Rana El Chemaitelly is a mother of three. An independent businessperson who ran her own digital photography company for twelve years, until the service became a commodity. An engineer with a BE in Mechanical Engineering, and a Master’s in Engineering Management. And instructor at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. Now, before you read on, close your eyes for a moment and consider how you might combine these resources to form the basis of a new venture.
Inputs in Design
Now, with your own possible solution in mind, consider two observations that influenced El Chemaitelly’s thinking. The first was that she found her students at the American University unprepared for their studies in engineering and unsure of what they might do with their education when they graduated. And her second observation was her own seven-year-old son, captivated by video games and missing out on many of the social aspects of childhood.
El Chemaitelly transformed her resources and her observations into an initiative called “The Little Engineer” (TLE). Launched in her home in 2009, while tires burned and riots raged in other parts of the city, TLE was intended to teach hands-on science and technology to kids in an interactive and positive environment. After school, TLE provided robotics, energy (solar) and engineering instruction, challenges and competitions to creative little engineers.
In just three years, what was a cottage project has become a full-fledged venture. Today, TLE has programs for students from six to 16 years old and is working on an offering for 18 year-olds. There are currently 6 TLE locations, with plans to open in Tripoli, Bchamoun, Saida and Jbeil this year. 750 children have already participated in TLE, and the firm just rolled out a mobile station – a complete center inside a truck – to bring TLE to schools that want to try it and to areas where it is not possible to open a physical location.
Along with the growth of the business, El Chemaitelly has also received international recognition for her positive social impact. Last year she was identified as one of the most promising entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was awarded the “Coup de Coeur Femme” by Medventures for the Mediterranean and recently selected by the Cartier Women Initiative called the Laureate for the MENA region.
Building the Future
Amid such glamour, there are at least two things that El Chemaitelly offers us in understanding entrepreneurship. The first is how many different possibilities exist, even from a modest starting point. Compare your original idea with what she has actually done. Imagine how the person in the seat next to you might take the same starting point yet another completely different direction. Good ideas and available resources are plentiful, but it is what the entrepreneur does that matters. And then consider the longer range implications of her efforts. In her own little way, El Chemaitelly is in the process of shaping engineering education. Policy-makers and administrators can only dream of the changes which she is bringing to life. By proactively creating something new, tangible and valuable, her influence will be felt by the next generation of engineers that will design the next generation of our world.
Hail the little entrepreneur.
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