M²GATE: the MENA-Michigan Initiative for Global Action Through Entrepreneurship is a a virtual exchange program between the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and the United States. Students are put in small teams to come up with an innovative solution to a problem faced by the region.
We, The Alters, were part of the first cohort of M²GATE. Each of us came to the program through different means and with very different backgrounds, but we were united in our desire to make a difference.
“I’m Isha Kenkare, a student at the University of Michigan. I was intrigued by an email notification of a virtual exchange program between the MENA region and the United States. As a business student and a previous resident of the MENA region for eight years, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to explore my interests in social entrepreneurship and international relations and to meet new people and explore other cultures.”
“For me, Fatimzahra El Mourabit of Cadi Ayyad University in Morocco, M²GATE was a great opportunity to participate in an international exchange program. I still remember finding it by chance while I was looking for an article on social media. I was intrigued because the program was extremely social impact-oriented. I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to take entrepreneurship to a different level, especially because I have already worked on the entrepreneurial process at my university. As a human resource management student, I acknowledge the value, the abilities, and the complexity of people. That’s why, through this program, I wanted to address a critical social issue in a society where citizens are considered to be precious resources and to give them the opportunity to take responsibility and be rewarded.”
“I, Chaima Jahouri, am also a student at Cadi Ayyad University. I am passionate about working on social issues and peace-building, especially in the MENA region. M²GATE was one of the greatest opportunities I had ever seen. I was so excited I applied the same day. It is the perfect opportunity to make a difference, to join a varied network from the MENA region and the US, and to work in a multicultural environment to build a social entrepreneurship project and make an impact.”
At our first meeting, we teammates discovered our shared passion for education and decided to focus on it as our issue to address through the program. While in the United States, teachers try to tailor instruction to each child, taking into account their needs and interests, we identified that this was not always the case in the MENA region. Therefore, we wanted to create a program where we taught children soft skills ― from financial literacy to public speaking to healthy living ― to create individuals who will be competitive in the workplace, regardless of what career they decide to pursue.
Though there were many successes as we progressed through the program, we also experienced many challenges. For each of us, this shaped our experience in the program and taught us skills that will help us in our academics and our future careers.
Isha: “I was able to experience the Moroccan culture through my teammates, make four new friends, and understand their interests, beliefs, and dreams. Though there were many challenges that come with long distance, such as time differences, busy schedules, and technological difficulties, we were able to work through it. It was a great experience to learn how to navigate through cultural differences and come together as a team to create a product. This program also gave me the platform to practice the business acumen learnt from the classroom and apply it to something tangible. I was able to go through the entrepreneurial process, working on each aspect of the product, from the revenue streams to the customer base to the resources we would need to utilize. I now understand how to create a business, especially one with a social impact focus, something I hope to explore more in the future.”
“Fatimzahra: “I found working in a completely new field to be the key benefit. Bringing joy, fulfilment and learning together is the ultimate recipe for success. I’ve learned how to adapt to new critical situations and overcome temporary challenges while working with my amazing teammates. I’ve also learnt how to control and design the way I think, and how to use available data to identify the real problem efficiently and effectively, so that I could come up with a solution. Often, I could not feel big cultural differences between me and my American teammates, as we could communicate fluently by listening to and cheering on each other.”
Chaima: “The other members of the Alters and I became close friends. We met or chatted weekly and sometimes even daily. If you would ask me what motivated us to do the great work that we did and led us to winning, it would be because we respected the deadlines and made our teammates into friends, despite the geographical distance and time difference. There were many challenges along the way as my teammates mentioned. Though this may have been a hurdle to us for few hours or a few days, thanks to our unity and patience we were able to overcome it.”
We thank the M²GATE program for giving us this platform to take our academic lessons and implement them into reality. We learned that even though some of us live in Morocco and others in the United States, we can still work together to make a difference despite our differences and diverse backgrounds. M²GATE united us under one roof.
Editor’s note: The Alters were the winning team in Cohort 1 of the M²GATE program.
The Stevens Initiative is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.