Why I’m building a free learning app for MENA youth
The Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) needs its education empire. It also needs its social network and its Mark Zuckerberg. The MENA region needs to exercise as much influence as the influence it receives. It needs to start leading again, too. Just like what we used to do through innovation, knowledge development and cultural deployment centuries ago. I like to think it was not that long ago.
Instead of waiting for some miracle to happen, I am building a free web-based application, a learning content sharing service for young people in the region. I allow myself to dream big. I aspire to go worldwide — breaching borders and designing the future of learning engagement. This is not pretention, it is ambition.
I believe learning for all transforms societies systemically. I believe everyone deserves a chance to learn. I believe in a quality education, accessible to all. I believe individual engagement in learning creates social cohesion. I believe it can and must be done. It must be achieved if our societies are to thrive through innovation, economic redistribution and social cohesion.
We owe it to our young people. The very ones who found themselves with invaluable talent and capabilities but without even a window of opportunity, let alone a door. And we also owe it to the ones who found themselves contemplating their futures without hope.
How do we get this new paradigm off the ground?
Change does not start through revolutions in the streets. It starts in people’s minds. Modernity does not come about by welcoming fast-food chains into a country. It happens by embracing new habits of thoughts. Advancement does not happen by investing in fancy buildings. It is reaped through nurturing the talent and potential.
We need to leave a certain number of thinking patterns, not people, behind. We should accept the idea of failure, which is only but a symptom of success. Pure perfection does not exist. Perfection is a state of moving forward constantly. We need to let go of autocratic selfishness, which has silently but dangerously killed our people. We need to communicate openly and throw the sometimes needless culture of secrecy away.
Today MENA is being transformed through entrepreneurship. On that note, I believe any venture in the region should look beyond solving people problems and to disrupt the status quo. Ventures should empower people through free choices as well as exposure to ideas, realities and landscapes.
It is this philosophy that underpins SEJAAL, an app that supports people aged 18-30 to share learning content with their followers from existing platforms that we select for relevance and quality. Our members will have the ability to post infographics, videos, articles, e-learning courses, podcasts and other multimedia content on SEJAAL. They will have the ability to save that learning content on personalised boards as well as select themes that interest them because we believe in empowering people.
They will be able to share their thoughts and ask questions of the wider community of learners. That is how social learning takes place. Our editorial line will curate content on personal and professional development as well as the humanities, to regenerate societies with new energy and aspiration. We are building a prototype to submit to students in the region so they can create human-centred design solutions for and by people. We expect to have a beta version by June 2017.
I find it important to emphasise that modernity does not mean rejecting our culinary, musical, historical, folkloric or clothing traditions. It means making the decisions that serve the whole community. This can happen by understanding the strengths of respective national history as well as crafting an inclusive vision that covers ethnic differences, languages and faith.
The good news in all of this: We do not necessarily need money. We need attitude, mindset and will. These are free. They do not cost anything. Their currency is love for the community.