Egypt is going through an economic transformation phase, where the private sector and civil communities are expected to play a vital role in Egypt’s future. For this reason, Daily News Egypt will shed the light on four Egyptian men who wanted to make a difference. These four men founded Aspire, which is an entrepreneurial training consulting firm that delivers transformational solutions using innovative learning methodologies serving the private sector, community-based organisations and youth at large. Daily News Egypt sat with Bassem Emad, chief executive officer and co-founder of Aspire, during the firm’s 10 years anniversary to review the current challenges that face youth’s development as well as their prospects.
Tell us about Aspire. How did it start?
We are four friends who wanted to make a difference and hoped that we could make even a little positive change in people’s lives. Throughout our travels, leadership camps, and schools that we attended, we learned a very valuable lesson: the best way to impact someone’s mind in a positive way is through fun and unconventional ways.
People tend to show their true personalities when they get fully engaged in a game, or even a sport, and that way it becomes much easier to address the real problems.
With that in mind, we decided to open a camp for children in the mid-1990s, where we promoted values, and positive behaviours, through fun and games. After this successful experience, in 2007, myself, Tamer Isaac, Hany Massoud, and Maged Fawzy founded Aspire, hoping that we can promote change through ‘experiential training’ to replace the conventional way that people usually learn through in corporations, and in the community.
What does Aspire do? How many clients do you have?
With over a decade of experience, Aspire Training Solutions provides training solutions with proven track records of success. Pioneers in our line of work, our distinct methodology heavily relies on simulating real-life settings and applying practical knowledge so that learnt concepts are firmly grasped over a short period of time. Because we use ‘experiential’ methods, we are able to deliver tangible leaps in performance which is hard to achieve using conventional techniques that provide only theoretical teaching. We use creativity and a bold approach to create programmes that work for corporates, youths, and the communities we live in.
What are your previous achievements?
In our community transformation unit, we understand that community development programmes are not one-hit-wonders that would be forgotten only one year after inception. We believe that capacity building is the core of community development and consistent progress. No matter how promising the content is, building the ‘capacity’ of community members to develop and implement viable solutions to their problems is the only way they can learn to manage the success of their future.
That is why Aspire places its focus on promoting the capacity of local community development organisations (CDOs), which are the main drivers for change within communities. At Aspire, we empower volunteers to become ‘Champions of Change’ within their communities.
Furthermore, we understand the utmost importance of education reform for development, that’s why our un-conventional training promotes better learning through building the capacity of local educators so that they then are able to develop student-centred learning methods.
And finally, we aim to enhance youth employability and entrepreneurial skills to guide the young minds to their fullest potential. By raising their self-awareness, taking them on a journey of character building, and creating Champions of Change, they can impact communities through their businesses.
For example, in Upper Egypt’s Assiut, in collaboration with NGOs, we conducted a training for micro-entrepreneurs and one of our trainees was a highly motivated, illiterate, middle-aged woman who wanted to change her life and start her own business. Through our unconventional training, she learned how to create a successful business model and purchase management even without having the ability to read and write.
Another training that we are really proud of was a violence against women training in collaboration with UN Women and Care International. The programme aimed to educate tuk-tuk drivers against harassment and it was conducted in Manshiyat Naser, Ezbet El Haggana, and Imbaba neighbourhoods. The programme trained community leaders from within these neighbourhoods, who became ambassadors of change and played a vital role in facing harassment in these areas. The programme was followed with an assessment of harassment levels in these areas before and after the training, and there was clear progress.
On the other hand, we have the corporate consultative unit, which aims to bring genuine transformation whether in thinking or behaviour, which stem from a desire to change. That is why when each of our corporate training programmes is tailored based on our analysis of the corporate needs. We have different programmes for either executives, managers, employees, human resources, and blue-collar workers.
And finally, we have the youth employability and empowerment unit, which provides market-relevant topics that allow youth to become interested and engaged. It allows these young adults to discover their ideal paths and assert themselves in following through. Today, we have successfully impacted the lives of more than 7,000 students around the country in collaboration with the American University in Cairo, US Agency for International Development (USAID), Ain Shams University, and Suez Canal University.
We also participated in the USAID’s Workforce Improvement and Skills Enhancement (WISE) project, aiming to improve technical secondary education to meet the needs of the job market, we at Aspire conducting training in more than 60 technical secondary schools all over Egypt.
Through over a decade of work, what was the major problem that Egyptian youth usually face?
We conducted research before we created our eight-day training programme to prepare youth for market needs. We wanted to create a different programme, we wanted to pinpoint what the youth needs. Through our research, we identified five main problems, which we tackled in every session and training that we had.
These problems aren’t directly related to the job market. The first problem is the lack of a clear goal and the absence of hope in the future; that was a problem that was present in 92-93% of all the youth that we interviewed. The second problem was the absence of a role model, as they are either very successful role models, who they can’t relate to, or the younger ones, who they don’t see as a role model; there was a missing link.
The third problem was family disintegration. I don’t mean only families where the parents are separated, or divorced, but when they are there but they don’t play their role, where there is no real relationship between them and their children.
The fourth problem is shallow relationships, and it is a widespread problem, as most of the relationships between people are very shallow and superficial. They are lacking genuine and deep feelings. And finally, most of the youth’s motivation to work was catalysed by fear rather than love; fear of not having money, fear of being irrelevant in society, fear of disappointing their parents. They aren’t motivated by doing what they love, consequently, they don’t have passion.
What about corporations, what were the main problems they needed to tackle?
What we discovered about every company or corporation is that they hire the best people. However, those employees lack the chemistry between them as a team. It’s like Real Madrid’s dream team in 2005, where it was an all-star team; every individual is very talented, but they couldn’t achieve anything together as a team.
One of the main targets of our corporate training is to turn a group of people working together into an efficient team. Through our team dynamics simulations, we create a business-like an environment with tasks to be accomplished and teams to deliver, allowing trainees to interact. Afterwards, we analyse how the team members acted together, what their communication problems were, and how these interactions could be improved in their day-to-day work.
How can we move forward and resolve the knowledge gap the Egyptian private sector always suffers from in finding talent?
Firstly, we must understand that it’s hard to find out your real talents without going through an assessment so you can understand your skills and what you want to be. Without that, I don’t believe that anyone who didn’t go through such assessment can be in the job market. Maybe they can find a job, but it wouldn’t be a job where they will be striving to become productive.
There is something called an engagement survey to measure how involved your employees feel at work. Engagement is proportional to productivity; the more engaged someone is, the more productive they will be. That’s why I encourage every young person, even school students and not only university students, to start exploring themselves, what their skills are, and what they want.
I believe that if enough funding went into programmes aiming to find and develop talents, it would have a great impact on Egypt.
Do you have agreements with the private sector to train qualified personnel that they can hire in the future?
Plenty of companies now understand that to find distinguished employees, they will spend plenty of money, so they started to participate in training 40-50 university graduates, and they will hire the five most talented of these students.
We did that with Vodafone, Orange, and plenty of other companies in the pharmaceuticals, industrial, banking, and information and technology sectors.
What about the public sector? Any plans to train public sector employees?
Currently, we have approached ministries which are interested in improving leadership skills, and many of them welcomed the idea, and we believe that there will be very good relations in the future.