Running an NGO at 16: Meet the Citizens of the World Society’s Egyptian President
It was a life-changing experience in Nigeria that inspired young Mohamed Abdelkhalek to foster social change. As he takes part at the Spark Entrepreneurship camp, the young changemaker narrates the inception of Citizens of the World Society.
From charity booths, to football tournaments in orphanages, there is a student organisation that has been changing lives in Egypt: the Citizens of the World Society (COWS). But it’s not just the lives of the underprivileged that they change; the organisation is a fundamental game-changer for high school students as well.
“Some people are in a bubble and don’t know what’s happening around them in their own country – so, we go to villages in Fayoum, where children do not even have clothes, and once they see that, once they interact with them and help, it becomes a habit,” says Mohamed Abdelkhalek, the 16-year-old student who co-founded the non-profit entity in Egypt.
Having started at the Hayah International Academy, located in New Cairo, the non-profit organization branched out of its sister organisation in Nigeria, where Abdelkhalek lives. “I joined COWS in Nigeria, at a time when there were a lot of problems in the economy,” he tells CairoScene, as he participated in the Spark Entrepreneurship camp in Egypt’s coastal town of El Gouna.
“Nigeria was going through a big crisis because oil prices had gone down and the currency was cut in half. I was living in the country's finantial capital, Lagos, and an orphanage located about four hours away came to ask for help because they were out of resources,” he recalls. The orphanage, which was home to 40 children, and adults with disabilities, did not have food or clothes for its residents. “A lot of them needed diapers, even if they were 40. They only had one toilet – which didn’t work – and two rooms. So, we went and organised a fundraising to bring them food – we created a fishpond for them to swim, and a land to cultivate crops,” he says.
But going through the transformative experience of extending a helping hand triggered Abdelkhalek’s entrepreneurial spirit, and he decided to establish a sister organisation in Egypt as well. “When I saw how happy they were, it really touched me. So, when I came to Egypt, I spoke to the owner in order to create the Egyptian branch at the Hayah International Academy,” he explains. The organisation, which kicked off with 14 members and grew to 70, offers students from grades 9 to 12 the chance to volunteer or provide community service for different causes, which they can choose themselves.
Abdelkahlek also led the organisation’s expansion in Africa, facilitating the opening of COWS Morocco as well. “I didn’t just want to talk about issues, I wanted to do something about it,” he says, as he narrates the funds raised by the organisation to help tackle war in Syria, by raising awareness amongst students, and sending funds through UNICEF.
But this is just the beginning for Abdelkhalek, as he participates in Spark Ventures’ Summer Camp, the social entrepreneur sets out to create other social businesses to trigger social change in a sustainable way. The camp, which started last weekend in the Red Sea town of El Gouna, gathered 34 of Egypt’s most promising graduates, students, and future entrepreneurs, for an immersive week of training on business and entrepreneurship. “I came here to learn about social business, because everything I learned so far was self-taught,” he says.
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