As a social entrepreneur, Youssef Kobo believes that inspiring and preparing young people to be leaders improves individual lives and communities as a whole. His strategy is to encourage dialogue and cultural exchange between people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives and to inspire them to find those opportunities for themselves. As a participant in the International Visitor Leadership Program through the U.S. Embassy in Belgium, Youseff traveled to the U.S. to learn new strategies for his non-profit work in Belgium.
No matter what Youssef is doing in his busy life – whether reading about history, economics, and geopolitics or adding to the list of more than 70 countries he’s visited and meeting people with new ideas and experiences to share – he works to empower others to be active in social change. “I’m always looking to create a social impact in whatever I do,” he says.
Youssef’s interests lie in business and politics, yet he devotes most of his entrepreneurial efforts to his nonprofit called “A Seat at the Table” (ASATT). He named the organization after a famous quote by Shirley Chisholm who overcame discrimination to become the first Black female member of the U.S. Congress: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair!” Yousseff says that Chisholm’s words have “resonated with me throughout my life.”
Through a mentorship program for disadvantaged youth and a leadership program for students and young professionals, ASATT teaches young people how to “create their own opportunities.” Youssef firmly believes that “you can shape your own destiny. That’s what we
try to teach.”
For Youssef, social change depends on gathering people with a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives “to the table” to exchange ideas and strategies. As a participant in the 2015 “International Visitors Leadership Program” (IVLP) through the U.S. Embassy, Youssef embraced the opportunity to join others committed to promoting youth leadership. The program hosted a group of 19 young activists from all over the world on a three-week tour of U.S. cities. Youssef relished “visiting new places and learning from people with different perspectives. I’ve always been inspired by the people I meet.” Listening to people’s stories and “how they experience life” has inspired him both personally and professionally.
“At this moment we need more leadership and more understanding.”
Youssef values the connections he made with the “phenomenal people ” in the IVLP, particularly since they still influence his work with disadvantaged youth today. Together they visited U.S. institutions and businesses, in addition to meeting local community leaders. “We attempted to get a grasp on American culture and society and reflected on the issues that we were facing back home and U.S civil society also deals with,” Youssef recalls. “We picked up a few things that still resonate, that I still use on a daily basis.”
Youssef’s personal experience and Moroccan heritage have also inspired his passion for social entrepreneurship. He is the first generation of his family to be born in Belgium. “I’ve always had to create my own opportunities in life,” he explains. “I’ve always had a very entrepreneurial mindset. That’s the one thing that got me ahead in life. By taking ownership, I’ve succeeded in the things I wanted to do.”
He urges others to take change into their own hands. “If there are certain things you’re not happy with your life, take ownership and take the initiative,” Youssef urges. “Stop whining and commence taking leaps of faith. Start working towards that goal.”“Keep chasing your dreams in order to obtain a seat at the table.”