There is an achievement gap within the education system, and entrepreneur Karim Abouelnaga is bridging it, one child at a time. Practice Makes Perfect—founded when he was 18—provides lower-income students with summer mentorship, allowing them to thrive in a system that might otherwise neglect them. Business Insider named his TED Talk one of the Best of 2017, reporting that participants return to school months ahead in math and reading—proof that practice does lead to unprecedented growth.
While researching the academic achievement gap in his freshman year at Cornell University, Karim Abouelnaga discovered that the “summer learning loss” was a significant cause of students’ decline. Kids without access to summer school, camp, or edifying summer experiences simply stopped learning—and it set them back exponentially. As he describes in his keynotes, before originating Practice Makes Perfect (PMP), Abouelnaga might’ve fallen into that gap himself, had he not used entrepreneurial insight to leapfrog from AP classes, to scholarships, to academic awards. Now a member of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in education, Abouelnaga’s motivating drive is empathy and optimism: in these struggling, low-income students, he sees where he came from. His keynotes offer a galvanizing blend of youthful, innovative thinking around education, fueled by a remarkable business instinct.
“So much of our education reform is driven by a sympathetic approach,” says Abouelnaga in his talks. “People are saying, ‘Let's go and help these poor inner city kids, or these poor black and Latino kids,’ instead of an empathetic approach, where someone like me, who had grown up in this environment, could say, ‘I know the adversities that you're facing and I want to help you overcome them.’”
A TED Fellow with an acclaimed talk, and CEO of PMP, Abouelnaga demonstrates that entrepreneurship can solve social dilemmas in education and beyond. It comes down to “passion and purpose,” he says. Abouelnaga understands firsthand how the achievement gap can begin as early as elementary school; he had more than 60 absences in the seventh grade alone. “My high school had a 55 percent graduation rate,” he says. “Even worse, only 20 percent of the kids graduating were college-ready.” PMP emerged as a way to redefine the learning experience and trajectory for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Abouelnaga grew the company from having $10,000 in the bank to more than $2.5 million in philanthropy funding.
Besides operating Practice Makes Perfect, Abouelnaga writes for Entrepreneur and Forbes, and is currently writing a book. A TED and Echoing Green Fellow, he was also named to Magic Johnson’s 32 Under 32 list. In 2016, he was ranked in the top 3 most powerful young entrepreneurs under 25 in the world by Richtopia. Abouelnaga graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor’s in Hotel Administration and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Education Policy at Columbia University.
Providing an Educational Safety Net One Summer at a Time
Two-thirds of the achievement gap—disparity in educational growth between rich and poor kids—is the direct result of summer learning loss: three months not in school, plus the two months teachers spend reviewing old material because of it. In this talk, Karim Abouelnaga addresses the timely issue of struggles in education equality, and how innovative techniques can be used to solve them. As in his summer school program, Practice Makes Perfect, it’s vital that all kids see themselves as scholars. In PMP’s case, this means empowering teen mentors from low-income communities to be role models for younger participants, while providing teachers with an exciting new curriculum. He explains how he learned that the education system’s flaws are caused by apathy and neglect, not design. Everyone wants to do the right thing for the kids, but something gets lost. Abouelnaga will leave you feeling like solutions to intractable problems do exist—but that innovative thinking and entrepreneurship are much-needed in the education sector. Most of all, he shows that actions speak louder than words, and Practice Makes Perfect’s results are proof of that. An energetic and deeply focused young entrepreneur shaking up how children learn, Abouelnaga will get you excited to tackle your own corner of the education world.
Entrepreneurship from Scratch: Bringing Passion and Purpose into Focus
What is the “entrepreneurial spirit”? It’s not a set of personality traits. It’s when someone identifies their purpose and puts it into action. How do you identify your purpose? By engaging your passion; the thing that makes you happy, the thing that feels right to do. Karim Abouelnaga, named as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 leaders in education, never expected to find himself operating a summer school program for underprivileged kids, but as the child of a single mother on government aid, inequality in the U.S. education system was something that had affected him profoundly. It was an issue he was passionate about, in an area to which he could add value. Hence, his innovative program, Practice Makes Perfect, was born. In this talk, Abouelnaga will show how you too can engage your passion to find purpose, an entrepreneur in any domain—education, business, and beyond.