In December 2018, Ashoka Global Fellow Dr. Sami Hourani visited Net Impact to share his experiences as a serial social entrepreneur. While pursuing his medical degree from the University of Jordan in Amman, Dr. Hourani used his web development background to design an online platform that enabled communication between students and professors. This idea evolved into Leaders of Tomorrow, an organization Dr. Hourani founded as he became increasingly frustrated that favoritism in Jordanian culture excluded average young people from becoming activists or changemakers. His mission through Leaders of Tomorrow is to provide skill development, civic engagement, and leadership opportunities to young people regardless of their political ideology or socioeconomic status. In conjunction with Leaders of Tomorrow, Dr. Hourani has founded several initiatives including Diwanieh, Fadfed, and Forsa. In 2018, he launched his newest initiative: Souq Fann (which means “Art Market” ), the Middle East’s first e-commerce website for handicrafts and locally-produced items.
Diwanieh means “a place where people gather” in Arabic, and Dr. Hourani uses this initiative to combat the misconception that politics and social issues are reserved for intellectuals and politicians. He creates neutral venues in which to facilitate open political and social debate. In addition to establishing psychological safety, Dr. Hourani intends to reinvent public spaces that are covered in litter and graffiti. Security is a challenge, however, particularly since the Arab Spring of 2010. As the in-person debates have grown to include up to 1500 people, Diwanieh has hired private security and informed police about their gatherings. Some government officials initially perceived the events as demonstrations, but the equal attention given to pro and con views helped to dispel these impressions. There was some fear that the size of the events would lead to censorship, but given that their purpose is neutral debate, this has not materialized. Instead, the debates facilitate critical thinking and make decision-makers more accountable to the public.
To complement Diwanieh, Dr. Hourani created Fadfed, which translates to “let it out.” The goal of Fadfed is to encourage self-expression and civic engagement, but it does so more anonymously and personally than Diwanieh. Dr. Hourani places large boards in public spaces where people can write down their answers to specific questions and give their opinions on sensitive issues without fear or self-censorship. Dr. Hourani uses the posters to create reports and visual diagrams that he shares with policymakers to understand public opinion.
The final initiative Dr. Hourani shared was Forsa, Arabic for “opportunity.” Forsa is an online portal that connects young people with educational and capacity building opportunities like fellowships, scholarships, jobs, competitions, awards, conferences, and exchange opportunities. Its goal is to combat nepotism and elitism by enabling young people to raise their educational and economic profiles. As Forsa has evolved, a new challenge has been helping young people discover their passions. Forsa is now trying to integrate personality tests and aptitude tests as well as round out their offerings so that young people consider careers in fields besides law, engineering, and medicine. With Forsa, Dr. Hourani’s mission is to “provide hope in a region where people become less and less hopeful about their futures because of unemployment and war. They’re trying to see any light in those really dark, black tunnels that are surrounding them.”
Hope is the thread that ties together all three initiatives. With hope, young people in Jordan are motivated to improve their communities through civic engagement and motivated to improve their own lives through education and work. By changing the ecosystem in Jordan to make hope realistic, Dr. Hourani himself hopes to reduce inequality and slow the brain-drain out of Jordan.
To access the youth segments Leaders of Tomorrow intends to serve, most of its programs are free to users and financed through grants. Generating revenue is a challenge across Dr. Hourani’s initiatives, but as a seasoned social entrepreneur he has no shortage of funding ideas. He has considered licensing the Fadfed approach and methodology, charging employers who post listings on Forsa, or charging for premium accounts that help to filter applicants or jobs. He wants Forsa to be self-sustaining without compromising its mission, and so the rest of the discussion focused on income-generating ideas. The impact of his programs is already becoming clear, and now his focus is to sustain them.
By Jesse Dubow, MBA ‘19