#RaiseYourHand: Khalaf Ben Abdallah from Al Montada

#RaiseYourHand: Khalaf Ben Abdallah from Al Montada

The Soukie Speaks’ #RaiseYourHand series celebrates young people in the MENA region who are actively and passionately promoting social, economic and cultural inclusion in their communities. This week, Khalaf Ben Abdallah from Tunisia, tells me how his organization, Al Montada, is helping re-shape higher education in Tunisia.

1) Tell me a little about yourself, your family, your educational background and professional experience.

I am a 20 year-old medical student and I have over four years of experience in Tunisian and international civil society. I am very passionate about education, youth inclusion and social entrepreneurship and I have successfully co-founded various social startup projects in Tunis, and its internal khalaf-ben-abdallah-head-shotregions, which have allowed more than 200 high school students to acquire critical thinking and entrepreneurial skills. Not only did these project focus on empowering students by helping them acquire important life skills, they also focused on social problems, such as nepotism and elitism and ways to overcome them.

In addition to my work with Al Montada, which I will talk about later, I have also succeeded in reserving a spot in the Tunisian parliament as a civil society representative in the Committee of Youth, Culture, Education and Scientific Research to lobby for new policies in the new reform project and I am currently working on establishing a Policy Incubation Lab in Tunisian universities to make policy making more inclusive, visionary and data-driven. I was also recently selected among the top 20 Ashoka Changemakers in the MENA, Europe and Turkey and had the great pleasure to be a part of the Tunisian Delegation that met with Helen Clark, the UNDP Administrator, to discuss how to promote socio-economic inclusion and the implementation of SDGs in Tunisia.

2) When did you become socially active and what is the name of your organization?

At the age of 15, I was one of the many young Tunisians who took to the streets of El Kasbah asking for a new constitution. During the unrest of the Arab Spring, I would lay in my bed and think about other ways that I could change my country. Despite the the threats of indiscriminate tear gas, police repression and violence, I sat in solidarity with many others under a breezy tent in February 2011 to defend Tunisians’ rights to justice, inclusion and a better future.  

The Tunisian civil rights movement was one my biggest moments of growth, because it made me realize the power of unity to overcome corruption and injustice. It also taught me the steep price of exclusion and disconnection. From that experience, I realized that we, as a country, needed to invest more in youth and follow an inclusive strategy to achieve prosperity. This decision led me to join forces with other passionate Tunisians in the Al Montada organization, which aims to empower a generation of youth by rethinking higher education in Tunisia.


Currently, I am a Project Manager and Partnerships Coordinator at Al Montada, which means forum in Arabic. I lead the Forum Project, which aims to increase students’ inclusion in the reform process by bringing together different stakeholders in our society, including students, professors, deputies from the parliament, university presidents, employers and civil society representatives, so we can achieve the objective of quality education together. Moreover, through Al Montada, I also contribute to driving research about the Tunisian higher education system with a special focus on the topics of academic curriculum, governance and administrative management.

3) What is unique about your organization?

Our organization is working on rethinking higher education in Tunisia by fostering, structuring and developing the discussion about reforms and we are using entrepreneurial thinking to make our organization as effective and agile as possible. The Al Montada approach is a three pronged approach based on:

  1. Research: to promote empathy and make informed and comprehensive contributions to the field of higher education.
  2. Discussion: to bring together different stakeholders and make the reform process more inclusive and data driven.
  3. Advocacy: to train advocates to lobby for education reforms, tangible projects and policies.

4) What are your organization’s short-term/long-term goals?

Not only do we aim to be an active communication platform for youth and passionate education advocates in Tunisia, we also aim to be an “engine” that powers the critical  discussions needed to realize the visionary concept of Tunisian higher education that our youth hope to see in the future.


5) What has your organization achieved so far?

So far, we have followed the lean startup method of “build, test and learn” and we’re working at a very fast pace. In less than one year we have

  • Directly impacted 1125 youth throughout Tunisia.
  • Conducted a national survey on the youth’s vision of education in Tunisia
  • Launched tone forum bringing together different stakeholders to discuss education reform.
  • Organized Cafe Talks bringing youth from different backgrounds together to discuss problems and brainstorm solutions.

Now, we’re developing a policy incubation program for youth with policy ideas. This program aims to stop the stagnation of this movement and to make legislation in higher education more visionary and data-driven. Ultimately, we believe that people who trust themselves and share their ideas become better citizens and more active partners in social development.al-montada-logo

6) How can people learn more about your activities? 

We invite everyone to visit our website and follow our Facebook page to keep up with our
latest updates!

Like what you see? Join the Soukie Speaks email list and follow my TwitterInstagram, Facebook accounts, so we can enlighten, support and empower the Arab leaders and entrepreneurs of the future together. 


#RaiseYourHand: Reem Hantoush from Masaari

#RaiseYourHand: Reem Hantoush from Masaari

The Soukie Speaks’ #RaiseYourHand series celebrates young people in the MENA region who are actively and passionately promoting social, economic and cultural inclusion in their communities. This week, Reem Hantoush, from the UAE, shares how she, and her co-founders, are promoting educational-job market alignment in the UAE with the Masaari initiative.

Full disclosure: Reem and I are both members of a wonderful community initiative called E7 -Daughters of the UAE, which aims to inspire, train and connect young women in the UAE to create initiatives that benefit their communities. You can read more about the program and my experience as a member of the pilot class here!

1) What is the Masaari initiative and who is your target audience?

The Masaari initiative offers job shadowing opportunities for high school students in the UAE, where they can rotate in different companies and workplaces. So, they can discover what their passions and interests are at an early age and, eventually, what they want to major in at university.

2) Why did you choose the name Masaari?

In Arabic, Masaari means my path and the reason we chose this name is because we wanted to encourage students to choose their own path, instead of having somebody else choose it for them. We considered other names like Discover or Your Passion, but we felt that Masaari was more appropriate, because it really emphasized the message that this is your life, you need to choose what you need to be and you shouldn’t let anyone do it for you.

3) How many team members do you have and what are your educational backgrounds?

There are three of us in the Masaari team and we come from diverse educational backgrounds, but we are all passionate about education! Here’s a little more about us:



Reem Hantoush

As you already know, my name is Reem and I am an architect and urban designer by
profession and I currently work in the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council. I am passionate about education and I want to transform the local educational system by promoting creative and independent thinking, instead of rote learning.



Gahwar Ghazanfar

Gawhar is a third-year student at the University of Paris Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi and she is studying Economics and Management. Gawhar loves to learn and she is a determined to use her passion for learning to advocate for the right of education for all.




Mariam Bader

Mariam is an educator and therapist, who recently graduated from the Higher Colleges of Technology and is currently working at the New England Center for Children in Abu Dhabi. As a young and dynamic teacher, Mariam is looking forward to using her passion to develop and transform the educational system in the UAE.

4) How does the Masaari initiative work?

The whole aim of the Masaari initiative is to give young students the opportunity to job shadow. However, the whole program can be divided into 5 different stages.

Stage 1: The Career Exploration Workshop

The aim of this workshop is to help students better understand themselves and their interests. We recently conducted our first Career Exploration Workshop in November, where we invited high school students from Sharjah to come to the Sheraa Entrepreneurship Center to work with a career coach. We also hosted a panel discussion with different industry experts, where they talked about their career choices and how they ended up where they are today. It was really exciting for us to have the students listen to the different speakers, because it allowed them to hear about professional success from different perspectives.However, the ultimate objective of the panel was to tell students that it’s okay to not know which professional path they want to pursue, but to at least go out there and explore, which is what the Masaari initiative is giving them the opportunity to do.


Stage 2: Orientation Session

This will take place 1 week before the students start their job shadowing program. The aim of this session is to prepare students for the workplace and connect them with their mentors. During the session, we will distribute a job shadow handbook, which will be compiled by the Masaari team, for both mentors and students. The handbook will highlight various things including the difference between job shadowing and an internship, what mentors and students can expect from our program and some guidelines and tips to help students get the most out of their job shadowing experience. We will also give our mentors the opportunity to speak, so they can connect with their mentees before the program starts.

Stage 3: Job Shadow

Students who are selected for the Masaari initiative will be given the opportunity to job shadow in to 2-3 different companies for the duration of Masaari program.

Stage 4: Debriefing Session

Only students are invited to this session and it will be an informal meeting to hear how the students felt during the Masaari program and what they learned from their experience. The students will also do a short presentation on their experience, so the Masaari team can have documentation of their participation and the students can reflect and learn from their experience.

Stage 5: Graduation!

At the end of our pilot program in February 2017, we are going to host a Masaari Forum, or graduation ceremony, where we will be inviting the Ministry of Education, KHDA, teachers, mentors, parents and students who want to come. During this ceremony, we will give students and mentors an appreciation certificate and we will give students the chance to share their experiences with the audience and show their journey and how impactful it was. Then we will announce the opening of registration for the 2017 cycle of the Masaari program.

5) How many students will be participating in the Masaari pilot program?

Due to the small size of our team, and the fact that Mariam and I work full-time and Gawhar is a full-time student, we are starting with a small group of 7 students- both male and female- for our pilot year to see how everything goes. By next year, we aim to expand the team, so we can accept about 20 students to our program-insh’Allah.

6) When will the job shadowing for your pilot program begin and will you follow the same timeline for the 2017 cycle?

This year we are launching our program in the winter break from December 18-29. After the orientation session, each student will have two companies to rotate in, but next year it will be three companies. In 2017, we will launch the second edition of the Masaari program in the summer and we aim to have a larger group of students job shadowing for a longer period of time.

7) What was the biggest challenge that you faced as a team while you were developing the Masaari initiative?

When we started implementing our program, we realized that we had to change our strategy, which was a difficult decision to make. Initially, we planned to head to the Ministry of Education (MoE) to get their support and approval to go into the schools and share the Masaari mission. While the MoE was very happy with our initiative and efforts, we spent about 3 months trying to communicate with them to get the required approval. Since we were eager to start implementing our pilot program as soon as possible, we decided to change our strategy by inviting students from different schools to register for our program online. That was our biggest challenge and from it we learned that we have to be very flexible about our plans and timelines. We learned that when you set a plan you have to have plan A, Plan B and Plan C just in case, because you never know what will happen, especially when you are collaborating with big institutions in the public and private sector.

8) Do you have any advice for other young Emiratis and  residents in the UAE for how they can contribute to the growth and the well-being of the UAE community?

I think the most important thing is that you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and get active, because comfort is your worst enemy. You have to be ready to be pro-active and explore, so you can contribute to your community and yourself as an individual.

9) How can members of the wider UAE community support the Masaari initiative?


At the moment, we are looking for companies who are willing to host Masaari job shadowers. We are trying to find contacts within different organizations, so we can meet with them and get them excited about our initiative!

a) How can companies support the Masaari initiative?

If you are a company who is interested in working with the Masaari initiative, please send the follow information to info@masaari.ae:

  • Email Subject : Interested in Joining Masaari Job Shadow Database- [Company Name]
  • Contact details for point of contact
  • Company’s industry

b) How can students join the next Masaari cycle?

Students of all nationalities can apply to the 2017 cycle by sending the following information to info@masaari.ae

  • Email Subject : Interested in Joining Masaari Student Database
  • First name and last name
  • Contact number
  • Field of interest
  • Suggest companies that they would like to work in [optional]

 10) Is the Masaari project only based in Dubai?

While the students in our pilot are from both Sharjah and Dubai, in terms of work placement, they can work in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, if they provide their own transportation and accommodation. For example, we have some students who are going to be job shadowing in TwoFour54, because they have relatives in Abu Dhabi. So, they will be staying with their family for a week and providing their own transportation while they are job shadowing in Abu Dhabi.

11) How can readers learn more about you and your future activities?masaari-logo-design_4-02

We invite anybody who would like to keep up with our updates to visit our website and
follow our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts!

Like what you see? Join the Soukie Speaks email list and follow my TwitterInstagram, Facebook accounts, so we can enlighten, support and empower the Arab leaders and entrepreneurs of the future together.