Mustapha Jazar

Ashoka Fellow

Through LASeR, Mustapha is creating a process that recruits the best talents from societies where institutions cannot do it themselves, and focuses these talents on addressing their societies’ biggest issues and opportunities. Hence, Mustapha effectively addresses the problem of brain drain throughout the Levant.

This description of Mustapha Jazar's work was prepared when Mustapha Jazar was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016 .

Introduction

Through LASeR, Mustapha is creating a process that recruits the best talents from societies where institutions cannot do it themselves, and focuses these talents on addressing their societies’ biggest issues and opportunities. Hence, Mustapha effectively addresses the problem of brain drain throughout the Levant.

The New Idea

Mustapha started the Lebanese Association for Scientific Research (LASeR), to promote research, and later employment opportunities, for graduate students studying pressing societal problems in Lebanon. In addition to empowering the graduates to study, pursue, and solve societal problems, Mustapha aims to change the social dynamics of Lebanese society by challenging the monopoly and centralization of the education system, currently based on religious sectarianism rather than merit. Mustapha is promoting social cohesion by challenging religious sectarianism while changing the nature and ability of the market to accommodate and be influenced by graduate research and its findings. His project also allows everyone to be a changemaker by localizing the opportunities for graduate research, and in turn allowing students to participate in changing their country’s social dynamics and pursue existing societal problems.

Through public-private and local-global partnerships, Mustapha enables local universities and NGOs to become active agents in entrepreneurial education and activity where marginalized youth are encouraged to bring about their innovative solutions. Mustapha is aggregating marginalized talents in the higher education system in order to empower them to make themselves and society better off. He is linking their talents to the market, countering the current system of monopolization and raising a generation of young adults who give scientific research a new, active, and practical meaning. Mustapha’s selection process is based on merit while utilizing the failed institutions to not only enable the dynamic, local markets but also effect change in society.

Mustapha offers a wide range of opportunities that are otherwise inaccessible to those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. He enables these marginalized talents to be more entrepreneurial by creating an integrated system. He encourages them to be entrepreneurial by making them fund themselves and focus all their resources (even though they’re poor) on solving societal problems. Mustapha’s project continues to create a change in both the market and the field of graduate research by linking the two, changing the market to match the needs of graduate research. Moreover, Mustapha is creating additional economic forces to revive that kind of change in the market.

Mustapha aims to build a sustainable architecture for the program based upon the current market and its strengths. Mustapha draws credibility to his local graduate research institution through the global graduate research community. His organization creates the graduate programs in order to fulfill and identify the gap or need in the market; these programs are created in partnership with European professors which also helps develop the capacity of local professors who collaborate with them. Then, the students most qualified apply and undergo a rigorous selection criterion to ensure adequate talents are selected to serve these market gaps.

Mustapha aims at further revolutionizing the graduate research field by making it accessible to graduates across the MENA Region through crowd funding, under the umbrella of EduNations, which is the developed and expanded version of LASeR. EduNations will be a pioneer in its field by acting as an open source crowd funding agent, hence allowing more people the opportunity to engage in graduate research, with almost no restrictions.

The Problem

“How do you identify, harness and encourage the very best talents in unstable societies to dedicate themselves to finding lasting, long-term solutions? How do you refocus donors and investors on cultivating this talent?”

Mustapha has been wrestling with these questions in the Levant, where chronic conflict has only accelerated in the past few years. Currently, 2 out of every 5 inhabitants in Lebanon are refugees from neighboring countries such as Syria and Palestine.

In-spite of all these obstacles, societies like Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and the rest of the Levant produce highly literate young people who are motivated to secure the best possible education. At the same time, there is a growing interest among Arab donors as well as international organizations to identify and invest in the talent from the Levant, especially when it is focused on areas of very high social, economic, or scientific impact.

However, obstacles range from the collapse of a functioning educational system in much of Syria to the corruption of selection criteria based on sectarianism rather than merit.

Mustapha’s scalable solution, being implemented currently for Lebanese students and Syrian student refugees living in Lebanon, has created the opportunity for hundreds of the most talented students to focus their graduate studies on systemic solutions to problems in the Levant. Mustapha’s approach to talent search, cultivation and retention is expected to grow fivefold in the next couple of years.

The Strategy

Mustapha developed an inclusive approach to decreasing brain drain while enabling citizens contribute to their communities in a robust, result-driven manner. His model includes access to accredited institutions (such as universities), fiscal support, applied-research driven studies, and a commitment by the graduate students to pursue their solutions for five years in their home countries.

Mustapha first put in place a transparent and unbiased selection process for students, regardless of their level of formal education. It is a several step process, where students first submit proposals and undergo a series of lengthy interviews. Mustapha then creates a pipeline (through NGOs, on-campus, and online campaigns led by his organization) of students willing and able to undertake graduate studies in areas deemed to be of high impact given the outlook in the employment market. Students who enter the program agree to follow prescribed fields of research and return to the Levant to pursue work in the same field for a minimum of five years.

In 2010, Mustapha, through LASeR, took control of the field of graduate research in a way that decentralizes the educational system in Lebanon. He also added new programs - Hydro Sciences and Mathematics and Applications. Most importantly, Mustapha has succeeded in pushing forward a law for the decentralization of graduate education, resulting in Lebanese University now offering education outside of Beirut.

In 2011 and early 2012, Mustapha’s organization forced the job market to change their requirements based on the available graduate research findings, hence not only giving these graduates job opportunities, but also making them changemakers in the different fields as well. For example, the microbiology team at the Lebanese University in Tripoli was recognized by the Lebanese Health Ministry as the unique accredited laboratory in the North of Lebanon for tuberculosis and other diseases based on the graduate research that has been supported by LASeR. Moreover, all public institutions in the field of food quality changed their requirements due to LASeR’s supported graduate research in this field.

By 2013, Mustapha’s entity has succeeded in changing the market dynamics and creating a more vigorous market that challenges the rigidity of the current economic system in Lebanon. Previously, there were few research and job opportunities for these students and their work had no way of making a real impact. However, now the corporations and job market in general are the buyers of human resources while the graduate students who they employ, and their research, impact the private sector. Furthermore, Mustapha advocates and lobbies for his graduate programs through meeting with the different influential corporations and establishing partnerships like Mobinet and Intelligile.

LASeR has succeeded in growing the market through the number of graduates who have been able to penetrate the market. 30% of the graduates who participate in Mustapha’s organization have thrived and established their own startups, where 6 of these startups are deemed successful, providing about 120 new job opportunities. Furthermore, 70% of the participants supported by LASeR, are hired in these same leading corporations immediately upon completion of their research. Most of these participants have graduated from programs in the fields of education, engineering and technology such as Software Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Microbiology.

Furthermore, in 2014, Mustapha began applying and promoting one very important tactic;tThe idea of working with the current market, when possible, and building on the strengths of it. This not only strengthens the market but helps make the organizations more robust. For example, LASeR has prospered in the fields of engineering and technology, which is a strong sector in the Lebanese market. Mustapha’s organization has used the existing market to create a positive feedback loop. Through promotion of their researchers, buyers are now interested in the graduate research being produced, which in turn creates more momentum in the market and leads to the production of more graduate programs, for example, Innovation Management, Environmental Studies, Engineering, and Food and Air Quality.

Through the momentum generated by the positive feedback loop, Mustapha succeeded in creating a sustainable architecture of the program. Mustapha sought the help of esteemed European professors in order to develop the capacity of local professors. He also created a relationship between his organization and the public universities, government, and the market. Moreover, all this will lead to additional investing and financing of more graduate programs, which ultimately lead to financial sustainably. At the beginning the program depends on governmental funding, then later on it gets its funding from different international organizations such as Asfari Foundation in the UK, Spark in Netherlands, RAF in Qatar, and other international foundations in Kuwait, KSA and UAE. However, for Mustapha the process does not end here. Mustapha administers questionnaires to all of LASeR’s graduates for over two years for his follow up research to help learn more about the success of the students as well as to continue understanding and successfully adapt to the changing market.

In 2014, Mustapha’s organization launched the “Syrian refugees’ higher education scholarships program”, where, using important discounts from the partner universities and funds from various Arab and European donors, more than 700 refugees’ university students were enrolled in various Lebanese universities up to date. The students are capacitated with various trainings and hands-on projects aiming the 21st century skills.

In 2015, Mustapha’s organization proved that it is a pioneer and leader in the field as it works on mitigating restrictions on the economy and the market that have been put forth due to the social disintegration, which in turn leads to a disconnection between the market and both the graduate students and graduate research. For example, a law was implemented by the Ministry of Health to validate the checks according to a criteria developed by a group of researches in the food and air quality program. Moreover, LASeR started establishing long-term partnerships with the institute of Food Sciences in the National Research Council, AUB, and Beirut Arab University to continue to push forward in the field of graduate research and to create sustainable momentum in the field. New programs for Biosciences were introduced at that time as well.

By early 2016, the most important factor that Mustapha’s organization began to stress is the quality of the graduate research done, and how it could be linked to the market through solving preexisting problems in society. Hence, LASeR allows Lebanese people the chance to solve their own problems and to make a change in their communities, something that is exclusive to Mustapha’s organization. Mustapha has succeeded through LASeR to allow graduate students of the Environmental Studies and Engineering programs to work on important governmental projects. For example, several students worked on a project regarding the leak of underground water to the Lebanese shore, which was assigned a total budget of $700,000 too.

In 2016, Mustapha also succeeded in promoting social integration and creating a sense of social responsibility between the Lebanese people through creating a link between local NGOs and the graduate programs, where the former is given a vital role in the selection and interview process of the graduates. This partnership has integrated NGOs, the market, and the graduates, consequently creating a full cycle. Moreover, he also started expanding his organization into EduNations, which is a graduate research organization that expands across the MENA Region. It is based on open source, crowd-sourced financing mechanisms and it is the umbrella organization that LASeR will fall under.

Mustapha succeeded, through LASeR, in creating a sustainable architecture of the programs, especially when it comes to the financials which gives his model the advantage of and the capability of being applied in different countries in the Arab World. He also negotiates steep discounts for members of his program to travel to conferences, and arranges repayment loans for students with installments on the loans beginning when students secure employment after graduation. There exists a shortage of qualified students in the field of applied sciences in the Levant. Mustapha therefore uses this pipeline of highly capable prospective students to negotiate substantial discounts in tuition fees at graduate schools across Europe, the US and elsewhere.

The Person

Mustapha Jazar was born to a Lebanese family in 1964. He’s the eighth of nine children and describes becoming a mathematician by “elimination” because it was the only field that consistently allowed him to come up with his own solutions for the problems. Recently, he received recognition for solving one of the Math Conjectures deemed to be unsolvable.

When Mustapha faced discrimination in the field of applied sciences being denied the opportunity to create graduate studies’ program for confessional reasons , he took his grievance all the way to the Prime Minister of Lebanon and won.

Based on this experience, Mustapha created LASeR as a systemic solution to the brain drain “the Lebanese youth leave the country upon completing their undergraduate degrees and do not contribute to their country’s socio-economic development” from the Levant. The impact of the applied research done by LASeR graduates in the food industry resulted in government investigation into unsafe food processing, sanctions and the creation of an independent and mandatory food inspection laboratory. Moreover, the research done in the field of environmental engineering influenced in the government’s decision to build a dam.

Mustapha also leverages his research priorities, pipeline, and talent to require universities to create master degree programs. This is a response to the need of the market for pattern recognition engineers. He arranged for the public Lebanese University to create a master’s degree with inter-disciplinary focus on mathematics and image processing. He also was behind the launching in 2015 of a new tent-room teaching diploma at the Lebanese International University, in response to the need of qualified tent teachers for the Syrian children living in camps.