By Nour Assili (YES 2017 – 2018, Tunisia, hosted by AFS in Seattle, WA)
I would summarize my YES experience as “exchange for change.” During my exchange year, I learned about social engagement, collaboration and giving back to my community while having a global frame of reference. Hosted in beautiful Seattle, I was lucky to connect with peers who were different from my own background, and collaborate with them to create impact. I brought these valuable lessons back with me when I returned to Tunisia.
In my pursuit of “exchange for change” back home, I applied to Maghreb Bridge. It is a startup acceleration program founded by Injaz Tunisia and supported by the US Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). By connecting entrepreneurs from Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, it aims to accelerate startups to solve pressing issues in the region.
Our journey started with online coaching and late night brainstorming sessions which led up to our first pitch competition in Tunis. Focusing on education, our team created “Assirem for Autism” which means “hope” for autism in our local Berber language. Aiming to help children affected by autism, we train parents and school life assistants while providing educational resources through our online platform.
Over five months of market research, customer interviews and prototyping, we faced countless setbacks. From each experience, we developed and adapted our project. I was finally capable of enhancing my skills in marketing and business planning while communicating in remotely. By the end of the first phase, our team was a finalist and made it to the summer camp in Casablanca, Morocco to pitch in front of a real panel of investors. Reunited with my team once again in a different city, we were ready for the big day. My partner and I presented our project to the investor panel and explained our vision.
Looking back, my exchange year gave me the foundation I needed to apply to Maghreb Bridge. I took a variety of classes in Business and Computer Science, which are not offered back home. I applied the knowledge I learned during my time as a YES student to help others in a global setting. I also pursued my passions while serving my host community as the president of the first “Girls in Tech” club at my school. I also volunteered as a coding mentor for middle school girls. As a co-founder of a student company in my microeconomics class, I designed hoodies and water bottles to fundraise for charity. In a larger sense, my exchange year taught me about community service, initiative, and cultural exchange. I am grateful to the YES program for shaping much of who I am today – a lifelong learner and a driven entrepreneur.