We all have role models in our lives, however Hamza Chraibi takes the pursuit of excellence to new heights. He has founded “Arab Excellence,” a non-profit organization whose sole mission is to honour Arab achievers from across the globe. Tempo chatted with Hamza…
Tempo: First of all, who is Hamza Chraibi?
Hamza: I am just a young Arab who wants to have a positive impact on my community. I am a graduate of finance from a business school in France. I am 24 and I have been told that I look more Swedish than Arab. Even now, I still don’t understand what it really means to ‘look’ Arab.
Tempo: What is Arab Excellence?
Hamza: It is an initiative intended to inspire Arab youth, especially those who are underprivileged. There are many brilliant Arab figures that are great role models. Many Arab youth are pessimistic about their future and need outstanding role models to look up to.
A group of us decided to collect interviews from self-made Arabs from around world. Our hope is that these interviews will help inspire Arab youth, and especially disadvantaged children, by showing them Arab success stories and tangible examples of Arab intellectual, artistic and entrepreneurial contributions.
Tempo: What was your inspiration for this initiative?
Hamza: Two things. I grew up in Morocco until the age of 20 with a lot of love for my Arab culture, the Arabic language and the Arab people in general. But when I arrived in Europe to continue my studies, I realised that many people did not have the same image of the Arab I had. Some of them even tended to confuse Arab with terrorism. This really bothered me.
The second is that my mother is a professor in a school for underprivileged children and she used to tell me how some of the kids didn’t want to go to class anymore. They often didn’t bother to bring their notebooks and many dropped out of school. It was clear to me that they had lost hope and didn’t believe in the system anymore.
I knew I had to do something about it, and last year, something changed my life forever. While working as an investment banker in an American bank in London, I woke up one day and decided to quit and do something I believed in.
I decided to travel the world to meet Arab role models and to relate their success stories. I wanted to show the world our beautiful culture and I wanted to inspire Arab youth and make them dream again.
Using my meager savings I traveled more than 20 countries in 18 months, sleeping in cheap hostels and talking to lots of people. I conducted more than 40 interviews of inspiring Arabs.
Now the project has grown; it has a great team, media partners and private sponsors. I have also got invited as a speaker in HEC Paris, in South Korea, the Philippines and even at the United Nations in China. I am hoping we will hold a conference in Stanford University next year.
Tempo: Tell us about your team.
Hamza: It is mostly young dynamic Arabs who have become involved with their communities. There are other nationalities as well. For example Nawrass is involved in developing new ideas and partnerships, while Aicha identifies successful Arabs writers from South America. Maina, our French designer, is passionate about the Arab culture and Arabic letters; she designs our website, logos and brochures.
Tempo: How did you discover the role models?
We have informal partnerships with organisations such as Harvard Arab Alumni and Polytechnique Alumni. I used to meet many great people in Morocco and Paris that were willing to grab a coffee with me to share their suggestions and contacts for interviews worldwide. In remote countries such as Brazil or Indonesia, the Arab community is quite small so successful Arabs know each other. Once you have interviews with people who love what we’re doing it gets easier to meet others.
Tempo: Tell us about some of the interesting role models you met.
Hamza: All of them were unique, and they all welcomed us and we spend many hours together before and after the interview talking about great topics.
We interviewed Omar Samra in Dubai, the youngest Arab who climbed the Everest and astronaut. We had lunch with Nassim Nicholas Taleb in New York, the bestselling author of Black Swan (regarded as one of the 10 most influential books since World War 2). In Sao Paolo we met with Safa Jubran, the recipient of the award of the best translator in Brazil. Then there was Mauricio Nader in Mexico, one of the best pianists in South America, Dr. Ossama Hassanein in San Francisco, who is a brilliant venture capitalist in the Silicon Valley, and there’s the double world and Olympic champion Nezha Bidouane of Morocco. There were many others, and each interview was an amazing and intense encounter.
Tempo: So what are you doing now?
Hamza: We have gathered more than 40 great interviews and have already started broadcasting them last month. But we still have new confirmed interviews to conduct such as with the one with Zaha Hadid in London.
We also have events planned to meet with underprivileged kids across the Arab world, and to inspire them and make them want to dream again. We are also thinking about writing a book that will gather the best moments of our meetings with the Arab role models. And we want to share interesting anecdotes of our journey across the world, such as my stay with the Arab Mayas in the Mexican jungle, or the day I got stuck in the flood in a slum in Indonesia. There are also my experiences as a Young Ambassador at the Youth Olympic Games, and speaking at The United Nations forum in China.
Tempo: And what’s next for Arab Excellence?
Hamza: Our vision for the next 10 years is to the incorporate the words ‘excellence’ and ‘success’ in the Arab mentalities so that they can become normal words. Kids should know that if they really want to succeed they can. The social elevator might be broken, but there are still stairs to go to the top. And we prove this with concrete examples of Arab success stories.
The main challenge is education and this why we are starting to collaborate with many universities, high schools and even secondary schools in various Arab countries. We will tell you more about this collaboration once things are more concrete.
Tempo: How about your own role models?
Hamza: When I was growing up, I played a lot of tennis so I looked up to Hicham Arazi and Younes El Aynaoui (the former world tennis champion). By the way both of them agreed to taking part in Arab Excellence, and I had to chance to spend time with them.
Tempo: How proud are you of being an Arab?
Hamza: I’m really proud of my Arab identity and I became even more proud after I met so many successful Arabs worldwide. These encounters increased my self-confidence. As I was having lunch Nassim Nicholas Taleb in New York, we spoke about Arab identity and he told me: “Be proud of being Arab, but never be too proud.” Indeed I learned from him that one should be assured of their Arab identity but not push this pride too far.
Tempo: What’s your personal advice to Arab youth?
Hamza: Personally I didn’t achieve excellence in investment banking, while I was in Paris and London. I realised early on that this is not what I wanted to do, and decided to quit. I have always wanted to inspire young people. Thus my message to others is to first define your passion, and then you’ll know what your dreams are. We’ve all grown up with dreams but they are hidden somewhere. Once you discover, rediscover or simply clearly define what you are passionate about, your professional path will become obvious, and you will become your best. And once you are your best, in whatever field that is, money will come along. That is my belief.
To watch videos of amazing Arab achievers from all around the world scan here:
By Vera Rosales