‘Changing your environment starts by changing yourself’

Over 5,000 scholarship recipients have participated in the Orange Knowledge Programme. Sara Magdy from Cairo, Egypt is one of them.
Posted by Nuffic
Crops growing in a field

Through tracking scholarship recipients we get a good quantitative picture of what the Orange Knowledge scholarships have brought the people that were awarded, and what the effects of the scholarships are on their organisations. It’s the qualitive measurements – joint interviews with alumni and their employers - that bring more colour to the picture. Speaking to Sara Magdy and her employer from Environics from Egypt was already impactful in itself.

Till 2021 more than 5,000 scholarship recipients participated in the Orange Knowledge Programme – whether it was for a short course or a Master’s degree. In our post-study monitoring alumni have expressed high levels of satisfaction with the Orange Knowledge scholarship programme and the opportunities it has created for them.

The vast majority agree that the attended course or programme is very relevant to their development as professionals and their organisations. And, interesting to know, almost all scholarship recipients have returned to their employer after their study period and are using the acquired knowledge and skills in and outside of their employment, to varying degrees.

‘If you want your employees to grow, you have to let them fly...’

Interviewing employers and employees together always has a special dynamic to it. In some cases, the employer has a fatherly role with regards to his young employees, like Mr. Yasser Sherif from environmental consultancy firm Environics in Egypt: ‘Some employers like to keep their ‘kittens’ small. Some, including me, want to see them grow’.

He believes that in order to grow you have to let your employees gain experience, and more specifically, encourage studying abroad. ‘To go open-minded, and to realise how little it is you actually know. It makes you humble, eager to learn more, and become a better consultant. Because a good consultant in our profession needs to realise that there are many solutions to a problem, and so many aspects to take into consideration. Applying system thinking is something to develop, and that’s what you learn very well when confronted with so many different cultures, backgrounds, and contexts in an international environment when studying abroad.’

‘Some employers like to keep their ‘kittens’ small. Others, like me, want to see them grow’

Mr Sherif heads the consultancy firm Environics, an environmental consultancy in Cairo, with around 25 employees. Founded in 1999 it originally specialised in performing environmental studies. Nowadays, topics like energy transition and climate change impact have become more relevant. All topics that go beyond borders. Yasser Sherif’s employee Sara Magdy, a young chemical engineer specialised in environmental impact assessments, went to the Netherlands for a year to follow the Master’s ‘Environmental and Energy Management’ at University of Twente.

Sara: ‘In our field of work it does not only take knowledge of the environment, but also of placing that in various social and economic contexts, since it’s all interconnected. During my study in the Netherlands, I was shocked to find out that what you think is the best solution to a problem, can very well be a bad solution in the eyes of someone with a different knowledge background, culture or from another context. The concept of finding the ‘one solution that fits all’ went overboard pretty quickly. Instead, I’ve learnt to systematically analyse the situation, take various aspects and stakeholders’ perspectives into consideration and come to the most supported solution. An eye-opener to me’.

Strong as the weakest link

Missing an employee for a year or even longer can have quite a big impact on a small organisation like Environics, still it doesn’t stop Yasser Sherif from sending his employees into the world to study. Yasser Sherif: ‘An organisation is as strong as its weakest link. Strengthening that link is good for the whole organisation. So, when employees want to have that strengthening international experience, we take over the workload with the other colleagues. The more we help them in finding their way to acquire knowledge, the more eager they will be to come back to our organisation, and the more we all benefit’.

What you think is the best solution, can very well be a bad solution in the eyes of someone with a different background

Employer’s expectations

What to expect as an employer when your employee returns after his or her study? Yasser Sherif: ‘I never expect anything specifically from my employees and encourage them to do the same: you’re there to just learn, so go and learn! There’s so much more to it than acquiring the academic knowledge. I myself had the opportunity to study at Harvard in the US in the eighties, I know how life changing it can be’. Since Sara returned, what has she been able to achieve with her experience?

Sara: ‘Well, COVID-19 has hampered my plans a little, since my goal of sharing my knowledge on seminars and in workshops can’t be done physically. Nevertheless, I feel my work has already undergone quite some changes, also within the organisation.'

Yasser Sherif: ‘Changes do not have to be revolutionary to be impactful. For instance, due to the lock down earlier this year we had some time to review our internal procedures and improve them. Sara did a great job there! It makes our work far more efficient.’

Sara: ’To make a change in your community, you start by changing yourself. I feel I changed so much due to my experience of living and studying abroad. Living on my own and finding a place in a new community. It resonates in everything I do, professionally, but also personally.'

What does the future look like?

With the global pandemic raging on, how do you see the future of studying abroad and international collaboration, from your perspective as environmental specialist?

Yasser Sherif: ‘Having personal, organisational and communal benefits of the international study experience are quite clear, but there’s more to it. It also brings a certain comprehension that all our single actions as people, organisations, communities and countries are interconnected, and that they influence each other greatly. We’re far more ‘one’ than you might think. And, that collaboration is the only way to tackle challenges we face. Such as COVID-19 and climate change. Globalisation shouldn’t merely be about improving free trade. That focuses only on short term benefits and devaluates the future of our core systems. I hope the pandemic will be the wake-up call for people to realise this’, concludes Yasser Sherif, ‘and that without collaboration issues like CO2-surplus, poverty, migration and climate change will keep falling in the cracks’.

Sara adds: ’Environmental issues are not only for governments to solve, they have to move to governance level, where private sector, civil society and communities themselves pro-actively collaborate. It’s the only way, and I know from my experience that we can’.