By: Sandhya D'Mello / The National
The UAE's vibrant startup ecosystem has the ability to nurture young talent, and this is evident across all sectors as disruption moves rapidly across the economy.
A team of ambitious students from Emirates Aviation University have quickly turned their winning idea from an innovation competition into a fully-fledged start-up called 'Project You'. The young innovators have created a platform that uses mentorship and guidance to help develop emotional intelligence and soft skills among high school students in the UAE, with the aim of improving confidence and self-awareness among young individuals.
Headed by Hend Mahmoud Al Rais and Abdulmatheen Yousuf, the team set about designing a collaborative programme that encourages school students to take part in workshops and social events, and talk openly with trained mentors about important issues such as self-confidence, stress and anxiety.
Project You secured a grant, plus guidance and exposure, from Expo Live during the first cycle of its University Innovation Programme (UIP), held during the first semester of the 2017-18 academic year. The team used Expo Live's funding and support to turn their idea into reality, starting with a four-week pilot project at a UAE school, which enabled them to research, identify and validate the core issues affecting student development. Expo Live is Expo 2020 Dubai's innovation and partnership programme and has an allocation of $100 million to back projects that offer creative solutions to pressing global challenges. Its various programmes support existing and aspiring social innovators. Expo Live provides grants, guidance and exposure to innovations that would not reach their full potential without its support.
At the end of the pilot project, 350 students were surveyed, with almost 98 per cent saying their levels of self-confidence had increased. Approximately 90 per cent said Project You's programme had made them feel comfortable to talk openly with mentors without fear of judgment. Based on their research, the team developed a four-year programme to run in parallel with the secondary school curriculum. Ultimately, Project You aims to bring about a positive impact, both economically and socially, by creating an auxiliary education platform that empowers young people with skills that facilitate personal development.
Fatma Ibrahim, assistant manager - Expo Live, Expo 2020 Dubai, said: "When the Project You team applied to Expo Live, all they had was an idea on a piece of paper. They've since told us that they weren't confident their project would move to the next stage of the evaluation programme, because Expo 2020 Dubai is such a big name. As we know, Project You secured Expo Live's support and is now a registered start-up in the UAE. Project You is living proof that if you're dedicated and passionate, you maximise your chances of finding the right people to back you. The team's success just goes to show that there's no such thing as a small idea."
Project You recently obtained its trade licence and is now an officially registered company in Dubai. The start-up is continuing its work with educators and students from across the UAE, and has identified 12 schools that it intends to work with during the coming six months as part of its 'Zayed Pioneer Series'.
Hend Al Rais, strategy and partnerships director, Project You, said: "We believe Project You is currently the only organisation in the market that can offer this type of holistic programme, as well as valuable insights that can help schools to improve their approach. What's more, we've built a model that is both agile and flexible in terms of the content it delivers. This means that future skills can easily be added to our model. At the same time, Project You's adaptable structure means that it is possible to eliminate skills that are no longer relevant. We are building an enterprise that can incorporate future changes."
Expo Live's UIP incentivises creative thinking, problem-solving and collaboration between university students, helping them to develop creative solutions to global challenges that affect our region. By awarding teams of UAE-based students with grants, the programme is helping young innovators take their creative solutions to the next level.