Emad Al Khaja, the CEO of Injaz Qatar, which turned 10, tells BQ that the objective of his organisation is to enable youth to have the skills and mindset of an entrepreneur, rather than creating entrepreneurs.
How does INJAZ Qatar encourage entrepreneurship among the youth?
INJAZ Qatar is mainly building a foundation where we provide ways to grow and nurture entrepreneurial communities, and provide an entry-point for collaboration among real practitioners in the field. In terms of our programmes, we start the foundation early on; from elementary level and advancing it all the way to the university level. Our objective is not about ‘creating’ an entrepreneur but enabling them to have the skills and mindset of an entrepreneur. We hope that they can transfer these skills and expertise into a business. We had many students as young as 16 years old start their own business and many have seen it come to life even after their time at INJAZ. Since the launch of INJAZ each year, we noticed that students are more motivated to launch their own business and follow it through to the end even after their time is done within the programme. It is important to highlight that 90 per cent of what INJAZ does is in-direct impact – we are part of an ecosystem that supports the youth which can be through employability skills, self-direction and creative thinking.
Can you comment on how many have gone on to pursue projects/ideas during INJAZ?
There are many students, who have continued their journey post-INJAZ through the support of organisations such as Qatar Development Bank (QDB) and Qatar Business Incubation Centre (QBIC). One very fresh example, who recently won “Best Company” for university track; VENDStation which is an all-female group from Qatar University. Their idea was a vending machine that would provide university students with basic stationery items at convenient locations around the campus. After their INJAZ journey they found themselves incubated at QBIC. To date, they have two installations at Qatar University and are branching out into different products and services. We are very proud of these young women as they made it happen.
Have you increased from the present 60 schools and seven universities? How was INJAZ Qatar able to achieve that?
In 2007, we started with three schools and as we celebrate our 10 years, it is safe to say that we have come a long way since then. I am proud to say that INJAZ is present in 60 schools and seven universities that range from public and private schools. In addition, our 10-year achievement is also marked by the fact that we are now endorsed by the Ministry of Education and we have designed a programme that is mandated by the Ministry where the INJAZ curriculum is present within certain levels of the school system – beginning with high school. Our programmes are delivered to almost all the public high schools in Qatar and we are confident that this initiative will expand throughout the country within various schools that are not just public.
In the backdrop of ‘Made in Qatar’ what are the special programmes / initiatives being undertaken by Injaz Qatar to take the country to the path of self-sufficiency?
I truly believe that INJAZ Qatar has always been self-sufficient, we believe in empowering the youth with the skills and expertise that they need to not only grow themselves but to also give back to their country by becoming part of the workforce and contributing to Qatar’s economy. INJAZ teaches students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy through experiential, hands-on programmes. All of this is a plan for creating a self-sufficient economy, where we become dependent on local resources. We are the educational arm and we believe that the earlier the youth start on things such as: how to start their own business, how to find a job they can excel at, manage their finances; all these skills that are better learned and absorbed in life.
How has the support and participation by corporates propelled the learning experience for participants in INJAZ programmes?
The corporate volunteers serve as inspiring role models for the youth, sharing their real-life work and entrepreneurship experiences and advice. We have a vibrant and supportive network of partners from the business community and educational institutions, who all believe in the value of educating and empowering youth with the practical knowledge and experience required to succeed in today’s fast-paced global economy. This isn’t limited to just financial support. This is why we build so much effort from volunteers, who provide the real-life perspective to the students and participants of the programme. Since we start as young as elementary school, we are able to get access to students from a young age and start to inform them about employment opportunities that extend beyond the typical job.
How important is government support for INJAZ Qatar?
It’s extremely vital as INJAZ Qatar supports the goals of QNV 2030 and INJAZ Qatar is part of achieving the vision and having an impact on the economy. I go back to my point about the Ministry of Education, which enabled us to reach more schools and students. If they believe and understand in what we do, then we have a better chance of achieving the goals of QNV 2030.
What are the most important milestones to date?
Our presence in Qatar for 10 years further acknowledges our importance and impact in Qatar. We have been able to continually grow and expand our network of volunteers, schools and partners. In addition, we have seen success in our students and youth whether they launch their own business or continue their career path. Their success is our success. And of course, our mandate with MoE establishes INJAZ Qatar as a vital component of the Qatari economy where our programmes are found in school curriculum and are mandatory for students.
Where do you see the future of Qatar’s youth heading in the next five years?
Qatar has created an amazing support system for the youth. It ranges from educational and employment support right to social support. The government itself has initiatives that aim to develop the youth from a young age as opposed to waiting later on in life.
Of course, that’s not to say there are no challenges. I believe the overall mindset of the youth is changing – and will continue to change. They are becoming more accepting of the fact that they have to go out into the real world and search for opportunities by themselves as opposed to be handed things to them. They are realizing they have to get out of their comfort zone and explore more risks. My advice would be to keep an open mind and to take risks.
What are the biggest challenges facing the entrepreneurial sphere in Qatar? What can we do as a community to support it?
The blockade itself revealed a lot of existing challenges that maybe we didn’t know about such as co-dependency. This sparked something in people and in specific the youth in order for them to explore more options and to cover more existing needs in the economy. Our job as INJAZ is to continue supporting the youth and providing them with a stable support system that enables to think out the box, think creatively and to act on it. The SME sector in Qatar is promising, and is expected to grow rapidly and will continue to play an important role in Qatar’s overall growth. It has been stated many times in Qatar, even before the blockade that the nation is building its diversification plan by increasing the contribution of non-oil and gas productivity to our GDP.