Sam Ashraf: The Meaning of Winning

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When I flew to Mexico City, I knew that I would meet amazing people. I didn’t expect, however, to reconnect with one of these people, a young man committed to social impact, less than a month later in Cairo. How is this possible in today’s fast-moving and ever-changing world? The answer is Hult Prize, the world’s largest social impact movement.

MCJudges?I was in Mexico City for 1 of 15 Hult Prize regional finals. Inspired by the culture in Mexico, I not only attended the regional competition, but I participated as one of the 9 esteemed judges. As I sat in the judge’s room, Abe and his co-founder blew us away with his idea to Harness the Power of Energy to Transform lives. Their idea utilized a patented technology to pull water from the air and provide it as an essential resource to refugees.

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Sounds simple? Well, it wasn’t, and perhaps that’s why Sam’s team didn’t win, despite going through the regional competition in Mexico as a finalist. Slightly disappointed, the judges and I rallied around Sam, and urged him not to give up. “We love your idea,” we said. “Keep going, but take with you a few tips, recommendations, and introductions. Consider them and come back to us.”

The full impact of our words might not have occurred to Sam. An open and intelligent listener, he went on to compete in the first ever Hult Prize Egypt National program on June 1st, where we met again. I was a keynote in Egypt, and traveled there from Montreal days after losing my father in NYC. Why would you make such a big trip while in mourning? I explained that my father would want me to follow through on my commitments. He would also say that you get your energy from people – and from inspiring youth to lead a life of impact.

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At the start of the Egypt nationals, I was invited to share an inspirational speech with the competitors. Sam was in the room, surrounded by young Egyptian competitors, many of whom are now committed members of the social impact movement I love. His mother, Gihan Salib, was also in the room.

The program took place during Ramadan, and our sunset dinner was unique, all of us breaking the fast together. As I walked into the open air dining room at the American University in Cairo, I saw a woman my age smiling up at me. I knew that we had to share dinner together. It was Sam’s mother, who said, “You have changed my son’s life by believing in him when he lost in Mexico City. You lifted his spirit and inspired him to move forward. You have to believe he is one of many people whose lives you have changed for the good.”

Unfortunately, Sam lost in Egypt too, but he was not as concerned. We spent the following day together touring the Pyramids (his first time there too), riding camels, shopping for local gifts, and sharing our vision for life and the future.

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Egypt_SSCamelFor those who are reading this, life has many twists and turns. Losing can mean winning. And sometimes winning takes on an entirely new meaning. I now have a friend for life who inspires me, and Sam has a new journey, one that will be my joy and privilege to guide, and to share in his successes. This is only the beginning of a very long road together. How amazing is that?

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to reconnect with Sam and interview him about his experience in the competition. Here is a little bit more of his story:

Tell me about your Hult Prize Idea and how you got funding to travel to Mexico City.

Me and my team had initially dabbled with multiple ideas from ones involving disciplines of aquaponics to others that were intended to enhance public transportation efficiency. After spending quite some time brainstorming, we decided to settle with the business idea that we viewed to be most feasible, profitable, and fit to this year’s Hult Prize challenge, harnessing the power of energy. The idea was simple. We had developed an approved schematic flow diagram of a device that was to be installed in off-grid areas to generate water and electricity from atmospheric humidity for distribution to energy- and water-destitute areas. The plan was to develop many units of this device to be rented out or sold to construction companies who carry out off-grid construction projects and use the profit to develop similar units for refugee camps in the Middle East and other off-grid communities in Africa. Refugees receive little power and water supply. Accordingly, the refugee camps of Azraq and Zaatari in Jordan were our intended pilot. As for how we were funded, we first sought support from our university. Seeing as there is no formally dedicated department for such cases at our university, I took it upon myself to meet with the president of the university. He was not easy to reach, so I had to set an appointment multiple times but only ended up meeting with his secretary. When a “no” was received, we decided to go to the department of student activities where I suggested that we could use Hult Prize@GUC as an active working group (AWG) to raise the money (since raising money as students who don’t belong to an AWG is prohibited on campus). That, too, was met with refusal. Fortunately, we worked in parallel in search of funds outside the university by seeking support from companies who listened to the idea. Finally, we managed to get one construction company to fund the trip and accommodation after pitching our idea.

MCCompFlagWhat happened in Mexico and what obstacles did you have to overcome?

Obtaining the funds needed to get to Mexico was the biggest obstacle. Arriving in Mexico City on March 15th marked the endpoint to 30 hours of travel time from Cairo. Direct flights were not available, and even if they were they would have been too expensive. That said, we experienced one other hurdle when we got there. While rehearsing for our presentation for one final time, we were surprised to find out that our Powerpoint file was corrupt and wouldn’t open. Consequently, we had to refurbish our presentation from the data we already had at the expense of missing orientation day on the 16th after having contacted Hult Prize volunteers informing them of what had happened. Fortunately, we had enough time and were able to pull an all-nighter for competition day!

What were the judges like?  Can you share some stories about your interactions with them?

After pitching in the final venue (we were the last team of 6 to pitch) and after the judges’ deliberation, we managed to talk about half the judges. As one might expect, they were extremely critical as needed. If I could describe them additionally in one word, it would be constructive. We sought advice from them on what we needed to improve and received the most insight from Colonel Eric Rojo, Sheryl, Andrea from Protrash, and Mrs. Mariuz Calvet from the Mexican bank Banorte. Additionally, I got to share a very stimulating, thought-provoking, futuristic conversation with Ahmad Ashkar, the CEO of Hult Prize, about new and upcoming technologies while on our 10 minute bus ride from the Chapultepec castle (the only castle in South America)!

PyramidsAfter leaving Mexico, what did you do to prepare for the Egypt Nationals?

After leaving Mexico, I broke down our tasks into milestones. With a rough business model ready, I worked on further development of the business plan while assigning the task of developing of a prototype to a team member. These would be the first two milestones. I also reached out to several NGOs for partnership. They were intrigued by our idea and shared our vision of energy sustainability and impact. I also outsourced a video editor to help create a video about AquaElectro’s endeavours for the Wild Card application.

How has this experience changed your life?

Hult Prize has been an amazing journey. After coming across a small on-campus booth by chance and applying because why not, I never thought I would end up in Mexico City integrating me and my team as part of the global change. Although competing and being runners-up was all part of a wild adrenaline rush, I am more proud of helping propagate the impact the foundation has on the world at large. I’ve gotten to know so many great people, organizers and competitors alike, with a common desire to change the world for the better and a fiery, youthful spirit. The connections I gained the past 6 months have been a priceless addition to my network of people! Moreover, one of the most prominent features of the community is multiculturalism, an environment in which I found myself thriving.

What are your next steps in your life’s journey?

I am currently applying for graduate studies abroad in molecular medicine or a related field, and I envision being heavily immersed in the biotechnology and genomics industries. I hope to work for companies like Johnson & Johnson or Genentech, which are like the pioneering tech companies of the biotechnology sector. The market is currently thriving, and I predict more and more disruptive products coming to market that will change our perception of diseases like cancer to say the least. After gaining enough experience in the industry, I hope to start my own biotechnology startup company with a primary goal of developing and commercializing medical solutions for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases that are otherwise difficult to deal with.

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What can I and others like me do to help the youth lead lives of impact?

I believe meeting Sheryl for the first time in Mexico City was one of the early moments of impact for me. I’m already inspired by the blogs she writes and by the fact that she is making her dad proud continuing to inspire young people like myself with her positive spirit! Uplifting is the word I would use to describe Sheryl and other agents of change at Hult Prize. With blogs like this and new expansions to the foundation (like the council), I think the influence will be not only far-reaching but also exponential from year to year. It’s amazing to see how this reach has grown over five times compared to 2017.

Is there anything else you want to share?

Yes! The Hult Prize experience has truly contributed to my personal growth intellectually and socially. It reinforces the growth mindset I choose to adopt and for that I’m sincerely grateful. It’s also an honor of mine to be featured in your blog and I want to express many many thanks to you for considering me!

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The Beginning of the Journey

unnamed-2Name: Maysoun Ibrahim

Origin: Palestine

Year: 2018

Hult Prize Challenge: Harnessing the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people.

I recently interviewed Maysoun Ibrahim, a judge in the 2018 Hult Prize competition. She just finished the first ever Hult Prize National Finals in Ramallah, and I had the opportunity to learn about her amazing story and her experience in the competition.

Quote: “Not making it through the competition is not the end of the journey; it is only the start of the birth of persevered entrepreneurs.”

How did you hear about Hult Prize?

From Social Media.

I was contacted by its management team to participate as a judge in the first national program in Palestine. Afterwards, I looked for information about the prize and was impressed by what is written about it on social media.

32349143_2086572678298231_4585459393339850752_oWinningTeam_WestBank,BirzeitUWhy is Hult Prize important to your Country?

The Hult Prize provides promising opportunities to youth in Palestine to introduce change to their communities through social services and businesses by turning their social and development ideas into reality. At the national level, participating in the 2018 Hult Prize for the first time gives Palestine a valuable international exposure that sheds light on the innovative potentials of Palestinians in creating solutions that respond to the national developmental needs. The winner national teams, from West Bank and Gaza, will be visiting the Hult Prize Castle in the United Kingdom during July for a period of eight weeks during which they will enrich their knowledge and acquire new skills needed to plan for their solutions, develop adequate business strategies and implement their solutions accordingly. It is important to mention that the winning team of the US$1M will be present during the final ceremony planned to be held at the United Nations in New York. During this ceremony, the winning team will be exposed to the global ecosystem aimed at implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the global, regional and national levels.

You have an interesting international background. How did your experience prepare you to be a judge?

My national and international professional experience widened my horizons, enriched my knowledge. It strengthened my skills and empowered me with skills that are transferable to my workplace, such as leadership, team building and negotiation. It exposed me to different cultures and backgrounds needed for one to understand the differences in contexts and the relative importance of initiatives and solutions accordingly. All of this, added to my education, previous involvement in major activities related to government, Academia, private sector and/ or the civil society added to my continuous willing to step out of my comfort zone to learn and grow at the personal and professional levels prepared me to be a judge.

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After a full day with the other judges, what did you learn?

I admired the passion and thirst of the young entrepreneurs to develop their societies and foster change in their communities. The students from all participating universities in Palestine, from both the West Bank and Gaza, were notably innovative in providing sustainable solutions to harnessing the power of energy, which is the 2018 Hult Prize theme. It was heartwarming to see that, despite the hard-living conditions and instability in Palestine, the young generation still has the dedication to change the World for the better and make Palestine a better place to live in.

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What impressed you most about the competition?

At the level of the students, what impressed me the most is their enthusiasm, maturity and dedication as they came up with well-defined ideas that are ready for implementation. Actually, selected ideas did not even need further details. They were only lacking the funding opportunity to proceed with the actual implementation. At the level of the prize management, I was impressed by the decision made to exceptionally consider two teams for the prize, one from the West Bank and another from Gaza given the special case of Palestine. This enabled two teams to win the national prize and spend eight weeks in the Hult Prize Castle in the UK.

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Did you learn anything new about student competitors?

Most of the students’ competitors are international ones. Some students were clever enough and studied their competitors well, learnt from them how to get better at what they are doing and then proposed an innovative solution that can compete other existing ones.    32350006_2086572894964876_6131908178385829888_o.jpg

What advice to you have for the student teams that didn’t make it through the competition?

Not winning does not mean losing in this case. All teams competed and listened to each other and to the comments of the judges. This by itself should be rewarding as the students can build on the comments provided, detail their projects and submit them again to the competition. So, in summary, not making it through the competition is not the end of the journey; it is only the start of the birth of persevered entrepreneurs.

Is there anything else that you would like to share?

It was a fruitful experience being a judge at the Hult Prize National Finals in Palestine. I was honored to meet the management of the prize, different judges and students. I also got re-assured of the potential of the Palestinian people and have my hopes high that the young generation will introduce positive change to our beloved Palestine.

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From Individual Career Planning to CSR, it’s Not Who You Know, but How Well You Relate that Matters!

“A business approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders.”

This is how I defined corporate social responsibility when I presented to a group of global executives at the 2018 Corporate Responsibility Summit in May 2018. After touring the Houston Food Bank to see how it serves local communities through food distribution, we settled in the auditorium of the facility to kick off the summit with a series of speakers who focused on serving communities through corporate social impact.

One of the speakers was Dennis Kennedy, Founder and Chair of the National Diversity Council (NDC), which houses the Corporate Social Responsibility Council. I met Dennis when I was at Dell EMC, where over a decade ago I founded and was President of the Women’s Leadership Forum on the West Coast. I partnered with Dennis and his team as they were relaunching NDC in Silicon Valley, by hosting their initial programs. I left EMC (now Dell Technologies), and brought my relationship with Dennis to Capgemini as I transitioned to a new role. They are an active partner, and a joint sponsor for CSR. Isn’t it amazing how relationships start with a helping hand and continue to grow into corporate sponsorships?

When I left Capgemini I wasn’t looking for a job. I was a partner with a $1billion business, working with amazing people at a French multinational. But the Executive Director of The Linux Foundation  offered me an amazing opportunity to join him as the Chief of Staff.  With my passions so close to building communities of innovation, I couldn’t resist! After a year, another CEO reached out to me – Ahmad Ashkar, Founder and CEO of the Hult Prize Foundation.  He and I have worked with each other for over 6 years. When were together again in San Francisco this spring, he looked at me and simply said, “Sheryl, what are you doing? Join me and follow a life of passion, impact and innovation. Lead the Hult Prize Council full time and drive global change as part of the world’s greatest millennial movement.”

That brings us right back to where we are. With my strong ongoing relationship with Capgemini (especially Yvonne Harris and Jean-Claude Violler), I was invited to keynote at the NDC Corporate Responsibility Summit 4th annual conference in Houston. This lesson is for everyone: every relationship you develop has the ability to impact you, your brand, and your reputation. You may leave an organization for another one, but what you leave behind is your legacy.  Respect them, and the people with whom you work. It only brings you closer when you leave and creates positive bonds for future collaboration.

 

These very relationships gave me the incredible opportunity to speak about corporate social responsibility, an essential topic in business today and one of my deepest passions. Throughout my work with the Hult Prize competition, I have worked with countless millennials and have seen their drive to make impact through for-profit, for-good business. As explained by Mario Molteni, a business professor at Milan’s Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in a Morning Future article on CSR, “Sustainability should be one of the skills [of all successful business men and women], not a specialisation.” The challenge of the 2018 Hult Prize competition could not emphasize this better – urging students to create scalable enterprises that harness the power of energy to transform lives because there is a market for sustainable products and business. And millennials are driving that demand.

In my presentation at the CSR summit, I identified several business approaches that are characteristic of socially responsible and sustainable enterprises. From connecting and serving neglected markets to looking into and shaping the future, these types of business approaches affect the willingness of millenials to interact with companies as customers or employees.  In her article, “Millennials Driving Brands to Practice Socially Responsible Marketing,” Sarah Landrum echoes what I have witnessed during my work with millennials: “Millennials prefer to do business with corporations and brands with pro-social messages, sustainable manufacturing methods and ethical business standards.” Brands are no longer associated with empty marketing – millennials are active and even suspicious consumers, analyzing the messages that companies put out, searching for the greater impact that businesses have in a social context.

I ended my presentation at the summit with a call to action. I urged the leaders at the conference to build CSR initiatives, engage customers and partners, and share via social media. These actions are necessary steps in promoting corporate social responsibility. Leaders need to make  CSR initiatives an integral part of their business, rather than a side project. And they must use the tools of social media to connect with consumers. Kelsey Chong articulates this necessity in her article, “Millennials and the Rising Demand for Corporate Social Responsibility,” arguing, “If a business slacks on properly maintaining its social media profile, it will soon fall victim to critical millennials who have noticed a lack in response, engagement, and interaction.” I have the chance to work with amazing millennials who drive this movement. By caring deeply about the brands and companies they do business with, this generation has turned the importance of CSR into visible action, creating enterprises like those in the Hult Prize that are for-good, for-profit, and a tool for reshaping the future.

During the Hult Prize Finals and Awards Dinner 2017 on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, at the United Nations headquarters. (Mark Von Holden/Hult Prize Foundation via AP Images)

Aurelion: Going Global from Tunisia

I had the opportunity to interview Ghofrane Baaziz, from the University of Tunis Business School. Her story is amazing- she competed in and won the Campus Challenge in 2017, with teammates Sarah Saadi, Wafa Kouni, and Baha Gritly. The 2017 challenge was her favorite, and her team name was Eirene, named after the goddess of peace in honor of the challenge being about refugees. The team’s goal that year was to provide a virtual financial services platform for refugees to allow them to perform financial transactions, getting paid easily and securely. She has been involved in at least three regional events and was even asked to lead the Tunisia National event.

Ghofrane’s story shows an important lesson- you don’t have to win the Prize to be a winner.

Team: Aurelion

Origin: University of Tunis

Year: 2018

Hult Prize Challenge: Harnessing the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people.

Objective: Our idea consisted of providing access to better air conditioning systems in Central African hospitals while empowering working women.San Francisco Team hp2018

How did you get involved with Hult Prize?

Freshman year of college, that is, last year, although I was a business student, I did not know a thing about entrepreneurship let alone social entrepreneurship. I was just starting business school, not even sure if I made the right choice, but there it was, a pink sign on the school entrance that says “Hult Prize on-campus event applications are open!”. I didn’t know what that was, but it looked cool, and I was planning on doing a lot of extracurricular activities so that seemed like a nice start. I told three friends of mine and we decided to participate! Soon after, we’d learn so many things about ideation, starting a business, building a business model, etc. Little did we know that we would be the event winners and soon be heading to London for the regional finals! (I’ll get to that experience on the next question)

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Fast forward a year later, 2018, I decide not to participate, but to organize the event in my school. I took care of the media department and appeared on more than 12 media platforms including national television to talk about the Hult Prize! on 2017, only 4 Tunisian universities hosted a HP event, 2018, the number jumped to 19 universities! I’d like to believe it was thanks to us! I even toured many Tunisian universities in different regions of the country to introduce them to the Hult Prize and talk about my experience as a regional finalist!31899133_191299088160708_5296109574103760896_n.jpg

After the on-campus event ended, I decided to apply to the wildcard because why not! We ended up getting accepted and headed to San Francisco for my second regional two years in a row! Coming back to Tunis, I was also the media director and host for the Tunis regional that took place a week after SFs finals! That was my 3rd regional event in just two years of college! I believe I made a record!

My final involvement with Hult was the Tunisia National Event which I also helped organize.

How has this experience changed you?

I can’t put in words how much Hult has changed me. In each regional, I made new friends, real friends, a Japanese friend I made in London even visited me from Tokyo and we spent this spring break together touring Tunisia! Hult helped shape me into the woman I am today. I now know what it takes to be a social entrepreneur, what it takes to start your own business, I know how to network, how to pitch my idea and most importantly, I got to know and discover a new part of me.hult spirit.jpg

What were the judges, mentors and advisors like?

Everyone involved with Hult was extremely helpful. We were offered help from so many people. Judges in our on campus event last year offered to help us prepare for the regionals after we won, we had great mentors and advisors who supported us along the way.

Did anyone stand out?

Definitely! Last year’s event, a judge [Youssef Fennira, CEO of Tunisian startup CORP] liked our idea so much that he invited us to his office and with whom I’m personally still in touch with. He sponsored our trip to London, offered us support, and he still recommends me for other opportunities and even offered me a job at his company!SF Tunis .jpeg nationals bootcamp.jpg

During the 2018 hp, Julie Abrams definitely stood out! She was so cheerful and came to talk to us after we lost. We really appreciated that.

What advice do I have for other people?

Join the movement! I have been to so many similar events and competitions, nothing was like the hult prize. The Hult spirit and atmosphere is incomparable! You never know what kind of amazing friends you’d meet, whether it’s a local competition, national or regional! It’s never a dull moment with the Hult Prize! So participate, I promise you you’ll learn so many things about yourself and about social good. You’d enjoy every part of making an impact and making a difference in the world!

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SolarCare Journey, Everyone is a Winner

Team: SolarCare

City: Dallas, TX

Year: 2018                    

Hult Prize Challenge: Harnessing the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people.

Objective: Helping impoverished communities in Sub-Saharan Africa benefit from clean, affordable electricity in the form of solar energy

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At the convening of the United Nations on September 2017, President Bill Clinton announced the 2018 Hult Prize Challenge:  “Harnessing the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people by 2025”. Responding to the challenge, over 100,000 students from 1,000 Universities in 100 countries applied to bring their diverse energy-solution startup ideas to the international stage.  Ultimately, 40 teams will be selected to participate in the incubator at Hult Prize Castle, in Ashridge. Eventually six teams will get the opportunity to pitch their idea during finals at the United Nations, each hoping it will win the $1 million Hult Prize that will enable them to launch their idea.

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Each year, in addition to getting the prize money, the winning team gets well-deserved publicity for their project.  But what is less well known is how much of an impact the experience of competing for the Hult Prize creates. Excited by the ability to create positive global impact,  many teams that were eliminated at some point during the competition continue working on their projects, intent upon bringing their ideas to life. UT Dallas SolarCare was one of those teams.

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Eugene McDermott UT Dallas scholars Nikitha Vicas and Rohit Shenoy began their Hult Prize journey when they ventured from Dallas to travel to New York to attend the UN General assembly as student bloggers representing their school.  When they heard Clinton announce the Hult Prize, they were inspired to assemble a team for the competition, with Evan Sun and Benny Rubanov joining later.  Bradley Ritschel, UT Dallas’s Campus Director, played a major role in motivating the group in creating a viable product with his demonstrated interest in growing the Hult Prize’s influence on campus.  

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As a Dallas resident and member of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center’s advisory board, I had a special interest in seeing how the students benefited from the Hult experience. The team’s goal  was to provide clean, affordable and self-sustaining electricity to areas of the world that couldn’t otherwise afford it. The idea for SolarCare was born out of Rubanov’s research in solar panels and research conducted by the team.   It’s goal was to install small, solar farms in rural locations, supplying local areas with reliable electricity to power appliances.

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Simply by participating in the Hult Prize Challenge, they became part of an international community.  As a Hult Prize judge, I watched them deal with the challenges facing their business. Through their involvement with the competition, the team members gained the experience of being part of an international community determined to drive impact with the exposure to and support of international experts.   And it’s ignited a passion in each team member to explore how they can positive impact others in the future.

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This summer, Nikitha will be in India with the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship, taking classes in Hindi. Rohit will work in Dallas with Tech Wildcatters, a group that invests in promising startups.  Benny plans to be in Argentina working in marketing and consulting, and Evan will be in Washington D.C., working with the HHS Innovation Internship Program. Each of them has clearer sense of who he is and a commitment to living lives of impact all over the world.  That’s what the Hult Prize does for students- inspiring a new generation of socially conscious, caring entrepreneurs.

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My Journey to the West Bank

As I was preparing for my 5th trip to Israel, this time with family, I posted a photo of Old Jerusalem on my Facebook page along with a notice of my travel plans.

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Old City Jerusalem

My posting was noticed by my good friend Ahmad Ashkar, Founder and CEO of Hult Prize Foundation, who opened the door for me to visit his family in the West Bank. Flattered and humbled by his offer, I accepted without hesitation and started to plan my journey with his sister Suzy from the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria to Nablus and onto Tulkarm.

 

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Nablus

For everyone reading this blog, this is not a political statement about the West Bank and Israel. It is about my journey, the people, sounds, aroma and tastes of the old city of Nablus. This blog reflects one day in my life as an American Jew visiting my friend’s Palestinian Muslim family. This one day brought us closer and created a bond via our shared commitment to make the world a better place, one person and one day at a time.

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Ahmad and Sheryl at Boston Hult Prize Incubator July 4, 2016 celebration

Timing

As they say timing is everything, and the coincidences associated with my visit were uncanny. First, Ahmad’s mother was visiting their family home and his sister Suzy had just recently moved from Kansas to Tulkarm with her husband a few weeks earlier to raise their baby. Second, my trip was just several days before the UN vote on the resolution to curb Israeli settlements in the West Bank and West Bank politics were relatively quiet for that region while everyone was awaiting the outcome of the vote on the resolution.

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Nablus

Getting to Nablus

First, you cannot just hop into any taxi and say “take me to the West Bank”, as the color of the license plate prescribes which roads you can travel on. To simplify matters, I asked the Waldorf concierge to reshigh-viewerve a driver. Polite and courteous, yet curious, he asked only a few questions, then proceeded to offer assurances of my personal safety while also cautioning me that conditions can change at any time.

Nablus is a northern city in the West Bank, 39 miles from Old Jerusalem with a population of over 125,000 which is predominantly Muslim, with small Christian and Samaritan minorities. Since 1995, the city has been governed by the Palestinian National Authority. We visited the Old City where there are a number of sites of archaeological significance, spanning the 1st to 15th centuries.

Arrived In Nablus

Suzy (who has an MBA degree), Ahmad’s sister, and Diana (an attorney), Suzy’s sister in law, met me in the city center. After hugs we made our first food stop…Turkish coffee to go. It was just starting to rain, so we quickly parked the car in the lot and headed out on foot to the Old City.

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Food of Nablus

Until I arrived I didn’t realize that Nablus is such a gastronomic heaven. My father was a produce broker, so I was astounded by the abundance of inexpensive fresh fruits and vegetables. Nablus is known for its cheese, and we were indulged in warm cheese bread.

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Sheryl and Diana eating cheese bread and coffee

As if that wasn’t enough, as we were passing through, the falafel man overheard us talking and offered me a free sandwich with freshly ground hummus.

Not that we were still hungry, but Nablus is famous for its kunafeh, a stringy, cheesy, crispy, sweet, gooey, delicious desert which defies definition, so we had to try it. Served in slabs eaten warm, we lined up and got our share, as the rest of the dish was divided up and sold to the locals.

A Special Tour

Still we couldn’t stay dry, as it was pouring rain, my sneakers were wet and squishy…and to be honest, we looked like three drenched lost women roaming the streets.

Then we encountered Moses, a Nablus local, who overheard us talking and simply put aside his daily work to escort us through the city, through the ancient Mosque, into the soap, candy, metal, and shoe factories.

We parted at the spice store, which had a big sign welcoming the USA, as he left to pick up his girls from school. Moses is not a tour guide, he is simply a kind, proud, local man who wanted us to have a good visit to his city.

On the Road to Tulkarm

Each of us were overwhelmed by the kindness we were shown, but now it was time to get on the road to meet Ahmad’s family for a late lunch.

There was a “small” hitch, though. The road, and there is only one road between cities, was blocked. There was an accident ahead, a Nablus Arab and a Jewish Israeli died in a collision. Diana, an attorney, had a special ID card allowing her to pass through, and Suzy and I had American passports, so we maneuvered our way to the head of the line, only to be told we could not pass. We carefully moved back in line…with cars honking at us…and some 30 minutes later the road opened…and we were practically first in line as we drove ahead to Tulkarm.

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Tulkarm

Now only 30 minutes away, I was eager to meet Ahmad’s mother and was swept away as we came around a corner to see the Ashkar’s family estate. I say estate as there are multiple homes on the grounds, each connected through walking paths and patios.

The main home was recently constructed had a huge driveway and massive columns leading to the front door. As we walked through the door we were greeted by Ahmad’s mother with a huge smile and open arms.

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As you might imagine, she was busy in the kitchen cooking a special meal for us which consisted of fresh lemonade, warm yoghurt soup, rice with vegetables and spices, chicken, salads, sweet and spicy sauces and homemade fig cookies. Enchanted by the feast, we conversed as if we had met many times before and discussed the world, family, and our journey.

Back on the Road

Sadly, this was a short trip, and just as the rest of Ahmad’s aunts and cousins were coming to visit, it was time to go back to Jerusalem. Suzy presented me with a beautiful silver necklace and Ahmad’s mother filled my bag with treats. It was sunset when we headed for the checkpoint a couple of miles away. Promising to return, the taxi picked me up, and we headed back to Old Jerusalem.

Last Thoughts

Ahmad was honored that I traveled to the West Bank to meet his family, and I was honored he invited me. Open your heart, open your mind, open your soul. There are good people on the other side. Good people who may differ in their political ideology but with the same family values and welcoming kindness that we all can appreciate and would do well to emulate.

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Three generations of women sharing the world we love!

 

Global Summit of Women – Building an Inclusive Economy in the Digital Age

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Building an Inclusive Economy in the Digital Age

In late 2015 I received information about the Global Summit of Women (GSW) from a colleague at Capgemini. Although I’ve been involved with organizations that support advancement and development of women professionals for many years, I’d never heard of this one before. My first reaction was I needed to be more aware of international programs like this.

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Seeking more information and a better understanding of the potential of this organization I checked out the website and was very impressed. The breadth of geographical areas represented and the backgrounds of participants were unbelievable. Not only did I want to attend but I identified a panel on addressing the skills gap in the digital age, where I knew I could make a contribution. I immediately reached out to Irene Natividad, President of Global Summit of Women to introduce myself and offer my service. I wound up attending the 2016 Summit, served as a panelist, and came away forever changed.

Wonderful welcome as you arrive at the Global Summit of Women

Writing about the experience hardly conveys the impact it had on me. At least this blog will provide an idea of how meaningful this annual event is and hopefully encourage more of you to take advantage of this unique opportunity to immerse yourself in a truly global environment of friendship and support.

Each year the Summit is held on a different continent. Brazil hosted the 25th anniversary program in 2015. In 2016 the location was Warsaw, Poland. In 2017 it will convene in Tokyo, Japan. Over 1200 women from 95 different countries participated. The purpose was well described in Irene’s welcoming letter:

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“The Summit’s goal of providing a global forum in which exchanges of effective strategies forged by women in all three sectors of society- government, business or civil society- continues to be timely and much needed.“

“The 2016 theme- Women- Building an Inclusive Economy in the Digital Age– spotlights women’s influence in creating stronger economies in this era of new technologies.”

Speakers at the opening ceremony included:

Beata Szudlo, Prime Minister of Poland

Dnag Th Ngox Thinh, VP of Vietnam

Laimdota Straujuma, Former Prime Minister of Latvia

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Honored to meet Atifete Jahjaga, Former President of Kosovo.

The two days of the Summit start with a few plenary sessions in the morning followed by breakout sessions featuring 3 different tracks: Leadership Development, Entrepreneurship, and Issues. One of the plenary sessions on the first day was a Male CEO Forum- Defining an Equitable Workplace. Moderated by Lisa Kassenaar, Editor of Global Diversity for Bloomberg News, the panelists were:

  • Manfred Bischoff, Chair of the Board, Daimler (Germany)
  • Michel Khalaf, Presdient, EMEA Metlife (UAE)
  • Alastair Teare, CEO, Deloitte Central Europe (U.K.)
  • Marco Vilaa, President-Technip, Region EMIA (Italy)
  • Slawomir Sikora, CEO, Citi Handlowy (Poland)

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The insights these world leaders shared displayed their commitment to working across countries and boundaries of diverse thinking.

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As I shared earlier, I was a panelist for one of the Issues breakout sessions: Bringing More Women Into Tech Careers in the Digital Age. The topic resonated with me as it’s an issue I’ve been working on for years and was looking forward to sharing my perspective with my fellow panelists, Claudine Schmuck, Founder of Global Contact (France) and Katarzyna Majewska, Head of Operations & Technology, Citi Handlowy (Poland). Our moderator Gloria Lorenzo, Senior Director of Software Development for Oracle in Spain, was a master at brining our ideas alive on the stage. Gloria described the panel as follows:

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“I learned a lot from three women on my panel. Sheryl Chamberlain, share her experience at Capgemini and her role as Head of Hult Prize Foundation Council. Claudine Schmuck, shared the results of her investigation through Global Contact plus some of the initiatives she is supporting in France and Katarzyna Majewska and her work in a big company like CIO Group and the challenges she has to find good IT girls. All women shared the same goal, to bring more women to STEM. During a short conversation we learned a lot and got very good tips to progress in our own work or to even to progress together. It was a unique opportunity to connect all the work done in different fields”

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For me, the perspectives each of us brought to the discussion where inspiring, but more importantly the audience agreed to take action as we returned to our day jobs, at home in our respective countries.

There was a lot of content to absorb in just a few short days. I wish sessions had been recorded since the breakout format meant we were always missing what was happening in the other breakout rooms. But, then the Summit was about so much more than the meetings. It was an opportunity to connect with a remarkable group of women coming from wildly different backgrounds, all committed to make the world a better place by working together.

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One of my new ‘sisters’ is Claudia Freed, CEO & President of EAL Green. EAL stands for Empower Access to Learning. In other words- it provides scholarships. The “Green” refers to how they get the money. They collect excess inventory from major companies (which otherwise would go into landfill), providing sorely needed equipment and supplies to universities at little or no cost, and providing scholarships for students in need. Claudine’s been doing this for over 20 years. This Summit was her second. What made it worth her while to attend?

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“I believe it has been an important milestone in my career to be committed to participate in these and other global-scale purpose- driven networking convenings. I want to help improve the world.

“….the most important takeaway is the re-affirmation that relationships take time and that they are invaluable asset not easily replaced with technology or digital communication.”

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In 2017 the Global Summit for Women will be held in Japan May 11-13. I already have it on my calendar. I hope to see some of you there.