Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

A Day of Floating and Grounding at @RISEEgypt Solutions Summit

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Yesterday, I spent the day at a conference/gathering, part of RISE () Egypt. I knew some of the team from before, and had been invited to a focus group about the event a while ago, so I was already excited and interested. They were also really sweet, calling me “inner circle”, possibly because I helped connect them to more people (I’m pretty sure they would have done great on their own). Today, I look forward to facilitating a curriculum theory workshop for social entrepreneurs. Inshallah 

I just wanted to capture something about my day yesterday. It was a day that was a mixture of floating/elation and grounding. The event connected researchers/educators with investors and social entrepreneurs who work in the field of education in Egypt.

One of the things I thought was awesome was their choice of location – Townhouse is an artisty place, which I’d been to once before for a conference on alternative education. I saw more of it this time around – other than the main auditorium, there is an adjacent building with different sections for library, gallery, etc. The way it’s decorated creates a great ambiance, and the artwork around there offers us all something to talk about if we had nothing to talk about. 

But we had plenty to talk about, and the organizers created lots of opportunities for this. You go there and you know that everyone around you cares about education. And that’s an awesome feeling. One of the things I heard a lot yesterday was how people fell into educational activism when they saw their children suffer or struggle with Egyptian education (including private, elite education) and they sought alternatives. As someone who’s been interested in reforming education since I was a child myself, I totally get it. I came into education way before I had my child, but it’s definitely a more immediate issue because her wellbeing is at stake. It’s a different kind of issue for me now than it was 6 years ago, because it’s not an abstract “child” or sea of children I’m interested in reforming education for, but a concrete one.

Back to the event. The organizers had a “mapping” session where we all went to another space and added education projects to a wall, highlighting our role as researcher, entrepreneur or investor, and placing our project on a map. If someone didn’t know anyone at the event, they would have opportunities to look at the wall and bump into others while putting up their pin, or filling out their card. Some of the staff also went around introducing people to each other. I already knew many of the people there, but it was really good to meet new people – and to find people I hadn’t seen in ages and catch up with their latest endeavors. I met people who focus on socio-emotional learning (which I’m really interested in these days), people working on empowering young people to learn useful skills they’re passionate about and start using them without having to wait til college, and people who have a mobile library. I saw someone who’s working on a project to preserve Nubian culture who did it with an app – how cool is that! And I heard much more. Everyone there cares about education even if we disagree on approaches to getting there. My colleagues all figured out who wrote the anonymous critical comment about edtech on the slido (it was really cool that they used it. I think it allowed ppl who were more shy to have a voice, and people who were comfortable speaking aloud still had opportunities to do so). There was a really cool type of session to close the day which I didn’t get a chance to attend fully: a social entrepreneur and facilitator take us through their project and we discuss challenges and such (we had a choice among 4 projects). 

The event was also grounding in that it reminded me how far away I currently am from the informal education sector in Egypt. Before my career move to working in education at AUC, I did plenty of grassroots work around education but never directly about it…while doing my masters and PhD, it made sense to focus on edtech then AUC, because that’s where I had resources. It’s still good, but it affects very few people in Egypt. Because I’m a professor at AUC and have a PhD, I get invited to do things like workshops and mentoring and I do it happily. It’s not the same as being more involved, but it’s something. And I’m glad I get to do both.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about since yesterday is how the best kind of networking is the non-instrumental kind. Where you build relationships with people because you truly have shared passions, and you find ways to maintain those relationships without there being a transactional element of give and take. And then occasionally, some day, someone will ask you for something or vice versa, and it will be easy to identify the best person to ask, and to get a quick response. 

In any case – I’m glad I had this opportunity and am looking forward to today’s workshop inshallah. 

Small adjustment I’m doing to the use fo magnets for the workshop….in the unlikely event there are too many people there vs # of magnet kits, I would use the Little Alchemy game, and give different instructions. Some people would be allowed to play without instructions. Some would be tasked with trying to achieve a particular goal in terms of an item to reach (e.g. human) or # of items to create within a certain timeframe. I doubt I’ll need to use this option, but I’m keeping it there just in case.

2 Comments

  1. That was very insightful
    What happened in the second day?

    • U were there 🙂 u know some of what happened 🙂 including why I don’t remember some of what happened coz someone was sitting next to me distracting me! I generally wasn’t as inspired to blog the second day and needed to spend time with family afterwards

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