homes for neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and beyond. So naturally, that’s where Aboudi and Frederik chose to start.
They partnered with Fikra 3al Mashi, a Jordanian organization working to provide free education to refugees, and set about building a curriculum modeled after Babson’s own immersive entrepreneurship course, in which students learn the fundamentals of starting a business by actually building one themselves. They source ideas from fellow students, narrow them down to two finalists, and then spend a semester turning their ideas into reality.
Now that Aboudi and Frederik had a course, and a local partner to help implement it, they needed a location. Enter the International Medical Corps (IMC), who agreed to provide facilities and support for Al-Tareeq’s pilot program in Zarqa, Jordan–currently home to nearly 106,000 refugees. So, with a curriculum, students, and venue in hand, Al-Tareeq’s journey from college club to international organization was almost complete.
All they had to do was execute.
Entrepreneurship Crash Course
This June, Aboudi and Frederik, along with Al-Tareeq co-founder Hamza Bilbeisi and Fikra 3al Mashi’s Rami Rustom and Sari Samakie, successfully completed their two-week pilot program for 20 14-18 year-old refugees. The students learned basic principles of entrepreneurship, like ideation and how to then convert their ideas into a business plan, then set to work on their own ideas. “Some of the ideas they came up with were amazing,” said Aboudi.
The first finalist was a plan to clean up local neighborhoods by recruiting volunteers door-to-door. They built a complete budget and growth plan in just 9 days. The second business idea centered on creating a network for unemployed men to get involved in rebuilding their communities.
The pilot was not without challenges. “You forget what you’re like as a middle schooler,” chuckled Aboudi, “most of the boys were hard to engage at first. But all of the girls were so invested in the class–it was crazy. It was great to see that, and great for female empowerment.”
There were also some challenges with the space, and with volunteers occasionally interrupting the class. To address this, next year Al-Tareeq will be looking to partner directly with schools in order to provide more stability to the program and, most importantly, the students.
Aboudi and Frederik also learned some valuable lessons regarding their curriculum. “Teaching entrepreneurship to refugees can’t be the sole focus,” Aboudi said. “We need to teach research, introductory English, and then introduce the concept of entrepreneurship.” The challenge? “We just need more time.”
After the success of their pilot program, Aboudi and Frederik have big plans for Al-Tareeq going forward. Next summer, they plan to launch 3 3-4 week courses for 40 students each, and have asked schools in Jordan, Lebanon, and Dubai to act as hosts. But after already receiving commitments from three schools in Jordan alone, the co-founders admit that they may need to set their sights higher. Their biggest challenge as they seek to scale will be recruiting qualified teachers whom they can trust to run the courses on their own.
To finance this growth, Al-Tareeq will also be expanding its target audience: “The refugee focus is what got us involved,” said Aboudi, “but to be sustainable we’re going to start offering the program to private school students and charge them, so that refugees never have to pay for our services.”
Words for the World
Aboudi says that there’s a huge misconception about the Arab world, especially in the United States. “A lot of people think the Middle East is either super-rich obnoxious kids who don’t appreciate the value of money or just poor little refugees. There is a lot of beauty in Arab culture, and a lot of promise. That culture is often misinterpreted because of a few individuals, and we’re trying to help elucidate that really beautiful culture.”