If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, with one,10, or even 20 years of experience in the field, then you’ve probably heard of our guest, Dina El Mofty. She is the CEO and co-founder of INJAZ Egypt. What is INJAZ Egypt? According to their website, it is a non-profit organisation, empowering young people to own their economic success. Through the delivery of hands-on, blended learning in financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship, they empower young people to grow their entrepreneurial ideas, hone their work skills, manage their earnings and investments, and secure better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Many stories of today’s leading companies or entrepreneurs started with INJAZ Egypt, and we felt, with the country’s current boom in entrepreneurship, Dina El Mofty would be the optimum role model to receive critical and relevant feedback from.
Q: How would you introduce yourself in 1 sentence?
A: Someone who is passionate about a certain cause, and wants to have an impact.
Q: How did INJAZ come to be?
A: Well, it was more of an opportunity that I got when I had just graduated. I was really passionate about working in development. I knew that, although with my studies and everything, and my father was pushing me more into the corporate world, I didn’t want to work in corporate. I knew I wanted to do something that had to do with the community or education, or that would have an impact on the society where we live.
And so, development was something I was really passionate about, and I got the opportunity to pilot INJAZ, as a program in Egypt, to test it out and see if it would work. We ran activities for the first years in two schools with the help of two corporate partners, who provided us with 10 volunteers, to help us deliver the programs. In that same year, I met my partner and co-founder, Dahlia Helaly, and together, we started this 16-year journey of growing the organisation, impacting 320 students in the first year to over 800,000 students today, all across Egypt.
Q: So, was this always your dream job?
A: I guess, in my teens, the UN was something I was very much attracted to. I liked things that had to do with international relations, and that also had a cause and would help. Before this came along, I knew that whatever it is I would do, it would have an impact, and would involve working for a certain cause. That part was very clear for me.
Q: It says on your LinkedIn profile that you studied in Tufts University, the AUC, Penn State University, Harvard, and INSEAD. All fields related to leadership, entrepreneurship, or international relations and affairs. Did I leave anything out? Some of these studies were after INJAZ was founded, so my question is how, did you balance studies with running an organisation?
A: Definitely, in life, it’s a continuous journey of learning. So, one should never stop learning, evolving, and growing continuously. One of these programs was a master’s, and that was definitely hard to balance, so something had to drop, and that was my social life. But the other degrees were all short-term, like a 1-week executive or leadership program, so they were easier to handle, of course. But all of these have been critical in always developing my leadership or management style, in terms of thinking, and how to make my organisation grow further. Therefore, it’s always important to expose yourself to new learnings and new ways of doing things.
Q: If you hadn’t studied these degrees, do you think the nature of the company would still be the same, whether on a personal or business level?
A: Both me and my partner are very firm and big believers in establishing a family-oriented culture, and hiring people who are passionate about our cause, so we are all aligned on the same vision as a family, working together in this organisation. So, values were very important, for both of us, and were there from day one. What added to that, was the programs that I attended, which definitely helped enrich my knowledge in management, delegation, and instilling that culture and sense of ownership in our team, so they can pass it on, thus creating a continuous cycle and strong sense of purpose.
Q: You must have faced several obstacles throughout your journey, which we will discuss later. During any moment of hardship, did you feel like you wanted to quit altogether? How did you tackle such moments?
A: The reaction of my partner and I to the biggest challenges that really upset us wasn’t “Oh I’ve had it!” The reaction was more, “We want to prove that we can overcome this and get over it.” So, the energy of frustration was channelled in a different way to prove that we are on a mission to achieve a certain goal and that we are unstoppable. And again, for me and my partner, this organisation is our baby. So, when you have a baby, you will protect it by any means. Whatever the obstacles or challenges that may face your baby, you will make sure that it’s well taken care of, be there to help it grow, and support it throughout the journey.
Q: You mentioned earlier that you had to sacrifice your social life for your studies. Did you sacrifice anything else? And if you could turn back time, would you do anything differently?
A: At that time, my studies were just for a year and a half approximately. But I always liked to have a sense of balance. Like here, for example, my partner and I balance things out. If I have to give more attention to my family, she is there for me and vice versa. Our family is our number one priority. Also, you have to give yourself time, because if you can’t, you can never give back and be there to grow anything. So, a sense of balance was always essential and key from day one. Reflecting back, if anything did change, it wouldn’t make me the person that I am today or make the organisation at its current level of success. So, I think everything happens for a reason and leads you up to the journey that you’ve experienced so far.
Q: I’m sure funding is a pressing matter for any project, especially at the beginning. What are some of the top challenges that you faced along the way until you received sponsorship?
A: I started out very young, in my early 20s, and of course funding is always a challenge. But, we were lucky that we started small and the funding was enough for the pilot. Going forward, we always had support from partners that believed in what we did and our cause, so it grew organically. For sure, we had certain red tape or bureaucracy. Being an NGO, and the whole situation with foreign funding, as it required security clearances, which takes a lot of time and can affect your cash flow. So, managing access to the funds that you already have was definitely a challenge. But otherwise, it’s important to believe in your great cause and that the funding will come. What’s the worst-case scenario that can happen? You’ll have to reduce the size of operations? At the end of the day, you have to keep the faith and partners see that and support you even more.
Q: How important is a partner’s role in the development of an organisation? What other tools are critical?
A: It’s very important to have a partner that you balance with. For example, Dahlia’s strengths balance my weaknesses and vice versa, and that’s why our partnership is strong, which is important to have in any business. You’ll always need the support, different perspectives and strengths of a partner. Other than always developing yourself, having a great passionate team, investing in them, and giving them a sense of ownership, as well as the culture that you create in your company from day one is essential. Also, when you’re really stuck, find a mentor to help and support you, and always dream big. If a goal doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough. Never lose sight of this goal or objective, because that’s the way you’ll be able to reach it. It takes time to reach it, but it’s the most fulfilling feeling in the world when you achieve this dream, so never lose sight of it.
Q: It says on the INJAZ website that it aims to empower one million young Egyptians by 2020to reach their fullest potential by becoming sought after Employees & Entrepreneurs, leading successful businesses, creating economic prosperity to develop their country. Since we’re almost there, can we say that the target is almost achieved?
A: We’ve had an overall impact of over 800,000 students, and it’s still going and growing. So, we’re excited about creating more of an impact across schools, universities, and startups, as you’re creating a generation of more innovative and entrepreneurial leaders in our community.
Q: What are some of the upcoming plans for the enterprise?
A: There’re always projects in the mix, and we’re always trying to come up with new ideas and innovative programs, whether for school or university students, whose feedback we always like to hear. Also, we’re part of a regional and global network, so we like to see the latest that’s going in the world and maybe moving towards more digital technology for the present and future.
Q: At the end of this interview, would you like to send our readers a message? Especially aspiring entrepreneurs.
A: I’ll definitely re-voice what I said before. If you have an idea, don’t be afraid to take the risk and experiment with it to see if you can change it into an actual business, while you’re still young. You might have regrets for not having done it later on in life, so you might as well go for it. If you’re pursuing a business idea, it’s always important to develop yourself, to learn, to grow, and to expose yourself to what’s happening in the world and gain different types of network, as well as support from mentors and people who can help you, including the many incubators and accelerators around us. And to always set a big goal and dream to work towards it.
Also, don’t give up in the face of challenges, because there will always be challenges. So, it’s your tenacity and your ability to continuously “roll with the punches”, as they say. Know how to overcome that challenge, and that takes a lot of personal development and internal work, because if you’re strong on the inside, you’ll always be invincible on the outside.