Tag Archives: sustainability

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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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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