Thinking Outside the Box

Director of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Environmentalism at GEMS World Academy, Dubai — Helen Al Uzaizi believes a positive mindset and passion are keys to success

Tell us a little about your career background to date?
I started my career in marketing communications working on some of the best global brands for 10 years. I later moved into community development working with disadvantaged youth on entrepreneurship and working on mentorship for entrepreneurs in the MENA region. Four years ago, I set up my own social enterprise providing entrepreneurship education to kids aged eight-15 years.

Tell us about your role here at GEMS World Academy, Dubai?
We are working to develop curriculums and embed entrepreneurship, innovation and social impact into the culture of the school. The school has been doing a lot of work so far and my goal is to integrate it as one guiding principle. We are developing a curriculum and hosting activities throughout the school. We are also setting up an incubator and accelerator that will support students with the development of their ideas. What this means for students and teachers is that we will be taking the school to a level that focuses on life skills and prepares youth for the future. The development of an entrepreneurial mindset is the core objective.

How will entrepreneurship be integrated for Grade 3?
It will be a project-based approach, using lots of imaginative, simple concepts, focusing on process rather than the product itself. Children at this age are open to developing skills and it is a critical time for us to develop that mindset. As the years progress, we’ll integrate more innovation. We’d love to see young entrepreneurs launching products and creating real businesses.

How do you plan to integrate entrepreneurship, innovation and environmentalism?
Through various programmes, students explore entrepreneurship as a way of life – allowing them to think outside the box and preparing them for life outside of school. The world they will graduate into is a different one than what we are used to, it requires a mindset that’s adaptable and creative, resilient and innovative while being socially aware and responsible.

Can any student become an entrepreneur?
Picasso once said that all children are born artists. I say that all children are born entrepreneurs. We all have it in us to do things outside the box, as it’s about taking an idea and making it actionable. Given the right approach, skills and opportunity, anyone can create. It requires the knowledge to move from the concept and ideation stage to a product or service. I want entrepreneurship to be seen as a mindset and not an overwhelming, huge topic that scares people.

What do you look for in a business idea?
The first thing to look at is, how passionate is the student? If you don’t have the desire to make an idea work, it won’t. Secondly, how scalable is it? There’s a market for anything if the product is good enough.

How much of entrepreneurship is down to luck?
I’m the wrong person to ask, because I think we create our own luck. I think luck is a series of opportunities that you take advantage of. If you’re passionate enough, you can see luck everywhere. I believe it’s a mindset.

Tell us something that your students don’t know?
I’m a triathlete. I always say that if you set your mind to something, you can do it. I learned how to swim and cycle in 2016. Before that, I couldn’t do either. I’ve completed 22 triathlons and four half ironman events in the past 18 months.