Sihame El Kaouakibi is a serial social entrepreneur. Her projects always have the same message: Let’s invest today in the people of tomorrow. “We want people to see the full potential of every child. Talent has no color, no gender, makes no distinction.” Sihame explains her layered identity: “I’m a Belgian Moroccan, a Muslim, a woman, an entrepreneur, a teacher, a sister, a daughter, an employer, and a role model for so many.”
Let me introduce myself. I am Sihame El Kaouakibi. I’m a Belgian Moroccan woman. I’m 32 years old, and I have a master in educational science. Education is in my heart. It’s also at the core of what I do.
I’m an entrepreneur. They call me “a serial social entrepreneur.” I first heard about the word entrepreneur while on a program with the U.S. Embassy in 2014. I’ve since launched different projects. My projects always have the same message: Let’s invest today in the people of tomorrow.
My identity is a layered one. For me, it’s being a Belgian Moroccan, a Muslim, a woman, an entrepreneur, a teacher, a sister, a daughter, an employer and a role model for so many.
My identity has been challenged. Born with an “underprivileged” label, and today 32 years later to be recognized in all these different layers and not stigmatized just because of one layer of your identity is really hard! A sense of belonging is so important when you’re developing your layered identity. Recognizing the different layers in my identity was certainly key in developing it.
What do I call home? For me, home is where I can be myself, surrounded by people who do not underestimate me and where I am able to develop myself. I also feel at home with my parents Muhammed and Malika. That to me is the most loving and warm place.
My first project “Let’s Go Urban” is still where my heart is. Let’s Go Urban is a social project – the name is a giveaway – that tries to unlock the potential of urban youngsters.
We are an urban center that is open 7 days a week at “Het Kiel” in Antwerp. Every week about 800 youngsters gather because of their talents, because of their potential in urban culture. They come together to dance, to play sports, to act, or to train their digital skills. First and foremost it’s a community, almost like a family. It’s a key that can open doors towards the next step in their future.
These projects are color blind. We want people to see the full potential of every child, and that talent has no color, no gender, makes no distinction.
My passion is to create things. When I see a challenge I’m the first to take it on. I say to myself: “OK what can we do about it?” Not just talking about it, but trying to fix it. My passion is to offer youngsters keys so they can use my network to create their own ecosystem. I am really inspired by the Silicon Valley model. Not the negative things that we hear about the working poor there, but the dynamics of finding solutions for society through technology.
I’m dreaming of my own added value to society. It’s so cool if people are interested in investing in other people, so for me, it’s all about creating things and trying to convince people to work on the “Why?” That’s what I love to do.
A dream is like a star. It’s there, and you know its direction. Maybe you will never reach it, but at least you’re going in the right direction. That’s how I keep my focus. I do my best to inspire.
In order to achieve my goal of making myself unnecessary I really want to focus on education. Our educational system is generating inequality, where really it should be the most democratic. Some people don’t start equal, but we have to get them all at the finish. Whether you wear Adidas or Abibas, we all need a fair shot at that finish line.
So we need to invest in teachers. Teachers equipped and prepared for these super diverse classrooms, full of individuals with their own talents, personalities, worries, and dreams. Every child deserves to have the very best teachers in the classroom.
We also need to develop ecosystems around these schools. Places where youngsters learn about themselves and about the world. It takes a village to raise a child, and so we need everyone to chime in. We need to get the parents involved, and especially the women. If we win the mothers, we will also win in the families, and in society. Companies, social projects, after-school programs should all be involved in the education of every child.
When I look at my own background, I realize I’ve been blessed because I had the chance to meet people who believed in me during my secondary school and at university. I had teachers who believed in me.
That’s why I am convinced that education is the main resource of our society. We need to invest in that opportunity and make sure every child passes and reaches that goal. We need these children to transform into young men and women who believe in themselves, who are self-assured and resilient and willing to take their future in their own hands. We need to make sure that they reach that finish line. That they don’t drop out of society.
We cannot do this without also working with other levels of society. The stereotypes and the expectations we have about different groups of people, whether it’s minority groups or not result mostly in a false perception and subsequently the wrong reactions.
With 1/4 school dropouts – up to 30% in urban areas – we have generation upon generation of unemployment and poverty. My goal is to have fewer dropouts, less poverty and that all people are seen as equal. Equality is not the same as equity so it’s also important that we do everything we can to make sure these young people reach their full potential.“My motto in life is shaking up the status quo!”