Fourteen years ago, I was one of the first group of students to benefit from Junior Achievement programs in Jordan (INJAZ). It was JA’s first year in the region and all bets were put on one woman – Soraya Salti. She was driven by a vision to empower young people and prepare them for a competitive global economy. Education to her was the foundational lever to do so.
I attended JA’s first business ethics course. In the year that followed, I became part of the recruitment committee, and the program grew to serve a few hundreds of students in my university. I went on to facilitate one of the programs, and then, at 22, I was the MC of the annual ceremony to graduate over 2000 students.
Soraya and JA made me ready to start my professional career with confidence and a solid foundation. In a university environment plagued with apathy and rote learning, Soraya opened up unimaginable opportunities for the students around her; at 20 I was on a panel discussing youth empowerment with queen Rania of Jordan, and at 22, I was at the annual summit of the Academy of Achievement in Chicago debating initiatives to restore peace and dialogue in the Middle East with presidents and prime ministers.
My years as a university student were better than any a student could have asked for, thanks to Soraya. I was ready, yet Soraya wanted to make sure we have a solid start. So, while I was at a JA event in the Dead Sea along with two of my friends who shared a similar JA experience, Soraya and one of her team members turned to one of their private sector partners – the CEO of one of the largest logistics companies in the region and the world and said: “These are three of my dearest kids, they’re ready now, my job is over, now it’s your turn”. That’s all she had to say, and a couple of weeks later, the three of us started our internships at Aramex, and a professional career that we owe a big part of to Soraya.
One of my two friends moved on to pursue her passion in media and journalism, studying at Columbia University on a scholarship. The other moved on to get her Masters and PhD in engineering, also on a scholarship, and is now an assistant professor at Stetson.
I moved on to pursue my passion in business and technology, introducing Soraya along the way to my employers, making sure they join JA’s network of private sector partners and tutors. At some point, I applied to a Chevening scholarship to pursue an MBA in London. Soraya, who by then was expanding INJAZ regionally, supported my applications with reference letters, and stayed in touch long after my MBA, giving me guidance and mentorship, keeping an eye on me while I was traveling the world growing my career and becoming a better global citizen.
Today, 14 years after I met Soraya, she left our world, leaving behind two million students in 14 countries that learned and developed through the program she led. It is beyond my comprehension that there are thousands of other stories similar to mine made possible because of Soraya. That’s a legacy that every man and woman dream of having.
Here are some of the lessons I learned from this great leader and dear mentor, that I try to embrace everyday, yet fail to fully embody them as well as she always did. I guess I’m meant to remain one of her students even when she’s gone:
(1) The hardest step in any success is to begin, if you believe in something, plan and start right away, the time is always ‘now’ – you’ll make mistakes, but that’s the only way you grow.
(2) After you start, you will only succeed with your team. Take care of your people: give credit when it’s due, when you succeed it’s because of them, when they fail, it’s on you.
(3) Stay positive, be patient, remain cheerful. You can win the world with a smile. No matter how good or bad it gets, it’s a journey that we should always celebrate.
(4) See the best in every person, everyone is the best at something, learn from everyone, and be there for anyone that seeks to learn from you. Never forget those that lent you hand when you needed one, we’re all in it together.
(5) Once you succeed, no matter how much you succeed, stay hungry, stay curious and always, always, always be humble. Today, the life of Soraya Salti should be celebrated.
Hussam Masri is Managing Principal, Value Advisory at SAP