MEPI Alumni Profiles
MEPI collects profiles from its alumni from all over the region. Please read below to meet our alumni. If you would like to submit your profile, please first register with the MEPI Alumni Network. MEPI alumni who would like to be featured on this page can contact the MEPI Alumni Coordinator.
Asma Masoud Alkharusi
In 2006, Asma Masoud Alkharusi started her own tourism business in Oman as an Inbound Tour Operator. However, because she had no prior knowledge of strategies and visions nor had a business plan, she had difficulty introducing herself and promoting the new business in the Omani market.
Later that year, and during a Women’s in Business luncheon at the American Ambassador’s house, Asma was introduced to the Mini MBA program that was going to be held at the Chamber of Commerce by MEPI. She applied for and attended the two week course where she had a chance to meet many entrepreneurs who were going through the same business challenges she was enduring. According to her, “the course’s assignments and group work was very interesting and helpful. At the end of the course we had to stand up in front of the class and present our business as if we were pitching our companies to a room of 100 business executives.” The program instructor also commented on Asma’s experience, saying: “When Asma joined the class, all she would talk about was pricing. Now she has gained confidence and knows how to tackle problems." At the end of the Mini-MBA course, a group of participants decided to continue meet every month to brainstorm, and share problems and best practices.
With the confidence and knowledge she gained from the course, Asma started another business dealing in high quality Omani souvenirs. It was an opportunity she observed while working with tourists through her travel business. “I was taking guests to Muttrah and many were disappointed by the souvenirs. We were looking for something Omani and modern. Their disappointment kept ringing bells.”
The new company, Asma’s Collections, offer unique and modern souvenir and gift ideas including a spectacular line of furniture and home accessories decorated with motifs inspired by Omani jewelry and traditional clothing. Her items did not attract only tourists, but also local Omani customers. Asma is currently working on opening a store in Muscat and hopes to eventually expand her business to other Gulf States and even Europe and the United States.
When Yomna El-Sheridy needed to find a new business idea in 2000, she saw olives as a product with a huge market potential. Miss El-Sheridy founded Special Foods Industry International (SFII) in 2000. As the managing director, she has expanded the company to 80 employees and a turnover of over 20 million Egyptian Pounds. “To me an entrepreneur is someone who has vision and the courage to take risks in pursuing opportunities that no one else can see. It’s tough enough to take risks and explore opportunities so an entrepreneur has to take extra steps to realize their vision”, notes Yomna, who participated in the 2003 MEPI MEET US program.
Today, SFII is the leading Egyptian manufacturer and exporter of olives, olive oil, and pickles in bulk and retail packing. It prepares all varieties of green and black olives using natural fermentation and Spanish style processes. The company also produces pepperoni and Macedonian green peppers, onions, lemons, artichokes, cucumbers and grape leaves. Its products are shipped to customers in the USA, Spain, Italy, Australia, Greece, Morocco, Armenia, France, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan, and Holland, mostly to large manufacturers or co-packers. The mission of the company is to place Egyptian olives in the world olive consumption markets by providing the quality that meets international standards for table olives.
SFII is not Yomna’s first entrepreneurial venture. She graduated from the University of Alexandria with a degree in pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences and later from the University of Iowa with a Masters in Pharmaceutical Socio-economics. She gained invaluable experience working for large multinational companies like Procter & Gamble and Bristol Myers. In 1993, she saw an opportunity to open up the Egyptian market for Gerber Baby Foods and started the Child Care Business Center to import, distribute and market Gerber Products. This was the beginning of her entrepreneurial career. Things progressed very well until 2000 when the Egyptian pound devalued and according to Yomna, “ruined the business”. After barely escaping bankruptcy, she decided she had to find a better opportunity – in exporting, rather than importing. She was seeking a product that Egypt had a good reputation of producing and could be inexpensively exported to Europe. She settled on olives, a product where she felt there was an opportunity for quality improvements. “I started trading in a field I knew nothing about. I had to learn a lot about how to do business in this industry.”
“Bank financing was then, and still is, my major problem”, Yomna stresses. In 2000, the banks were not prepared to lend so she started small and was creative in finding the money to finance the business. “I liquidated some personal assets and convinced buyers to give me advances for their orders.” At first, she basically acted as a “trader”, buying from olive producers and selling to customers. Not being able to afford a factory of her own, she rented a line from another factory and did the manufacturing under license from others. She started with a dozen full-time and part-time workers and managed her cash flow very carefully. During her second year in business, Yomna was able to develop new markets and to secure buyers in the US and Greece. In year three, she started participating in international food shows which led to a doubling of her sales.
After three years Yomna decided she needed her own factory so she could control the quality of the products she was selling. She then leveraged some land she already owned, took the profits she had earned, and invested in building a factory. Her state-of-the-art factory opened in 2005. “This was a challenging period for me and my business. I had to change the whole structure of what I was doing and become an off-shore company in the Free Zone. I bought machinery I knew nothing about and had to hire consultants who did know about these things.
What’s in the future? The keys to future growth lie in finding new international customers and securing additional financing, which are two areas of the company where Yomna assumes the lead role. She is currently negotiating with a Spanish company on a joint venture which will allow her to upgrade her factory as well as expand. This will be another milestone in the growth of SFII. Yomna concludes by saying: “My happiness comes from doing difficult things, and I want a share of the world market.”
Ahmed Derar Islim
Ahmed Derar Islim, an informatics engineer specializing in artificial intelligence, participated in MEPI’s Institute for Undergraduate Leaders at Georgetown University, Washington, DC during the summer of 2004. There, he successfully completed a challenging academic and leadership development program. Throughout the five-week course, “The United States of America in the 21st Century: Democracy, Pluralism and Debate,” he learned about democratic leadership and the diversity of U.S. civil society, values, culture and institutions through university-based academic sessions, leadership training, hands-on community service, educational travel, and cultural activities. Ahmed was an exemplary leader, and his classmates elected him “president” of the group. In fact, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell mentioned Ahmed by name at the 6th Annual State Department Iftar Dinner 2004 as an active and exemplary MEPI participant. Since the 2004 institute, Ahmed has participated in many conferences and events. He represented the Georgetown University Student Leaders group at the “Leadership and Civic Engagement” gathering in Tunisia in 2005 and Aleppo University undergraduate students at the National Conference for Scientific Research and Technological Development, Damascus University, in May 2006. Then, he spoke about the current status of and requirements for the development and management of human resources for scientific research. In addition, he was invited by the American Cultural Center in Damascus during International Education Week activities in November 2007 to share his personal experiences as a MEPI participant. Ahmed’s initiative and spirit have led him to organize and participate in many civic and cultural activities as well. For example, he shared with faculty members the idea of offering courses to people with disabilities to teach them English and basic computer programming languages. He also worked as an assistant manager and participant in the International Summer School of Islamic Culture and Architecture at the University of Aleppo and invited by the chancellor of there to lecture on “Building the Student's Personality” in the Education Adaptation Course for academic professors. Ahmed is a 2007 graduate from the University of Aleppo, who is currently teaching at the University of Al-Mamoun for Science and Technology. His leadership is recognized by the University faculty and his peers. He is ambitious, cares deeply for his family and friends, strives for academic excellence, and has a keen awareness of the challenges that face his country. His deep belief in the importance of enhancing the intellectual and cultural relationships between Syria and United States led him to apply for the Fulbright foreign student program. His leadership skills and scientific potential, coupled with his support from Georgetown University, the American Cultural Center in Damascus, and the University of Aleppo, helped him earn this distinguished scholarship. This fall, Ahmed enrolls in Florida State University’s master's degree in financial mathematics and looks forward to networking with his MEPI friends.
Rawdah Abu Taha
Rawdah Abu Taha began her career as an English language teacher; however, her ambition and eagerness to develop her skills and develop her career made her one of the prominent women empowerment activists in Jordan. As an active member in Jordan Forum of Business and Professional Women (JFBPW), Rawdah was able to extend her skills and experience to many other women in the country. She is also a member in the National Committee for Socio Economy Forum and the Ministry of Labor developing labor legislation.
Rawdah participated in the MEPI MEET U.S. program in 2003 where she was able to advance her work on women’s empowerment in the workplace. Her MEPI experience equipped her to be a member of the Jordan Chamber of Commerce who is very active within the Private Sector committee. Rawdah is also a member in the Lions Club, International Toatmasters, and active in many other voluntary services for humanitarian, social, environmental, educational and economical associations in Jordan.
Rawdah is a prominent members in the MEPI Alumni Network and had led the success of Jordan’s chapter in many of its activities. Her initiative and dedication as a member of the MEPI Alumni Network Steering Committee in Jordan was always successful in creating a wonderful atmosphere in the team.
Sami Hourani is a 4th year medical student at the University of Jordan. He is an active citizen who participated in several conferences including the "Kolna El Urdun" conference in Jordan, the United Colors cultural program in the Czech Republic, and the Civic Engagement Conference in Tunis.
As a recipient of the United States State Department scholarship in 2004, Sami participated in the Student leaders Program and attended Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana for the six-week summer institute on American life and Leadership program. This year Sami represented Jordan for the first time in the Harvard World Model United Nations conference in Geneva, Switzerland as one of the 1,5000 delegates from roughly 160 universities around the world. He has also been active as a MEPI member since 2004 and was given the opportunity to help organize the United States Democracy Strategy - An American-Jordanian Dialogue Conference, where 42 young Americans and Jordanians came together for 3 days to focus on the United States democratization projects undertaken in Jordan, and to discuss innovative strategies to improve these initiatives.
This year Sami received a MEPI grant to organize the Jordanian Society, between East and West, Past and Future Conference, which was a successful three-day event in the summer of 2007 and under the patronage of His Royal Highness Prince Hassan Bin Talal and in cooperation with the King Abdullah II Fund for Development . The conference gathered young leaders from different cities and villages in Jordan to discuss pressing topics on the political and economical climate in Jordan, and social issues on abortion, homosexuality, and virginity. With the same enthusiasm, Sami heading the organizing committee is working on a follow-up conference (2008) related to the sociological and socio-psychological behavior of Jordanian citizens.
Atika Jebrou is a young Moroccan research professor and an active woman in multiple domains. Besides her position as a professor of philosophy and event coordinator at ‘Lycée Shawqi’ in Casablanca, she plays a leading role in USFP political party. Jebrou is involved in many social reform projects and tasks ranging from modernization of religious thinking to equality for women.
“Morocco, in its motion, needs a real and a complete harmony between women and men. Feminine leadership is a necessity. Women should not only reach the decision-making positions but also influence their environment”. Jebrou’s own words reveal a fervent defender of a total equality between men and women. Newspapers and conferences are her favorite outlets, where she has the opportunity to share her ideas with and influence change in her society.
Jebrou aims to take a big role in the reform process. Her participation in the training program “named ‘Partners in participation”, and organized by NDI and IRI and funded by MEPI that took place in Marrakech, April 2007, helped her get closer to her goal. She describes the program as a great opportunity to expand her knowledge and skills in political outreach and campaigning. The training targeted women political leaders in Morocco and focused on techniques and skills necessary to organize campaigns, work with the media, and establish a dialogue with voters.
Jebrou is now nominated for a parliament seat, and she is eager to pursue her work to establish equality for women. She believes that her work with MEPI continues to help her as it gives her an opportunity to connect with national and regional reformers. She describes MEPI as a great source of support for herself, as well as many other women, in personal and professional development.
Dalal Denley always wanted to pursue a career in social work and continue helping underprivileged people in developing countries. However, she was able to meet her goals of helping people develop and succeed by joining the recruitment and human resources field. Denley talks about her experience saying: “I never considered myself a corporate person and I never imagined myself working in the corporate world. However, and after graduating from Denison University, Ohio, I was hired as a Recruitment Consultant with Clarendon Parker – Bahrain where I worked closely with people and clients to match suitable candidates with suitable companies. I believe that I have succeeded at my job because what really motivated me was helping people in their journey of finding suitable jobs and launching successful professional careers. That is what kept me going everyday and motivated me perform my best.”
Denley was chosen to travel to the US on a MEPI program (The Young Ambassadors/Young Student-Leaders) where she increased her professional and cultural experience. She says: “It was definitely an eye-opener. I got the chance to view the various aspects of the US society and mingle with people belonging to different social backgrounds.”
Armed with enough knowledge to pursue her professional career, Denley pursued a degree in Women's Studies and graduated in 2006 with the intention of working closely with women and children in Bahrain. However, she discovered that social work is very limited in Bahrain and there aren’t many opportunities to establish a successful career as a social worker. Today, Denley works as a Recruitment Officer at Dubai World Trade Center, and although the job slightly differs from her original plan, she is still working with people to help them realize their dreams.
Lukman Arsalan participated in the MEPI Study of the United States Institutes for Student Leaders Program in 2004 at the University of Delaware. Having spent five weeks in the United State learning and grasping benefits of such opportunity, Lukman thought of conducting his own Leadership courses upon his return to Amman, Jordan among youth of common interest.
The United Nations University - International Leadership Institute - was the first university to host Mr. Arsalan's Leadership courses focused in Economics and Entrepreneurship. Following the success of this course, he applied for a grant by MEPI to conduct another Leadership course at another University. Mr. Arsalan has been influenced very positively from MEPI programs, and when asked on how this influence took place, he said: "Prior to MEPI program, I have never traveled outside of Jordan for 18 years. I participated in many activities in Jordan, however, I did not realize the potential of mixing different programs I took in Jordan in my own Leadership course. MEPI was truly an important milestone in my life. Ever since my participation three years ago, I got more opportunities to participate in similar programs on Leadership and Civic Engagement conferences in Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and Japan. Following such an international exposure, I realized that I cannot make a transformation in the Middle East only with my Computer Engineering degree; therefore, I decided to get higher education in Public Service."
Mr. Arsalan currently received a full scholarship from the Clinton School for Public Service/ University of Arkansas, and will be heading to the United States this summer to resume his studies in Master's in Public Service. He has also been invited by the University of Delaware to become a Leadership Mentor for the new MEPI 2007 students.