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Organization Update
February 14, 2024

Youth Catalyzing Change in NYC

Galvanizing for the next big idea to positively impact the global Syrian community.
Professionals at a Conference Roundtable — Jusoor Conference

On February 4th, 2024, Jusoor’s Scholarships Program hosted a conference in New York City that brought together Jusoor scholars, alumni, team and board members, as well as guests from across the Syrian and Arab-American communities. 

Jusoor’s NYC Conference had three primary objectives:

  1. To build a community of Syrian youth on the US East Coast keen to influence, drive, and scale impact for the global Syrian community, and connect them with changemakers worldwide.
  2. To provide a forum for Syrian- and Arab-Americans to discuss, debate, decide, and act more broadly. 
  3. To provide networking opportunities for our scholars and alumni.

You can find the agenda and read more about the speakers here

How can we create impact at scale?

The day’s speakers provided helpful advice for those wanting to start creating impact. 

Rania Succar,  Jusoor’s Co-Founder and CEO of Intuit, Mailchimp noted that there are three steps to creating impact: (1) Find the right people to work with you to power the work. (2) Just try it, don’t get paralyzed by the uncertainty. (3) Clarity on the impact keeps you motivated in the hard times. (4) Succession Plan - a founder can only give so much for so long. Create the next group of individuals who will carry out this work. 

 Dr. Alexandra Chen, Jusoor Board of Directors and Interim Executive Director, also gave insightful advice invoking Prof. Jeff Duncan-Andrade’s Critical Hope Theory, which he argues is necessary for marginalized youth to rise out of difficult situations. The theory has 3 core elements: (1) Acknowledging the reality in which we work and the cracks in the foundation, (2) Being courageous to pursue a painful path together, and (3) Solidarity to share each other’s difficulties to collectively struggle to make things better.

Rania echoed the latter during the Fireside Chat with Alexandra and Raja Ghawi, in reflecting on her role as a leader and what she has learned from her experiences with Jusoor and in the corporate world. Notably, “there is tremendous power when Syrians and Arabs unify” and Jusoor’s co-founders focused on unifying people based on universal aspirations in order for the organization to be impactful. Raja Ghawi, former President of the Harvard Arab Alumni Association and Partner at Era Ventures discussed how important mentorship relationships are to helping people to understand what they want out of their careers, which will lead to success. In particular, the significance of creating value and representation for diverse communities and being a responsible leader who offers mentorship and understanding.

Indeed, one of Jusoor’s many multiplier effects is in creating role models for Syrians in Syria and host countries; the successes of our scholars and entrepreneurs offer hope to Syrian youth trying to achieve their dreams. This was exemplified during the idea pitches later in the day when Jusoor Scholarships alum and Mental Health Psychosocial Support Consultant, Hadi Althib showcased the work that he is doing to make research on parenting and childhood development more relevant and accessible to Syrian communities. Another great example of Jusoor’s multiplier effect was highlighted during the Impact through Education workshop, moderated by George Batah, who is also a Jusoor Scholarship Alum and Co-Founder of SYE Initiative. George discussed the work that he and his co-founders did to create an organization that would facilitate access to higher education for even more Syrian students. 

Moreover, Mikey Muhanna, Founder and Executive Director of Afikra suggested a process that those who are interested in creating impact may find helpful in creating meaningful initiatives. He said, “If you want to solve a problem… own it holistically. I use three litmus tests: (1)Am I good at this thing? (2) Does anybody need this? Is there anyone else for whom this is also a problem? (3) Ethically, when you take people’s support, money, and time you should think, “Am I in this for the long run?” It is useful before thinking about scale”. 

Can Challenges Become Opportunities?

Bassel Hamwi, CEO Coach at HamwiConsult also provided invaluable advice about addressing challenges, noting that, “We can’t just jump into things with blind hope… [you have to be] jumping in with eyes open… knowing who you are, knowing whether this is something important, how much time are you willing to spend on it, and does it define you? From my perspective, it is always important to ask the question — is it bigger than me?”

Lexi Shereshewsky,  Executive Director of the Azraq Education and Community Fund noted, “What I learned was that it's okay to fail… it’s not failure, it’s learning, okay that didn’t work, but what can I do instead? You have to always be malleable and not take no for an answer and be willing to be open to circumstances… figuring out what works and believing in yourself.” 

Ultimately, strong organizations and impactful programs come out of a willingness to absorb, learn, and adapt. 

How Do We Ensure That Employment Opportunities Are Available to The Global Syrian Community? 

Safouh Takrouri, Chairman of Jusoor’s Board of Directors; and Strategy and Analytics Manager at Snowflake, moderated an interactive workshop on how to influence impact through employment. In keeping with the advice of Bassel and Lexi, participants took this workshop as an opportunity to think of innovative ways to expand employment opportunities to Syrian youth within the difficult socio-political and economic restrictions and challenges

For example, they decided that the priority should be on Syrian refugees because although host country restrictions are tough to navigate, infrastructure limitations in Syria limit what can be done inside the country. The group suggested partnering with private companies to offer jobs to refugees in host countries to work remotely. Domains of interest included mainly STEM fields, and in the spirit of Rania’s and Raja’s suggestions about mentorship and the multiplier effect, they suggested that Jusoor alumni could offer skills development opportunities

Examples of Syrian Youth Working to Address This Problem

Aya Ajami is the Co-Founder of Wildfoods Co. and Wild Nut, which she established in 2020 while quarantined in Damascus due to COVID-19. Wild Nut is a company that employs Syrian women in Damascus to make healthy snacks using local resources. During her idea pitch, Aya mentioned, “I see the shift in these ladies’ lives… these super women have gained confidence they never knew existed, they became the main providers of their households. Their aura is different now, their non-verbal postures, how they hold themselves is truly empowered.”

Georges Macheta, an entrepreneur and student at St. Thomas University, is a former SYE mentee and current mentor. Georges’ idea for impact is Fair Up, an app that connects workers and small businesses for short-term employment through an equity priority system. Through this initiative, Georges hopes to secure jobs for some of Syria’s almost 8 million unemployed. Importantly, all net profit of the app through fees paid by employers would even be put towards professional development opportunities for workers. 

Rafael Hajjar, a student and entrepreneur at the University of Pennsylvania established a club called Arab Impact which focuses on creating a space for students to ideate, create, and take products to market which focus on improving the quality of life of people in the Middle East. Current focuses include renewable energy microgrids, interactive STEM learning kits for schools, a digital mental health platform, and search and rescue exoskeletons. 

What is Jusoor Doing?

What is Jusoor doing to address the challenge of employment and access to higher education? In the Middle East, Jusoor believes it is important to focus on job creation and education simultaneously so that they drive each other. Below are some examples of how Jusoor is putting that into action.

Jusoor’s Career Development Program:

Two additional projects are currently in development:

  • The “Aya Project”: addressing youth and female refugee unemployment in Lebanon and the MENA region by providing remote, non-tech career opportunities.
  • English Language Bootcamp: aiming to bridge the language proficiency gap among Syrian refugees through practical English interventions to maximize eligibility for employment.

Mental Health Scholarship

Jusoor has partnered with the Early Light Foundation to offer a scholarship to a refugee scholar who will pursue a master’s degree in Psychology or a related field in the UK. The scholar will also complete an internship either in the Middle East or in the UK with Arabic-speaking refugees.

Partnership with SYE Initiative

The Syrian Youth Empowerment Initiative (SYE) was founded in 2015 by a group of Jusoor’s earliest Scholarships Program alumni, Majed Abdulsamad and George Batah were among a group of Syrian students who attended the Illinois Institute of Technology as Jusoor scholars in 2012 and 2013, respectively.  SYE’s academic mentorship programs empower Syrian and Palestinian-Syrian youth to access higher education to realize their full potential. 

SYE is an excellent example of Jusoor scholars’ multiplier effect on the Syrian Community. SYE’s founders and volunteers used their success to bring opportunities to more Syrian youth and through collaboration with Jusoor will be able to expand that impact even further. 

Jusoor recently awarded SYE a $30,000 grant to help 30 high school students complete SYE’s Prep Program and 10 high school students in grades 11 or 12 to complete their One-Year Program. Jusoor has also supported 11 SYE mentees with full or partial scholarships to access higher education in the US, Canada, and Germany. 

Moving Forward

In closing the conference, Rania encouraged attendees to be entrepreneurial and create new and exciting initiatives. Reflecting on insights given earlier in the day she noted, “It’s hard to know the right intervention, what you need is a theme and you’ll figure it out by experimenting and running projects on the ground”. 

We hope that attendees will use the ideas, connections, and enthusiasm that were established at the conference to foster innovative solutions to the problems faced by the global Syrian community to ensure that Syrians can reach their full potential.

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