It was the first of Ramadan, 2020 – it was also the year of coronavirus, lockdown, remote working, home schooling, and overall global anxiety. Still, in spite of the circumstances, or perhaps due to the circumstances, we wanted to make this Ramadan extra special for our community members.
I remember sitting in my makeshift home office, I had just finished typing my announcement post, all that remained was to add a hashtag and then we would be good to go. I leaned back in my chair, read through my post one last time, closed my eyes for a couple of seconds, and just like that, I saw the hashtag flash right in front of my eyes: #tal3et_kheir (Act of Goodwill). Straight away, I knew that was the one, this captured the very essence of what we were trying to do.
The idea was simple, we will encourage our community members to write an intro post on EPN, our Egyptian Professionals Network facebook group, and for every #tal3et_kheir post, Fady Younan (aka my partner in crime and co-admin) and I, would donate an amount to a charity that EPNers would choose.
I put the finishing touches to the announcement. #tal3et_kheir slotted in perfectly into the banner I’d put together. I’ll be the first to admit I’m no graphic designer, so just a quick and simple banner using PowerPoint would have to do. Now deep breath, press publish. And there it was, the post was up on our EPN group and suddenly visible to our 4,000+ members with a simple click of a button.
Will this work? I wondered. The minutes go by and the post only gets a couple of likes and no comments. Whilst I was still hopeful the post would pick up some engagement before the Facebook algorithm seals its fate, the truth was the initial indications were not too promising. I check the time again (I’m based in the UK) and suddenly it dawns on me, this is right after iftar time in Cairo, where most of our members reside, how did I miss that?! I wait a few more minutes and then I send Fady a message that reads “I think I posted too soon after iftar… good to know for future reference! On the plus side, I guess we get to save a lot of money!” I tried to make light of the situation and focus on the lessons learnt (note to self, timing matters!).
A couple of hours later, the comments slowly started piling up, and then came the breakthrough moment, one of our group members, Sherief Hussein Omar, who had never posted before, decided to take the plunge and write the first #tal3et_kheir intro post. It is actually the shortest, briefest #tal3et_kheir post on our group, and had no images, frills or bells and whistles attached, but that didn’t matter. This was the tipping point.
By the time I went to bed, I had lost count of the number of #tal3et_kheir posts that were flowing in, by the following morning there were even more. And then they kept coming and coming for days and weeks on end. The personal and professional stories shared became more intimate and more elaborate as the days went by, people started sharing the highs and the lows of their careers & personal journeys, there were stories of start-up failures, battling illnesses, job losses, as well as accounts of eventual success and shared moments of deep personal pride.
The comments on these posts were just as mind blowing, they were authentic and heartfelt, positive and encouraging. And then the cherry on top, through these posts, people started reconnecting with old friends, they discovered new things about their family members, they made new connections, they discussed potential collaboration and partnership opportunities, they got new clients (some got their first client from a #tal3et_kheir post), they got job offers, they received and offered advice to people going through similar situations, and many more. It became obvious, the ‘kheir’ (goodwill) in #tal3et_kheir was not just referring to the charitable element, every new post was literally doing ‘kheir’ in so many different ways. What started as a tiny drop grew to become this large, beautiful, flowing river of positivity, solidarity and encouragement in our community.
The Ripple Effect
Fast forward 3 beautiful and special weeks into Ramadan and our #tal3et_kheir initiative, our community chose to support the cause of the Educate Me Foundation. A few days ago, we did a live interview with Yasmin Helal, Educate Me Founder and Executive Director, also an EPN member. For an hour we were transported into the world of Educate Me and the 350 children they look after and provide with free quality, evidence based education.
During that interview, we were reminded of the concept of the tiny drop and it’s compound effect in a profound way. The Educate Me story started years back, when one day Yasmin was stopped in the street by a random stranger asking her for LE 40 to pay his daughter’s school fees. Yasmin told him she will happily do so, but she would like to pay this directly to the school. She then gave this random stranger a date and time to meet at the school gate, not knowing whether he would actually turn up. Sure enough he did, Yasmin paid the school fees, and walked away deeply disturbed by the notion of a parent not being able to afford to pay just LE 40 for his child’s education.
Fast forward nearly 10 years, with no background knowledge or initial experience in education, Yasmin set up Educate Me foundation and built a large, experienced and passionate team of educators and support staff that now provides free schooling to 350 children in Talbeya, Giza. Educate Me’s impact is far reaching, in addition to their own school, they also provide teacher training on their best in class teaching methodology for public school teachers in 7 governorates across Egypt and are hoping to extend that reach across the country.
Sometimes All It Takes Is an Idea
Ramadan has now ended , and what started off as a small initiative whereby only myself and Fady would donate to a cause that our community selects, ended up with our community raising in excess of LE 70,000 to support the education of several beautiful Educate Me pupils.
As an EPN community, our collective #tal3et_kheir experience will be relived and remembered for a long time to come I am sure. Our community came together, we bonded in a way that we did not think was possible through a social platform, people openly exposed their vulnerabilities and shared their successes in a manner that normally only happens within a small group of best friends. We supported and celebrated each other, and then we came together to make a positive lasting impact for a cause that is bigger than any of us.
As I reflect on this experience, I realise that sometimes all it takes is an idea, followed by one simple email, message or phone call to set the wheels in motion. Sometimes it takes one person, in our case Sherief, to believe in that idea and ignite it all, then it takes the continued and sustained action of each subsequent person to keep the flame burning brighter and brighter.
At every stage in our adult lives, we will each get multiple opportunities to play a role in positive waves of change, whether these roles are small or big, it’s important we grab these opportunities and make sure we keep the chain effect going.
So if you take nothing else from this article, please take time to reflect on these parting words:
Have an idea? Take the plunge today.
Positivity is infectious.
Authenticity is heartfelt.
The ripple effect is real.
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