Introduction

Sami is breaking the vicious cycle of elitism and nepotism, shifting the prevailing passivity and disengagement of Arab youth to a culture of sharing and engagement.

Sami is a pioneer in the Arab world, working to break the vicious cycle of elitism and nepotism in young people’s accessibility to education, skills development, and civic engagement opportunities. Within a context where youth are passive or apathetic towards the social and political scenes and, while opportunities for personal, educational, economic and civic engagement are only circulated within closed circles of the privileged, Sami is creating a shift in the norms by introducing a new way for youth to counter this disempowering trend and become an active, educated, and motivated generation.

Moreover, by opening circles and transforming the idea that opportunities are only for the royal elite of a country or society, Sami is fostering a culture of sharing opportunities in a very egalitarian way. His work demonstrates that sharing opportunities with others, whether they be access to jobs, education, trainings, scholarships, etc. doesn’t have to increase competition but rather can open more doors for oneself. This new culture of sharing is building an active, aware, and engaged citizenship, permeating all levels of society.

Through Sami’s work youth are engaged in a value chain of initiatives that contribute to changing their mindsets positively, opening up education and economic opportunities as well as giving them a chance to voice up their thoughts, freely express their opinions and engage with public pressing issues. This includes roleplaying for social change, finding and sharing opportunities, capacity building trainings, and creative public speaking forums. This approach encourage all youth in the Levant region to be active problem-solvers in their communities and engaged changemaking citizens.

Sami is committed to engaging youth in an open, transparent, credible and fair manner irrespective of their backgrounds, genders, ethnicities, political ideologies or socio-economic status. His work has reached a large spread throughout Jordan and Sami will continue to scale throughout the Levant region and the rest of the Arab world.

The Arab countries are characterized by large youth populations with almost 60% of the population under 25 years of age. This is the highest level of the ‘youth bulge’ that the region has ever witnessed. This social segment, if not developed and empowered, often engages in risky behavior, suffers from a low sense of belonging in their own society, low communication and problem-solving skills, and a disinterest in public affairs.

Most Arab youth graduate from high school with a lack of confidence and fragile characters, suffering from a loss of perspective and bleak outlook on life – especially regarding their careers, their ability to affect change, and engage in public life. This lack of hope in a promising future, apathy towards civic engagement and youth activism, ultimately affects their productivity and their ability to function as fully engaged citizens within their societies. The social institutions and behavioral norms in place in Arab states also hinder youth access to information, opportunities for development as well as spaces for expression. As a result, youth engagement is severely restricted, and keeps them from realizing their full potential and actively participating in economic, political and social affairs in society.

Nepotism and favoritism are engrained values in Arab societies and especially throughout Jordan, which is a constitutional monarchy—a kingdom. Thus certain communities and families have the exclusive privileges to access opportunities and information such as career advancement or educational opportunities. Often this small segment of society becomes the cultured or elite and only decision makers. This problem manifests in the absence of clear, transparent and credible systems for managing opportunities, information and privileges, and offering them on an open access basis to all youth. This produces a society with skewed distribution of opportunities, career prospects, information, and social expression outlets, all of which is upheld by the normalization of corruption and elitist practices in Jordan and the Levant region as a whole.

Sami was always engaged with the citizen sector in the Levant region, which allowed him to study and analyze youth needs and challenges in the Arab world. Sami’s idea started to crystallize when he saw how such experiences of development were not inclusive or accessible to all, but on the contrary were being circulated in closed circles. He started thinking about how to give accessibility to career and skills development, as well as capacity building opportunities and civic engagement, to youth and young adults, aged 13 to 35 years old.

Sami started by establishing his organization, Leaders of Tomorrow in 2007 with the purpose of breaking social taboos and creating a younger generation of changemakers, people who, regardless of their political ideology and socio-economic status, are educated, illuminated and empowered to lead and think creatively and critically.

Initially, Sami started targeting several social taboos including elitism and nepotism, discussion of unspoken sensitive issues for the Arab world context, as well as freedom of thought and expression. He conducted several events and conferences, combined with media campaigning, but eventually realized it was not enough. To effect change, Sami needed an entrepreneurial approach, starting with youth from an early stage and taking them on through a value chain of initiatives with several purposes.  Through his organization, Sami operates via five inter-linked initiatives.

In order to break social taboos and promote critical thinking, Sami created Muhaka, meaning simulation. Muhaka aims at getting youth in an intense, mind-changing experience which builds their critical thinking and problem-solving capacity through a simulation and role-playing environment. At this point, Sami opens the horizons of youth to human rights issues and contentious social and political subjects in unconventional public spaces.

To ensure an environment where freedom of thought and access to education is guaranteed, Sami works with youth on their transition from high school to university. Through his initiative Mustakbalna, meaning our future, Sami empowers high school students and facilitates their transition to university. In doing so, he uses several tools such as university visits, and career counseling presented in series of animated books which invite youth to explore different career options and arouse their curiosity, all of which is complemented by gender awareness to create a co-educational environment.

At the time when youth are in university and fresh graduates, they are restricted from reaching their full potential, developing leadership skills or having a change-making role in their society. This is mainly due to the lack of access to information, to capacity building and skills development resources, as well as the closed and elitist nature of information circulation within networks. Sami recognized the need to counteract this trend and provide free and inclusive access to information on opportunities which empower youth and raise their economic and educational profiles, while ensuring a fair and transparent system of outreach and administration of opportunities. Sami’s belief that one opportunity is enough to change a person’s life inspired him to create Forsa, an Arabic word meaning opportunity.

Through the Forsa platform, Sami created an open-sourced public listing of various opportunities throughout Jordan and the Arab world. By connecting with other Citizen Sector Organizations- CSOs, universities, businesses, and institutions he maintains an updated listing of opportunities in an accessible format. Youth can browse through the opportunities and identify the qualifications. Forsa features opportunities such as educational scholarships, fellowships, competitions, awards, international exchanges, capacity building trainings, workshops, conferences, seminars, internships and jobs.

By 2010, Forsa became a full-fledged online and offline platform empowering Arab youth, building their capacity, connecting them to opportunity providers, irrespective of their backgrounds or socio-economic levels, and enhancing their self-definition and economic opportunities through a fair distribution of human assets and available resources. The platform is a free, open source, user-friendly, cost-effective, fact-checked and credible portal, with all the information coming directly from the providers. The absence of charges allows Sami to reach all youth segments, especially those who are financially marginalized.

Sami also uses the radio and other media forms to broadcast the opportunities in addition to distributing materials about current opportunities in universities, youth clubs and other public spaces, making them even more accessible to all Jordanian youth. Further, through Forsa, Sami provides mentorship and coaching to youth on how to qualify and apply for listed opportunities. He works to ensure that even the poorest segments of the population feel that they have equal access.

Youth need to have inclusive access to capacity building and educational opportunities, however, civic engagement still remains an elitist activity in the Levant region, with opinions and conversations on political and social issues being a right reserved for the intellectuals and politicians. Sami is intervening in and breaking this cycle while encouraging citizens to creatively express their opinions about sensitive issues. He is reviving public spaces and creating an active public dialogue between youth, citizens and politicians. By creating two arms, the first called, Diwanieh, meaning the area where debates take place and the second called Fadfed, meaning “let it out,” Sami had developed an initiative to encourage dialogue and a methodology that measures public opinion. Through Diwanieh, Sami is transferring elitist discussions from political salons to the streets while creating open, free and critical debate spaces at the grassroots level and engaging citizens to convey their interests and needs. Sami offers training to youth on debating skills, after which debating clubs stem out of these trainings in different Jordanian governorates. Policy and decision-makers, opinion leaders, local experts, government representatives, members of parliament, political parties representatives and youth activists participate in organized debates in  public arenas, discussing pressing and contentious sociopolitical issues in which the general public is engaged and votes on the motion at the end of the debate.

To complement the work of Diwanieh, Sami created Fadfed, which introduces a new methodology for self-expression, research and interaction with politicians. This is done through the use of large white charts in public arenas allowing people from all walks of life to freely express themselves anonymously on sensitive issues, without facing any restricting monitoring or censorship. This simple, effective and creative tool developed by Sami is used as a new research methodology to document and research the public opinion on different issues and convey it to policy makers in Jordan.

As a result of the several initiatives that Sami created under the umbrella of his organization, Leaders of Tomorrow, he now has a database of over 10,000 subscribers who receive regular communication regarding opportunities tailored to their needs, interests and skill levels at an average rate of 40 new opportunities per week. In addition to this, Sami had 103,500 online visitors to his Forsa opportunities portal by September 2013, with a staggering 1,406,000 page views from visitors and a 50% retention rate. His social media outreach and interaction, which is an integral part of his efforts, has a following of more than 65,000 youth. Through Fadfed, more than 50,000 citizens have been civically engaged in public spaces. Additionally, more than 5,000 Jordanian youth are trained and have participated in public debates, voicing their opinions and improving their critical thinking skills. Sami’s successful outreach lies in the credibility, and trust which he offered for the engaged youth.  Sami’s audience spans the entire region with a fair gender balance. He has directly reached 2.28 million young people between the ages of 13 and 34 years old.

In the short term, Sami will be registering  the Fadfed approach and licensing it as a global research methodology of getting citizens insights on governing policies. Additionally, he is creating an alumni community made up of participants who have benefited from opportunities posted on Forsa. These alumni will serve as volunteer mentors and provide skills trainings and other support to the rest of the participants. On a longer span, Sami is planning on founding the Forsa fund that provides youth with the needed funding to cover mobility and logistical expenses for youth to access and get the opportunities. To scale beyond the Levant region, Sami plans to develop toolkits, manuals and tutorials that will help other replicate his work and value chain throughout the rest of the Arab world and beyond.

As the eldest child, Sami had a natural sense of responsibility and determination. Throughout his education he was actively involved in the school and community and fortunate to have been given many opportunities to participate in local community development initiatives. In his final year of high school, Sami was selected to be the representative of Jordan on a leadership exchange program at Purdue University, administered by the U.S. State Department. This program was one of the first educational exchanges and capacity building programs, empowering youth in the region. Similarly, Sami participated in a youth exchange program in the Czech Republic at the age of 19.

Although these experiences had a huge impact on Sami, he still felt the pressure to adhere to his family’s counsel of becoming a doctor. Sami received a medicine degree from the University of Jordan in Amman and while there had many opportunities to lead. Having educated himself in web design in high school, Sami decided to start a web platform to encourage dialogue between students and professors. After receiving criticism from the dean, Sami found a way to creatively overcome the problem by involving the dean and offering him the opportunity to be an editor-in-chief of the website. This collaborative action allowed him to keep the site running.

Near the end of his medical studies, Sami recognized that he would not be happy as a doctor. Having been fortunate to have had many diverse educational experiences and leadership opportunities in his youth, he knew he wanted to find a way to provide such opportunities to all Arab youth—not just the elite.

While still earning his degree in medicine, Sami established Leaders of Tomorrow and subsequently launched the different platforms under the organization’s umbrella including Forsa, Fadfed, Diwanieh, Muhakah and Mostakbalna. Sami exerted and continues to exert immense efforts to create a societal shift for the betterment of youth and shape a generation of well-educated and empowered citizens. He has a strong desire to create a fertile ground for cooperation, openness, transparency and fair distribution of resources that offers new promise of a more positive future to all Arab youth.

When Sami once explained his work and name of organization to someone and got the response, “Leaders of Tomorrow? What do you mean? We are a kingdom,” he decided that it was time to take his work to the next level. Saddened by the common notion that only members of the destined royal families can be leaders and taking a leap of faith, Sami left the medical field to engage deeper in the citizen sector. For his achievements, Sami received the “Knight of Change” award given by King Abdullah II Fund for Development of Jordan and was elected as a Jordanian role model among youth networks.