M2GATE: Connecting MENA and Michigan Students through Social Entrepreneurship
William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan
M2GATE (MENA-Michigan Initiative for Global Action Through Entrepreneurship) is a project-based, virtual-exchange program that teams students in Michigan with peers in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region to identify pressing social challenges and create and present entrepreneurial solutions.
This Stevens Initiative supported program connects hundreds of undergraduate students in Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Michigan (U.S.) to work on cross-cultural, virtual teams to develop business ideas that create social change.
Among them are twins Abdalrahim and Joma Braika who live in Benghazi.
Originally from Palestine, the brothers came to Libya seeking better educational opportunities. Throughout their schooling, the ambitious pair ran their own clothing delivery service. When they joined the M2GATE program, they expanded their entrepreneurial outlook to ventures “which have a social effect on our society,” says Joma.
Their team, “The Eagles,” decided to focus its project on education in Libya – specifically, the lack of technology in learning. For the Braika brothers, the interest was personal: The prolonged Libyan civil war significantly damaged the country’s educational infrastructure. The M2GATE program was the brothers’ first exposure to educational technology. “It was really very amazing,” says Abdo.
Over the eight-week program, with the guidance of the M2GATE online curriculum and their local mentor, team Eagles designed an app to facilitate learning technology in Libyan classrooms. Their ultimate goal is to make Libyan youth more employable.
“Joma and Abdalrahim Braika showed a very great commitment,” says Eagles’ mentor Younes Nagem of Benghazi Youth for Technology and Entrepreneurship (BYTE). “The M2GATE program helped them a lot by providing skills and tools they can use in their initiatives.”
“This program has changed my life: I am now able to make a project from scratch, and I am more open than ever to collaborate with people who are different than me. The M2GATE Program is a wonderful experience for any young social entrepreneur trying to make a positive impact in their country.”
Tunisian participant in M2GATE
M2GATE not only provided the brothers a vision, but as Nagem notes, it also built their expertise and confidence. Abdo also credits the program with his improved teamwork and presentation abilities. And Joma cites new leadership abilities – such as a growth mindset and assuming the best of others’ intentions.
The Braika brothers worked on a team with Kevin Bhattacharyya, a University of Michigan student. Joma says, “From the start, we were very interested to know more about American culture. And we found the same thing from Kevin…we are friends now and we still communicate.”
Said Bhattacharyya: “It was truly a pleasure getting to know Abdo and Joma. I hope everyone else [in M2GATE] learned as much as I did and had as much fun as I did.”
Reflecting on his experience working across cultures, Joma echoes many M2GATE participants: “The differences between cultures are not a problem; we can use them to make progress on finding solutions. I think the difference between cultures has helped us.”
Having completed the program, Joma and Abdo want to pay forward the benefits of their experience by opening a school that enables learning with technology – the first of its kind in Libya. Through the program, Joma says, “we have been encouraged to make our dream come true.”
For Joma and Abdo Braika, virtual exchange has created cross-cultural friendships, built workplace skills, and even propelled them in a new career direction. These are just a few of the impacts the M2GATE program is having in MENA and Michigan, where new relationships and new skills are leading to empower social action.