Alumni Success Story

Developing an Entrepreneurial Spirit through Virtual Exchange


During IREX's Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge, Omar Daoud served as his bi-national team's researcher, helping lead the team as they collaborated on a sustainable business project to address a critical health need in Jordan. Omar gained cross-cultural communication skills and a more entrepreneurial spirit, with hopes of bringing the concept to life as a real business someday.

Entrepreneurial thinking opens opportunities for employment in traditional and emerging markets and is a particularly important need as the United States, Jordan, and Iraq face an increase in unemployment. According to the World Bank, unemployment rates have increased to 23% in Jordan during the second quarter of 2020. High unemployment, along with strong competition for positions in popular markets, means that entrepreneurship offers a window of opportunity for youth. The Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge is giving youth, such as Omar Daoud, the opportunity to develop this entrepreneurial mindset, equipping them for the workforce in Jordan.

Omar was a member of the self-titled team “JoSeagulls,” a binational group of students from Al Balqa Applied University in Jordan and Beaufort Community College in North Carolina during the Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge (GSSC), a virtual exchange program implemented by IREX. GSSC connects university students in Jordan and Iraq with community college students in the United States to design sustainable business solutions for real world challenges. Students develop 21st century skills through virtual exchange in an environment that models the modern workplace.

During the spring 2020 Cohort II of the challenge, Ahmad Al Saaideh, the team’s Jordan-based director and Omar, the team’s researcher, along with their US-based partner directors Liz O’Malia and Toni Byrum, led their JoSeagulls to the finalist round at the live Virtual Business Expo where they placed second in the competition. Their team was provided a small grant to further develop their concept through the Stevens Initiative Small Alumni Grant. This team was co-facilitated by educators in each country, including Leena Irshad from Al Balqa Applied University in Jordan and Cynthia King from Beaufort County Community College.

Omar believes the best way to develop world-changing innovations begins with focusing on the human experience and following the innovative approach of design thinking, which was encouraged throughout the challenge. He seeks to further apply the skills he gained, such as adaptability, critical thinking, and creative problem solving, in the future as a young entrepreneur. ”Participation in the program as a researcher allowed me to experience information-gathering, and gain knowledge about new topics and subjects,” Omar said. “This will have a major impact in my future career and in further developing my team’s business concept.”

"Our solution is going to have a huge impact on societies by saving lives, our environment, and people's health. This program made me think in a more sustainable way even in my day-to-day life."

Omar Daoud, Alumnus, IREX's Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge

While the team was in the middle of the 10-week challenge during the spring 2020 cohort, the world was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the lockdowns and the need to pivot to virtual meetings, the team members embraced the challenges and continued their workplan, investing in research to further develop their business concept. Their sustainable solution, the Simple, Effective, and Affordable Gas Detection System (SEA), will help residential and commercial property owners monitor gas levels to reduce the number of deaths due to gas leakages, a serious challenge in Jordan. The device automatically responds to high levels of toxic gases by closing the leakage source, allowing natural ventilation, and then transmitting a series of alerts, notifying the owner of gas leakage. The team is currently turning their business concept into reality by building a prototype of the gas detection system, an effort supported by their alumni small grant.

Omar’s experience with Global Solutions also equipped him with cross-cultural collaboration skills, a need for today’s young entrepreneurs. ”Participating in the virtual exchange program during the start of the pandemic was an added value for me,” Omar said. “I invested my time in a new experience, gained skills, and most of all, built new friendships with our partners from Beaufort Community College.” Omar and other members of his team still remain connected with their US team members even though the challenge has concluded.

Omar, now equipped with an entrepreneurial mindset, is dreaming big and hopes his team’s sustainable business concept SEA will one day become a real business in Jordan and a model used by technology companies as a financially sustainable option to protect people and the environment.

Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge is implemented by IREX and is supported by the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (JCSVEI). JCSVEI is a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program administered by the Aspen Institute.

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