Safaa Ouchen: You’re going to succeed over those trying to break you

With the rise of social entrepreneurship, more and more Motherland Moguls are using entrepreneurship to address economic and social problems. One of these women is Safaa Ouchen. In 2013, Safaa started Enactus ENA with her friends to address social and economic problems through entrepreneurial action. Here, Safaa clues us in on how she ventured into social entrepreneurship, how she plans to be part of Morocco’s solution and why the haters never matter.

How did you get into social entrepreneurship?

Social entrepreneurship is a passion I discovered when I was 17 years old through my work with Anoual Association. Anoual is a NGO in Kentira, Morocco that aims to develop our community in the field of education and to supports the development of social entrepreneurship. Since then, I’ve always been aware of the economic and social problems in Morocco.

When things started to get worse -with rising unemployment and millions living below the poverty line- I knew I wanted to be part of the solution. In 2013, with an amazing team, I founded Enactus ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Architecture, French for National School of Architecture). Enactus ENA focuses on the power of community development and the entrepreneurial spirit.

My work with Enactus has given me the chance to deepen my knowledge about social entrepreneurship in Morocco and how business skills can be used to improve lives.

What is Enactus? How did it come about?

Enactus is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring students to improve the world through entrepreneurial action. It represents a network of 36 countries around the world with more than 1,740 university programs, and works with more than 69,000 students.

Enactus provides a platform for teams of outstanding university students to create community development projects that put ingenuity and talent at the center of improving their livelihoods. Guided by educators and supported by business leaders, students take the kind of entrepreneurial approach that empowers people to be part of their own success.

We work on projects in three main fields: health and well being, architecture and tourism.

Enactus was started with your friends, what steps have you personally taken to grow Enactus?

It was during an internship on a construction site that I noticed workers didn’t have decent or respectful shelter to sleep in. What they had was made of lightweight material, which can cause serious health problems. Adding to that, their insufficient salary didn’t allow them afford the basic needs for themselves and their families.

After analyzing this problem, I scheduled a meeting with four of my teammates. Then I shared my project idea; a hut made of cardboard. Cardboard is cheaper but resistant and can make sustainable lodging. Together, we brainstormed and came up with more ideas to make the project even better. Then I assigned my team to do more research on implementing the project.

Tell us more about your cardboard housing initiative.

My team responded positively to my idea of finding innovative solutions instead of waiting for others to take the first step. We then came up with more strategies to increase positive outcomes:

  • Training workers to build these cardboard huts so they can work with us in order to increase their incomes.
  • Selling these huts made of cardboard to construction companies.
  • Establishing a production chain that will ensure both descent housing for the workers and a stable income for people who will build the booths.

It’s been 10 months since I started working on this social venture. My team and I have been through a lot of challenges due to the lack of information concerning the cardboard. It was difficult coming up with a prototype, building it and fulfilling the goals we defined at the beginning.

How has your background as an architect affected or helped you at Enactus?

As an architect I learn that results don’t come quickly and it needs time. When I’m working on a social problem now, I have learned that complaining about the results that don’t come quickly never changes anything.

So, I keep an eye out for a better way. I’m always on the lookout for new activities and new procedures, while keeping both short-term and long-range objectives in mind.

What is the one thing you dream of reaching? How do you plan to get to it?

I believe that I’ve never wanted to do just one thing. I wanted to do all the things! While growing up, I learned that most of the successful people succeed because their potential is concentrated on a specific thing. On the other hand, the people that failed did so because their potential was spread out in too many directions.

One of my biggest passion and dreams is to launch my own business and create positive impact in my community. This is the reason I created my social business which aims to solve the problem of temporary housing for workers. My experience in social entrepreneurship and social work has been so helpful in developing my business. Now, I’m actively planning out how to achieve accomplish each task on my ‘dream plan’.

What advice would you give young women looking to start an international NGO?

Go ahead and start it. You might meet people who are going to try to break you and tell you that’s not going work. Don’t pay attention to them. You’re going to go over them and you’re going to succeed.

My other piece of advice is, to forge connections with people inside and outside your communities. This is in order to build a network that going to connect you to different profiles. You’re probably going to need them while setting up the organization.

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