Tell us about the moment that you and your co-founders realized that you had a concept that could become a reality.
We are three co-founders. Karim El Mehairy who is now finishing his Doctoral studies in Education at Oxford University. Sherif Tharwat who has since moved on to start Seasoned, a food and beverage establishment, and myself coming from a medical background and specializing in workplace mental health. In 2007, we joined forces and expressed a common interest in creating something that would benefit the community. After some experimentation and choosing what we were collectively the most skilled at doing, we focused on adult education in the workplace. Within a couple of years, we developed a deep appreciation for managers and the value they add both to their organizations and to society at large. From that point, our mission was pretty concrete: help organizations in educating and developing their managers.
In a nutshell, how would you describe the core services that Mirqah provides?
We help organizations grow managers through educational programs that mix the academic rigor of post-graduate degrees and the pragmatism of training. Our programs target improving management practice in three main areas: creating healthy and empowering workplaces, delivering quality products and services, and operating sustainably and profitably. Our customers are typically large multinationals and high-growth small and medium enterprises.
Was it a challenge to found the organization and create a demand for what you offer?
While I think the journey presented numerous challenges, we have luckily maintained a clear, competitive edge since those early days due to our research and development capabilities. We gained our first big customer, Etisalat (whom we have served for almost 11 years to date!), and started building a good reputation. We then started receiving recommendations and acquiring new clients. I believe in this age of digital marketing lots of budding entrepreneurs undermine the power of a reputation built from the ground up through serving customers and creating value.
One thing that I believe also really helped us is how much time and money we invested in our own development as people. Throughout the years we have maintained a policy of retaining as much profit within the business to grow it. Much of that profit went into hiring and further experimentation, especially with technology. And some of it went into building ourselves professionally through travel, courses, and post-graduate degrees. We now extend this same philosophy to our employees through funding their post-graduate education.
How did you identify the need for your services in the business community?
Through proximity to our customers. I think that is the way it should be done; get close to your customers, ask, listen and observe. We tend to idolize ideas and see them as the only possible starting point of a business, however that encourages you to incessantly keep fighting for a particular idea. I don’t think that fixation is particularly healthy. Working closely with customers and experimenting with an open mind allows you to truly hone your proposition. It takes some degree of perseverance and patience, but it can be immensely rewarding in more than one way.
As an organization that teaches and leads, how have your structured your team to meet the criteria you promote?
It might sound like a cliché, but it really is all about the team. We have had some brilliant minds throughout the years contribute so much to Mirqah. Creating an environment where people are treated with respect and where they are truly allowed to express their abilities and pursue their intellectual passions is key. This necessitated maintaining a level of flexibility in what we do and often shaping the business around the interests and capabilities of those working in it.
Where next? Any expansion plans or new developments?
We are currently focused on widening access to our programs in the Middle East and Africa. Longer term, we are working towards bettering management practice and research in the Global South.
We have also launched Mirqah Media Lab as a venture builder. Media Lab houses technologists and product owners who work together to create and spin off digital products that help solve organizational problems. We currently have two products in the pipeline: Learmapp™, a mobile-based learning social network that maps learning ecologies and Traders™, a web-based game that teaches managerial finance and accounting.