Hussam Tarawneh

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow since 2015
This description of Hussam Tarawneh's work was prepared when Hussam Tarawneh was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015 .


Hussam identifies and nurtures children’s latent talents in the fields of science, technology and arts and allows them to employ these talents for the benefit of the community. He is doing this through incubating children’s talents and supporting them with financing, mentorship, scientific expertise, and physical spaces.

The New Idea

Hussam is creating an environment that empowers children and allows others to discover their talents at an early age in the fields of science, technology, engineering and arts. Through his organization, Creative Club, Hussam targets children ages 6 – 18 from low socio-economic backgrounds in the Levant. For children exhibiting early potential and outstanding skills, Creative Club provides them with a full-fledged support system free of charge which otherwise would not be available to them, with the aim of developing their talents and employing them for the benefit of their communities.

Hussam’s support system takes a four pronged approach. First, it includes hosting the talented children in a physical environment of spaces and laboratories. This allows them to improve their technical skills through specialized trainings and access to materials in the areas in which they exhibit their talent, as well as by linking them to mentors. Moreover, Hussam empowers the children who excel and want to implement their prototypes through financial and strategic support as well as market exposure. Second, Hussam creates a community culture that appreciates and nurtures children’s talents from a young age through specialized programs that target children whose talents are undiscovered. Additionally, Hussam’s programs are inclusive of parents so they may understand their responsibility in encouraging their talented children to excel rather than holding them back. Third, Hussam equips the children with basic entrepreneurial skills for them to turn their talents and productions into future jobs. Fourth, Hussam links the children with volunteering opportunities so they may utilize their talents and discoveries for the benefit of the larger community.

In his future plans, Hussam aims to institutionalize the concept of incubation, empowerment and nourishment of talents from an early age into all entities that deal with children, be they schools or Citizen Sector Organizations (CSOs). He is going also to replicate his model through the Arab countries such as Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Palestine through franchising.

The Problem

Countries in the Levant (Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine) are some of the smallest economies in the Middle East, primarily due to limited natural resources. More than 14 percent of Jordanians live below the poverty line. According to the Indux Mundi, the percentage of the population in Jordan under 14 years of age is 35.8% while those between 15 to 25 are 20.4%. Thus, around 70% of the Jordanian population is younger than 30, representing vast untapped creative and economic resources. While there is a wide emerging sector that focuses on incubating and nourishing aspiring and existing entrepreneurs, little is presented to uncover children’s talents and incubate them to grow and flourish.

Stimulating research and development requires the political will to indigenize science and establish the necessary infrastructure. This calls for greater Research & Development outlays than the fractional sums Arab countries currently invest, which do not exceed 0.2% of GNP. This ratio can vary from one country to another. For comparison purposes, the ratios spent by developed countries vary from 2.5% to 5%. This leaves little room to grow a new generation that can contribute to the Arab World’s technological, scientific or engineering advancements on a global level. According to a study conducted by Bloomberg on the 50 most innovative countries in the world, only Tunisia makes the cut coming in at 40th place.The Arab educational methodology is primarily based on instruction and rote-memorization. Schools lack supporting frameworks that discover and nourish kids of different talents and multiple intelligences like math, technology, engineering, sciences or arts. This is due to the fact that these topics require assessments different than the standard tests applied in all schools. In fact, minimum competency thresholds from international literacy and numeracy assessments at the Grade 4 and Grade 8 level are the sole modes of evaluating children’s success and intelligence at school.In the Levant region, a few schools exist that are solely dedicated to talented children who exhibit outstanding skills. However, these schools are elitist. They have long admission processes and expensive fees, they require children and their parents to identify their different talents or intelligences, and proactively seek to join the schools. Hence, no equal opportunity is given to underprivileged children who have a poor financial background, or to children who do not necessarily know of their skills due to the lack of a supportive and enabling environment mainly at school and home.

The Strategy

Hussam started working on his idea in 2010. He launched a non-profit organization under the name of “Creative Club” in Al-Karak - one of Jordan’s poorest areas in the south, which also happens to be his hometown. Hussam believes that the development and empowerment of children with unconventional talents is not a sophisticated task that should be reserved for the few who can afford it, but rather, should be inclusive of all.

Through his social venture “Creative Club”, Hussam works with children who exhibit outstanding talents and their surrounding environment with an ability to unleash their potentials and contribute to the region’s innovation and scientific advancements. Hussam empowers the children who know of their talents through an incubator that presents financial, technical, scientific and moral support. It accommodates children who may not know of their potential and builds the capacities of all children to link their skills and talents with the community and the business world. It is done using entrepreneurial skills training as well as community involvement programs. It involves parents in the children’s environment that can counteract discouragement at home which could otherwise decrease the children’s motivation.

Hussam started his idea out of a belief that children in the Arab World do not lack any particular natural abilities found in those from countries ranked in the top innovative countries around the word, but that what Arab World children lack is, in fact, a nourishing environment for their talents. The latter was the motivation behind Hussam’s launch of his Creative Club incubator.

To start reaching out to children and encouraging them to join his programs, Hussam created an outreach strategy to 500 Jordanian schools, where he went to every school and asked for children who “feel” that they have untraditional talents. He intentionally avoided asking for children with the best academic grades. He thought that the children’s own motivation and belief as well as teachers’ testimonials should be the main criterion for the kids to join the program.

The incubator targets children ages 6 – 18 who exhibit untraditional abilities in their childhood. Incubated children are categorized according to their age and the area in which they exhibit their talent and interest, be it: science, technology, engineering or arts (including music, poetry, painting and writing). Each child is coupled with a coach who is specialized in his/her area and who guides them across the path of trainings and educational courses they need in order to upgrade their skills and widen their knowledge. Some of these courses are directly offered by Hussam’s incubator while in other cases, coaches link the children with the Royal Scientific Jordanian Society and other similar institutions. At more advanced stages, children are connected to university professors for mentorship. Hussam’s physical space is equipped with scientific laboratories, a computer lab, a robotics lab, a thinking room and a library. Besides the availability of the educational courses and the access to the personal space free of charge, Hussam offers the children financial opportunities to prototype their inventions, join international conferences and exhibitions to present their contributions and learn from others.

The incubator is an open physical space for children, enrollment is open all year-long and children come to meet their coaches and use the laboratories on weekends, after school and during vacations. Some children have been retained in the incubator for more than 4 years, while some others are employed trainers of their younger peers later on.

Among the children incubated at Hussam’s Creative Club, one has invented a device for predicting earthquakes and was ranked fifth in a global scientific competition. Another registered a patency for a device that can track thefts. Several other children have invented robots carrying out different functions. Two others won third place in a global contest for math skills.

While working with children, Hussam realized that those who possess untraditional skills but are focused on science, technology or arts may not necessarily have the same level of social communication intelligence. For example, children may have invented a brilliant product but cannot present it to the public in an exhibition or a conference whether locally or globally. This led to the introduction of a life and social skills program to all the children in his incubator. The point was to increase the children’s level of confidence in themselves and to equip them with a holistic model of scientific and general life knowledge.

Additionally, not all children who have unconventional talents know of them. That was the motivation behind Hussam’s launch of a program that targets all children and encourages them to join the physical space to uncover their talents. General children’s programs are titled “After School Kids Math” and “After School Kids Science” as well as the “Robots Lab” where principles of math, sciences, and electronics are explained interactively through gaming techniques like chess and dominos. In the general programs, children’s fear of high-technology is broken and they are encouraged to deconstruct and re-construct the elements in their environment according to their imagination.

With the elder talented children, particularly those who are graduating from high school or college, Hussam faced the challenge of their misfit with the general corporate structure, and working system, as well as their inability to correctly employ their talents. This led to Hussam starting an arm of the Creative Club that offers entrepreneurial skills and community volunteering opportunities. For example, as part of the community volunteering, some of Hussam’s creative children paired up with other kids from a local community and addressed the challenge of electricity cut-offs through creating a device that automatically reduces the consumption of electricity when it exceeds certain limits. The device was distributed to 100 homes in the community and the children monitored the performance.

Hussam reaches out to children via online and offline media as well as through school outreach programs where his team conducts seminars inviting the children to join the Creative Club.

During his sustained work with children, Hussam reached the conclusion that those children who are supported by their parents are most likely to be retained in the incubator and grow. Hence, Hussam introduced to his Creative Club the “Adrenaline” program to encourage and unleash skills as well as counteract the discouragement the children face from their parents. The program involved opening the physical space of the incubator for the parents to join their children’s activities. Additionally, it extended into home visits for the parents of the most promising children to follow up with the family environment and the support it offers to the children to sustain their talents.

Hussam measures the success of the Creative Club by the children’s retention, their movement from one level of training to another guided by their coaches, the number of patents and technological and scientific contributions made by them. This also includes the exhibitions and global conferences they are invited to. Since 2010, Hussam’s Creative Club has empowered 2000 children of which 56% are females, 44% are males, 28% are elementary school children, 25% are in high school and 20% are in university.

Hussam’s organization is registered as a non-profit and has 3 core administrative team members. Hussam sustains the organization financially through grants from a wide network of partners that he created including the Jordan River Foundation, Shouman Foundation, the Ministry of Culture, the Central Bank, MBC media group, USAID, some corporations as well as universities, in addition to board members’ annual subscriptions. Initially, when starting the organization in 2010, Hussam entered a TV show competition and channeled the money for the seed funding of Creative Club.

In his future plans, Hussam realizes the expense of replicating his full model. Hence, he aims to deconstruct the model and spread each element to different Universities, CSOs and Youth centers in different governorates across the Levant region. By deconstructing his model, Hussam will apply different elements of his model in different areas based on the untraditional abilities of the children in those areas and the available collaboration opportunities. He is doing that through partnerships with youth centers, universities and clubs. Until now, Hussam expanded to more four poor areas in Jordan outside Al-Kark where the main physical space is. Hussam also started initiating partnership with Al-Naser Salah El-Din Award and Memorandum of Understanding with the King Abdallah Fund for Development supported by the Royal King to start founding more creative clubs in each city in Jordan. For example, some entities will be concerned with mentoring, others with providing technical facilities and financial support, etc.

Hussam will be directing the different networks of talented children to the different entities to complete their cycle of support. He is also planning to have a mobile bus that regularly tours the country promoting the concept of nurturing the creative talents of children from a young age and encouraging them to join his program. Simultaneously, Hussam is planning to create a common endowment fund from businessmen and public figures to replicate his full model across other places. While in the longer term, Hussam envisions creating the biggest science and technology park for children in the Arab World. He is nurturing his children from now so they can join the Creative Club’s board of directors in the future and take the lead in its development and deciding on its future plans. Moreover, he is working with university professors from University of Mutah on a proposal of integrating creative methods in school education and using critical thinking and analytical thinking as part of the education methodologies in all the schools around Jordan.

The Person

Born in Al-Karak, a town in the south of Jordan, Hussam was raised in a middle class family where he excelled in his studies and was among the top students at his school. After graduation, Hussam obtained a scholarship to study in the Czech Republic in the field of Agricultural Engineering. During his university years, Hussam was an active student who founded the first society for students from Jordan in the Czech Republic. While he was there, he gained the skills of mobilization, leadership, decision making and independence. Back in Jordan, Hussam pursued his career in Agricultural Engineering and was an active member of the Engineering syndicate as well as several volunteering roles in non-profit organizations. Moreover, Hussam was a regular writer in newspapers and electronic websites. Throughout his life, Hussam was active politically. He thought that social change should be brought about through the political arena.

It wasn’t until a life-changing experience happened in Hussam’s life that he decided to change his career, life path and convictions for how change happens. Hussam has 3 children all of whom have excelled in their studies and careers however; one in particular exhibited outstanding skills in technology and programming. Hussam’s youngest child, Ahmad, was supported from the age of 12 when his interest in computers and technology manifested. Hussam and his wife provided all the support he needed to nurture his talent. Their efforts paid off as their child was enrolled in the Royal School for developing creative children’s talents: “King’s Academy”. For his special skills, Hussam’s son was under the direct patronage of the Jordanian king until he graduated high school when he was accepted into 7 top American universities.

In the summer before university, while returning from camp, Ahmad died in a car accident. The incident was devastating for Hussam. He decided, only three days after his son’s death, to transform this grief into an opportunity. He realized that the surest way to bring about true social change is to invest in the future of creative children. Hussam chose to dedicate the rest of his life to spreading his son Ahmad’s message. He did this by creating an environment for more “Ahmads” who might not be as fortunate as his son to discover and grow their talents and innovative potential. That was when Hussam started learning all about entrepreneurship from scratch by himself and kick-started the “Creative Club” of Jordan.