Helen al Uzaizi, BizWorld

Nurturing the Next Generation of Business Talent

Through the young entrepreneurship programs it’s piloting in Jordan and the UAE, BizWorld is out to prove you’re never too young to learn about business.

By Dina Al-Wakeel

BizWorld, the San Francisco-based non-profit which provides entrepreneurship programs for children, recently branched out to Jordan and the UAE, where it will be teaching budding business tycoons aged between seven to 15 fun-packed courses in critical-thinking, leadership, and teamwork.

Jordanian businesswoman Helen al Uzaizi is spearheading BizWorld’s arrival in the region, and is now the CEO of its operations in the UAE. She believes that leadership and critical thinking skills would help Arab children think outside the box and overcome social constraints.

Why did you decide to launch your pilot project in Jordan?

To date, BizWorld programs are being implemented in schools across 100 countries, and I knew that it had great potential in the Middle East, where it would be a truly novel approach to nurturing kids’ entrepreneurial spirit and developing their leadership skills. Based on the international BizWorld.org program, I established BizWorld UAE, under the Future Entrepreneurs DMCC holding company as the first step to bringing entrepreneurship education to the region. We have fully Arabized the program to suit the region’s needs.

Naturally, being Jordanian, it was important to me that I am able to benefit my country in any way possible. Strategically, the BizWorld program aligns with Jordan’s efforts to further develop the education system and promote entrepreneurship to its young and ambitious youth.

Improving education and promoting entrepreneurship are the highest priorities for governments across the entire Middle East region and Jordan in particular, as these are the most effective solutions to the current challenges the country is facing.

It is also worth mentioning that BizWorld programs will be implemented at Palestinian and Syrian refugee camps to give children there the skills they need in the future.

How important is it to start teaching students about the meaning of entrepreneurship and its skills at an early age?

Currently, entrepreneurship is being taught to students at the high school and university levels, however, at such a late stage, we can’t expect the entrepreneurial spirit to realistically take root.

Teaching students about entrepreneurship impacts them in so many ways, which is why I am extremely passionate about this initiative. Not only is the program helping them learn the basics of starting and running a business, it is also helping them develop critical thinking skills and build their self-confidence. The program is also designed for kids to increase their resilience, become more empathetic, and develop a sense of optimism. Another major aspect that we focus on is teaching students the importance of giving back to their community.

Our main goal is to instill the entrepreneurial spirit in these students. We want them to know that life is not about just getting a job, they have options and entrepreneurship is one of them. We also want them to know that they are never too young to be an entrepreneur and they can even start today. Finally, and just as important, entrepreneurship and leadership are already within these children, what we are doing is bringing it out to help them shine.

What are the most important skills that you teach these students and what schools in Jordan is the curriculum taught?

The curriculum is all based on the principles of project-based learning. Some of the key areas that the curriculum covers are basic business vocabulary, working in groups to develop teamwork skills, creating marketing campaigns, selling products to generate revenue, and calculating finances. We also cover how to present to VCs (or how to raise money from family and friends) and sell stock in exchange for initial funding, how to apply for a bank loan, and how to actually incorporate the business.

We will also be rolling out a coding module for the students in the near future. As for the schools, we will be launching webinars for educators and trainers as well as a downloadable curriculum.

So far in Jordan, our pilot program was successfully implemented as part of the IB PYP program at the Bishop School for Boys (Al Mutran) and has been supported by Her Excellency Haifa Najjar with plans to expand to more schools the coming year. A few other organizations are implementing the program over the next quarter in Jordan.

We have also conducted another pilot program in the UAE and will be rolling it out to the public at the end of the year. Our future plan is to expand the program across the entire Middle East region.

You come from a corporate background yourself, having worked for the telecommunications and automotive sectors among others, do you think fresh graduates should try out the corporate world before pursuing their own ventures?

To begin with, I didn’t really know that I had any other option than to find a job. We follow in the footsteps of the generations before us and that’s what we grow up to know. You finish university and you are lucky if you get yourself a job at an established company.

Having said that, I do believe that gaining the experience by working at an established organization is extremely valuable. It can teach you a lot about how institutions operate in addition to developing crucial business and interpersonal skills. It is good to be part of a system and understand how a good business operates. So if the opportunity is there for fresh graduates, I would advise them to take it. Being in that institutional atmosphere will help them find out a lot about themselves and give them the confidence to take a risk of starting their own business after gaining a few years of experience.

However, given the unemployment challenges facing the region, finding a job in the private or public sector for fresh graduates isn’t always guaranteed. That is why students who have been educated at a young age and open to the idea that entrepreneurship is a viable option won’t feel so helpless if they are unable to find a job when they graduate. They will be empowered to take the initiative and start their own business, without relying on traditional means of employment.

Do you think Jordan is a promising market for startups?

Jordan’s stability, its young and well-educated population combined with a growing information technology sector are all creating the right kind of environment for startups to thrive. It also helps that the entrepreneurship ecosystem as a whole is steadily developing and becoming more sophisticated.

I believe with more investment in human capital development, primarily education and nurturing of the entrepreneurial spirit, in addition to progressive legal frameworks that protect entrepreneurs, Jordan is well on its way to becoming a competitive startup destination in the region.