Virtual course culminates with final face-to-face session

Engaged Michigan

It was several months and many hours of internet and email conversations in the making but student finalists from across the world and several time zones finally met face-to-face to present their solutions to social challenges in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Faculty, students and community members gathered Nov. 14 in the Ross School of Business Colloquium for the final event of the William Davidson Institute’s M²GATE: the pitch competition that brought together more than 500 students across five Michigan universities, and their peers in Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.

The teams were challenged to come up with solutions to social challenges in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The finalist teams consisted of the “Alters,” a team from Morocco and Michigan that proposed an after-school program to improve the soft skills of students in the MENA region, “EcoMENA,” a team from Egypt and Michigan that proposed working with zabaleen (garbage collectors) in Cairo to help them turn recycled materials into jewelry and other marketable products, and “Kaizen,” a team from Tunisia and Michigan that proposed rewarding Tunisians for recycling to encourage the habit.

“It’s amazing to finally get to meet all my teammates in person,” said Fatima Ezzahra El Mourabit of team Alters. “We had a lot of time meeting virtually on Skype and on Bluejeans, and we did a lot and often, actually. Finally getting to meet each other is pretty beautiful.”

Team EcoMENA was named the winner by the panel of judges for their idea of working with zabaleen in Cairo to turn recycled materials into sellable products, reducing the amount of plastics and metal burned or dumped into landfills, and helping zabaleen earn extra income.

Team EcoMENA poses in front of the projector screen

Team EcoMENA. Photo courtesy of William Davidson Institute.

In the opening remarks of the event, executive director of the Stevens Initiative Mohamed Abdel-Kader stressed the importance of collaboration, communication and connecting across borders.

“This is an opportunity you shouldn’t throw away,” he said. “So many students don’t get an opportunity to go abroad and connect with others. In this day and age when the relationships and dialogue between us are a challenge, take this as a blessing to represent your countries, represent your neighborhoods, represent your families, to connect with others and really drive home the values that you’re proud of and want represented in the global community.”

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