Entrepreneurship Recap

Some thoughts after completing the first Entrepreneurship pilot in Zarqa, along with Al-Tareeq (The Path).

Last Thursday marked the end of Fikra 3al Mashi's first Entrepreneurship pilot with UK-based nonprofit, Al-Tareeq. The program lasted 10 days, and even though the last couple of days were long and tiring under the weight of Ramadan, it was an outstanding beginning.

As mentioned in our last update, we began the course with some basic team-building and problem-solving exercises and skills. We tried to encourage the students to think critically about problems in the classroom, and then later, in their communities, that they could solve. Some groups came up with schemes to teach music using home-made instruments, while others got down to business, and built neat containers for the scattered plastic cups surrounding the water coolers. 


Towards the end of the first week, we began transitioning into entrepreneurship in more explicit terms. We began talking of business plans and SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) analysis, and other topics usually discussed in Entrepreneurship 101 classes. Except with an audience such as ours, we kept it relevant by emphasizing that the students themselves are capable of implementing such projects, without having to defer to adults or investors.

The second week was a culmination of everything the students learned, and for the entire 5 days, the students had to work on their own project, and develop a solution to a problem from scratch. They began by brainstorming for problems individually, and then we grouped them together based on interests. In the end, there were five teams: one trying to print affordable Manga (Japanese comic books) magazines off the internet, one trying to give out water and dates, and additionally, sell small meals to those stuck in traffic when it's time to break the Ramadan fast, and a group that's trying to create a club for runners around Zarqa, where members join for a nominal fee.

Each team began by brainstorming and mapping out their ideas, and then went on to filling out a business plan worksheet, with questions about the goal, the necessary resources, revenue, expenses, value added, and available skills and required skills. Students were encouraged to use SWOT to fine-tune their answers. Then, students developed a concise mission statement, and a detailed action strategy that outlined the exact steps they would take in order to plan for and implement their projects. After that, students created a Facebook page. Finally, we discussed the business proposal, and prepared them to pitch their ideas to us, and to employ rhetorical devices in order to persuade us.

In the end, each team presented their ideas, and received a certificate.

The project ended well, and it was just as educational for us as it was for the students. We learned a lot, and saw a lot of room for improvement. First, we noticed the importance of combining entrepreneurship with our SOLE pedagogy, in order to allow students to use the internet more effectively in the process of learning about entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurial endeavours around the world. We also think the SOLE will be a better vessel for teaching the basic critical thinking skills that were necessary for entrepreneurship.

We also hope that next time we will be able to fund some of their projects, at least to get them started. This brings up the seminal question of sustainability, and how to keep in touch with some of the students. Next time, we hope to promise 50 JOD ($70) to the winning teams, and present them the money over incremental instalments, in order to make sure they are progressing on their projects.

Read more about the project at Al-Tareeq's blog to see how they covered the last 10 days.

But for now, until next time!

Special thanks to the Al-Tareeq co-founders, Aboudi Al-Qattan, and Hamza Bilbeisi, for their help, initiative, and permission to use their photos :)

Entrepreneurship in Zarqa

Fikra and Al-Tareeq (The Path) conduct a 10-day Entrepreneurship workshop with Syrian refugees in Zarqa, Jordan.

From May 29th to June 9th, Fikra 3al Mashi is partnering with Al-Tareeq, a nonprofit started by two Babson University students, and the International Medical Corps in Zarqa, Jordan, to conduct an Introduction to Entrepreneurship and Problem-Solving workshop with 21 urban Syrian refugee students aged 13-18.

Today marked the completion of lesson 3, where students started developing a rudimentary business plan for the ideas they have been working on for the last couple of days. Students started by observing their communities, and identifying problems that needed to be solved. They then chose one problem, and in small teams, brainstormed potential solutions, and assessed the skills and resources required to solve such problems in an entrepreneurial fashion. Examples range from solving the problem of speeding and drag racing, pollution and littering in local parks and neighbourhoods, and illiteracy among school-age children, to establishing the first Parkour center in Jordan, and opening a franchise of translated Manga and Anime book stores.

Today, they put all of that on paper, and began looking at the problem-solving process from a business standpoint, trying to figure out how they could incentivize and market a solution to community members. To read more, you can check what Al-Tareeq wrote about it here.

Next week, they will be developing their own business ideas, researching their solutions, devising a business plan, and pitching the final idea to us. Fikra and Al-Tareeq will try to take the best ideas to the next stage, and procure funding to let it happen.

This marks the beginning of what we hope will be a prolific partnership in order to tap into the entrepreneurial potential of Syrian students around Jordan, and, pursuant to Fikra's mission, to enable students to learn, grow, and act independently and autonomously, unshackled from their precarious situations.

The next, and most challenging step, is to make such an initiative sustainable, with a lasting impact. We hope to reach out to more students, and stay in touch with them via a blog on the Al-Tareeq website. Fikra also hopes to begin establishing computer labs around the country to connect more Syrian students, and unleash their entrepreneurial creativity.

Stay tuned for more!

Fikra Team Wins International Service Award, And Looks To The Future

Last week, the Fikra 3al Mashi team was honored to receive the 2016 International Kurt Hahn Prize for Outstanding Service, given by Round Square International. Pictured below are the Fikra co-founders Will Close, Sari Samakie, and Rami Rustom. Other team members and volunteers include Saif Kabariti, Katerina Saleh, and Liam Watkins. We would like to thank them, and everyone else who has helped us achieve this recognition.

The prize was a great honor, especially since it is not awarded on a regular basis. It recognizes our efforts so far in trying to help Syrian refugees, but more importantly, serves as encouragement, pushing us forward. There is yet a lot of work to be done, and we have only scratched the surface. Fikra still has a long way to go in order to have a lasting, sustainable impact on the lives of others.

In the future, we hope to establish our own computer labs and classrooms around Jordan. This might defy the "3al Mashi" part of our mission (mobile education), but after working in the field for over a year now, we have realized that establishment, and being grounded in a certain neighbourhood, is the best way to have a lasting, long-term impact. We need to be able to follow-up with the students, and allow them, pursuant to the mission of the SOLE, to explore and learn by themselves.

We hope to get the same amount of support that we have gotten up until now.

Update: SOLE + HoC

An update from our exciting project in Madaba with 40 Syrian and Palestinian students in an UNRWA school.

This weekend marked the last set of sessions with a group of Syrian and Palestinian students at the UNRWA school in Madaba. This was our third weekend working with them, and we have witnessed great improvement among the students. Here's a quick recap of our activities:

Weekend #1 (Nov 27-28):

This was our first time getting to know the girls. On the first day, we began by gauging their English level. The girls are, for the most part, currently attending the UNRWA school, and demonstrated a solid command of English grammar. We got them speaking, and covered the English that we deem most important: the English of the internet. We went over basic terms that they will need during the SOLE sessions (web browser, search result, chat room, blog, references and citations ...), and introduced them to Google Translate, and other translation and dictionary services.

Next, we got the girls engaged with each other with several team-building activities, and even simulated the research process by making them "research" their peers and collect information about them.

On the second day, we conducted our first SOLEs. We began with simple, level-one, fact-seeking questions. This introduced the girls to the research process - in English. We ended the day with a discussion about the difficulties they faced, and how they might overcome them.

Weekend # 2 (Dec 11-12):

After a 2 week break, we began by pushing the girls from a level-one mindset, to the more ambiguous and challenging level-two and three questions, which ask for a synthesis of diverse, and oftentimes conflicting, perspectives. This is the work of college students, so we graduated to this level gradually. We began by asking them to research and present, in 60 min, their "3 favorite grammar rules." It's a corny and boring prompt, but they took to it diligently, and made their Powerpoint presentations, and presented them in English. They got "extra points" for asking each other questions, in English.

Once these presentations were over, we explained the difference in questions (between levels one, two, and three), and told them that most of the work they had done so far fell neatly in the first category. The second and third categories were realms of complex answers with multiple perspectives, converging and diverging arguments, and no "right" answers.

So, we spent the rest of the weekend working on SOLE sessions with questions increasing in complexity and difficulty. We ended with a SOLE and discussion on "the most important ideas in the last 100 years," which prompted them to assess different perspectives, and compare the contributions of different innovations.

Weekend #3 (Dec 18-19):

Friday afternoon, we picked up right away with the complex research questions. Before beginning, however, we spent some time discussing the credibility of websites. We went over the difference between blogs, Wikipedia articles, news sources, and research papers (for the more advanced). We explained how to check an article's credibility, and assess the weight of the argument. Then, we spent the rest of the day tackling a question we borrowed from The School in the Cloud: "What is the importance of storytelling?"

We went through brainstorming techniques, breaking down the question into sizeable bits. We also explained, extensively, that Google does not know all the answers. In the end, we reached a consensus that the question is complex, that is comprises of different fields of knowledge (from neuroscience, to psychology, to marketing), and that a surface understanding is never enough.

It was a good day.

Finally, on Saturday, our last day before a 3-week winter break, we began by asking them: "How will students learn in 2026?" This time, the girls were on their own for the most part, only seeking our help on translating, or poking them with questions to guide them on their way.

For the second half of the day, we introduced the girls to programming through Hour of Code. We (literally) spent an hour on the activity, even though it had taken longer with previous groups. The girls were excited by the prospect of engaging in some of the technologies they had just researched in the "how will students learn in 2026?" prompt, and reacted positively.


All in all, the project has been successful so far, and the SOLEs that we host are improving. We are helping students gradually graduate from level one questions to level two and three, as they deal with problems increasing in complexity.

The challenge that remains ahead of us is providing laptops to the UNRWA school in order to create a center where students can continue to learn. This can only be achieved with your support.

We hope to make this happen, and allow the girls to continue teaching themselves, and their friends, how to learn, and be successful in the 21st century.

We're Back!

After some anxious waiting, Fikra 3al Mashi is now back with a new project with Syrian refugee girls.

Fikra volunteers and organizers made their way to a public school in Madaba, Jordan, to work with 40 Syrian refugee girls in grades six to nine, and begin a three-month program centered on fluency in English and Technology.

In cooperation with "Basha'er al-Noor" (جمعية بشائر النور الخيرية), a local NGO, we were able to consolidate Syrian students from several different schools, and meet with them this past Friday and Saturday for three hours each day in order  to teach them through our SOLE-centered approach.

The SOLE (Self-Organized Learning Environment) was developed by educator and TED-prize winner Sugata Mitra (watch his talks here), in order to promote autonomy in learning. Essentially, it consists of the following: In groups, students use a laptop in order to research Big Questions, and try to find answers to these challenging, oftentimes abstract, inquiries. They groups may reshuffle, students may leave their group, go to another, group, look at what they're doing, and return to their group and replicate it. At the end of the research time, students discuss their results, their research methodology, and questions that are left unanswered.

We tried this model during the summer, but found that allowing students to move around in groups can act as a disincentive, and that students are sometimes discouraged by questions that are too complex or abstract. We found that students need a little bit of competition, and that research questions should start out as fact-seeking inquiries, and gradually evolve in complexity.

With this new group of children, we are employing the SOLE approach in order to teach conversational English, digital English, basic programming, and essential IT skills. On the first day, we focused on basic English grammar and vocabulary, in addition to the vocab required for the digital age, with words such as "search," "images," "program," "upload," "filter," and "video." This kind of English is necessary to lay a foundation of individual engagement with the internet, which enables students to search and learn independently online, and connect with people around the globe. This is just as valuable, if not more, as traditional education in these students' precarious and urgent situation.

On the second day, we focused on more complex research questions, and began the Hour of Code, an online challenge that introduces students to computer programming.

We will be meeting with this group on the weekends for the next 3-4 months, and in the end, in order to ensure sustainability in learning, donate 10 HP Elitebook 2740p laptops to the school, which will maintain a room dedicated to online education.

Stay tuned for more!

Malki-Salaam Project

A pilot in Amman, Jordan with students from the Malki-Salaam Center for Traumatized Syrian Refugees.

July 10th marked the beginning of Fikra 3al Mashi's second pilot program; this time, with students at the Malki-Salaam Center for Traumatized Syrian Refugees.

There was no initial plan to continue our pilot program beyond Madaba, but the opportunity presented itself, and a team of Fikra 3al Mashi volunteers will now spend the next two weeks at the center in Jabal Hussein, Amman, Jordan.

The center hosts traumatized students ages 6-12 and helps them cope with their trauma through several psycho-social support programs. Although well-serviced, the center was chosen as a location for a pilot program because of the homogeneity of its students to Fikra 3al Mashi's intended focus group for its PHASE 2 project. That's the real debut. For now, our team is still learning.

The volunteers will continue using the SOLE approach, and fine-tuning it to fit the needs of the students. We will be testing several pedagogical approaches, most prominently, is a method of grouping the students by interest rather than by age. We will also be testing the effectiveness of teaching students with a one-week gap (The program will run for two weeks, with sessions every Sunday and Monday), since this will most likely be the frequency of visits during PHASE 2.

Stay tuned for more news and updates.

Fikra Team Gets Started

The focus group of Fikra 3al Mashi is Syrian and Iraqi refugee teenagers living in remote villages around Jordan, but before assisting them, Fikra 3al Mashi conducted a test pilot with a group of Iraqi refugee children in Madaba, Jordan from June 12 to June 18. The pilot proved to be as educational an experience for Fikra 3al Mashi, as it was for the children.

Fikra 3al Mashi had set out to employ the SOLE pedagogical method developed by educator and professor Sugata Mitra, but after the first day, it became clear that the approach would not work as had been planned. Over the next couple of days, the method was refined and adapted to the context of the children. The pedagogy was made relevant, and that's when it became impactful and effective.


A Modified Approach

With the 5 Microsoft Surface 2 tablets lent to us by King's Academy, a coeducational boarding school in Madaba, Fikra set off to the Catholic Church of Madaba on June 12. The goal was to see if the SOLE (Self-Organized Learning Environment) could be as effective an educational tool for refugee children of diverse ages, without much technological experience, and with basic levels of English.

The program began with a traditional SOLE session, but the children seemed consistently lost. Not much guidance was given, as the SOLE dictates, but after two such sessions, we realized that something must change. After conducting the first two sessions about basic conversational English skills, we also realized that Entrepreneurship would not be an apt topic for this group.

The modified approach encouraged competition between the groups, which has proven to be the most effective incentive, and explored topics that were much more interesting and relevant to the children.

Instead of strictly adhering to the SOLE guidelines, which heavily rely on the Internet for deep learning, the new approach simply emphasized using the Internet as a tool to assist in hands-on projects. We had a city-planning activity, as well as a bottle rocket-designing competition, where the students used the Internet only to help them as they brainstormed and discussed their own ideas.

We also conducted an Hour of Code competition (the online program to teach computer science), as well as a web-design activity. The material was completely new, and the students were curious enough to persevere through any challenges, and learn.

The Future of Fikra 3al Mashi

As a result of this pilot project, will have refined our pedagogical approach to better serve refugee youth as we move into the implementation phase this fall. In the coming days, the Fikra 3al Mashi team will publish an assessment, reporting on the pilot, and outlining the new curriculum set for the next project.

Fikra 3al Mashi is constantly changing and adapting to make sure the education is engaging, fun, and most importantly, relevant.

That was the Pilot Project in Madaba.