Interview Student Ambassador D&I Ibrahim Kayal

24 Nov 2023 09:30 | Entrepreneurship

Ibrahim is Student Ambassador Diversity & Inclusion at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS). Last year, he had the opportunity to travel abroad twice due to his role as a student ambassador. He attended the international meeting of the WeRin project in Cork and represented the Netherlands on an entrepreneurial trip to Georgia. Curious about who Ibrahim is and why he does what he does, we decided to give him a call!

Hi Ibrahim! You're speaking with the Research Group Entrepreneurship. I'm happy to talk to you! Can you tell us about yourself and what you do?

I am Ibrahim Kayal, studying Technical Physics at the HvA. Additionally, I am Student Ambassador Diversity and Inclusion at AUAS!

What motivated you to become Student Ambassador Diversity & Inclusion?

I am a first-generation student in my family. My native language is Arabic, not Dutch. Because of these factors, I faced numerous challenges while studying. Adjusting to dealing with two additional languages—English for reading and Dutch during classes—was not easy. I wasn't particularly skilled in spelling, and I also needed more information about studying as a refugee. I sought out this information myself and discovered the available support at AUAS, such as extra time during exams for students with language barriers. Because of my experiences, I became well-versed in the subject, constantly helping other students with their questions and staying informed about the difficulties students encountered. I did all this in my spare time. A teacher then asked me if I wanted to apply for the position of Student Ambassador D&I.

What does diversity and inclusion mean to you at AUAS?

For me, diversity and inclusion at AUAS mean that we all study, interact and feel at home in one building, even though we come from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and sexual orientations. How can we ensure that everyone feels at home, regardless of where they come from, whether they know the language, where they were born, or what skin color they have? I know many people who dropped out of their studies because they felt they didn't belong. AUAS has students from various backgrounds and cultures. We sit together in the same classes and work on group assignments together, but it's also necessary for these different backgrounds to meet outside the classroom. As Student Ambassador D&I, I think a lot about how we can achieve that. We are currently working on creating relaxation spaces. These spaces can be used by everyone—for taking a break between classes or for activities like prayer. It is a place where students from diverse backgrounds can come together.

That sounds like a noble mission! You recently attended an international meeting for the WeRin Project. Can you tell me more about this project and your role in it?

I participated in a workshop of the WeRin project in Cork, Ireland. Saskia Stoker, who is a partner on the project, invited me because of my role as a student ambassador D&I. 'WeRin' stands for 'Women Entrepreneurs in Regional Inclusive Entrepreneurial Ecosystems' and aims to make entrepreneurship education and support programs more inclusive for women. Women represent approximately 60% of graduates in higher education but are much less likely to pursue a career as an entrepreneur. This workshop focused on how we can encourage more women to become entrepreneurs. Women often face more obstacles than men due to various prejudices. We examined statistics on how the Netherlands and other European countries are doing in this regard. We also discussed what it actually takes to start your own startup or expand your network. We discussed solutions such as quotas to enable more women to become entrepreneurs.

These solutions have been around for a long time and have sparked much debate, but they haven't been fully effective yet. What do you think is needed to bring about change?

I believe that we need to make such solutions mandatory or set a standard. The Faculty of Technology has Esther Ras, a woman, as Dean now. This sets an example and can be inspirational for girls in Tech. I also think the government has a role to play in this.

What motivated you to participate in the project?

We live in one society, and it's absurd that men get more opportunities than women. This leads to division, makes women feel less valuable, and may discourage them from taking action, starting businesses, or believing in themselves. Regardless of who you are, you can achieve anything you want. This applies to AUAS as well. For example, in my technical studies, the majority are men because society believes that technology is for men. The same applies to entrepreneurship. It's the same story in the healthcare sector but then the other way around: more women pursue studies in this sector. These norms and expectations lead people to believe that studying, working, or doing business in a specific sector or at all is not for them, even though they could excel in those areas. That's a shame.

You also had the opportunity to travel to Georgia. Can you tell me more about that experience?

This was a Erasmus+ project about entrepreneurship in rural areas. The question was, what is it like to start your own business in the countryside? Because I had participated in the WeRin project in Cork, I could apply and represent the Netherlands there! Ten countries were involved. The project followed the concept of the TV show 'Shark Tank', where aspiring entrepreneurs try to convince wealthy entrepreneurs to invest in their business plans. I was part of the jury and we decided which ideas for rural areas we wanted to invest in. We looked at what would generate real income, whether the idea would work in rural areas, and whether it was sustainable. We also occasionally addressed diversity and inclusion. Starting a business in rural areas is challenging. Why do so many people move to cities and leave villages? It's because the amenities are in the city, making it difficult to establish a business in the countryside.

What have you learned from your international experiences?

When I returned to the Netherlands from Georgia, I was grateful for what we have here! The countryside in Georgia is very different from the villages here in the Netherlands. For example, they don't really have well-functioning public transportation. It was fascinating to discuss how things work in each country. I was also inspired to eventually become an entrepreneur myself. I received advice to gain knowledge from an employer and build experience before starting my own venture. So, that's what I'm going to do!