By Meriem Djanati
STEPS is a Nonprofit Organization that aims to create a generation of innovative scientists, engineers and technologically literate citizens by offering hands-on activities and challenges that focus on real-life problem-solving.
Photo taken from STEPS Facebook page
STEPS was born as a mere idea when Oumaima Bendjama applied for the SUSI program that is sponsored by the US embassy in 2016, with the hopes of creating something that would promote education, science, and technology. However, her idea thrived during the program as she gained more experience and knowledge about social entrepreneurship. By the end of the program that took place at the University of Connecticut in the United States, Oumaima came back to her home-country Algeria with a more mature and ambitious plan for her project. She started the process of implementing her project by analyzing and researching the issue that she wanted to address, which is the educational system in Algeria. She saw that Algerian students lack access to technology and are not provided with the adequate education before entering university and specializing in the STEM field. Consequently, students either fear majoring in the STEM field or struggle when they do. As someone who believes that science and technology are important in order to have social and economic prosperity, Oumaima found this missing piece in the educational system as very problematic to the future of her country. Therefore, she decided to give young people access to these information by organizing workshops or boot camps for children between the ages of 10 and 15 to encourage them to get involved with science and technology.
“When you think a lot about your project you feel paralyzed. You think that this is too big and you are just one person,” said Oumaima as she talked about how she felt prior to her first workshop, but she did not let that stop her so she decided to just go with it and see how things turn out. She launched an online registration form to get volunteers to help her, then they organized STEPS’ first workshop which was about astronomy and coding. In order to design and deliver curriculum in science, technology, and engineering the STEPS team meets so they brainstorm ideas and plan for workshops or boot camps. They use open source materials either for inspiration or to work with. The workshops which are project based can be made in a single day or several days, and they contain different themes. Previous workshops were on: coding, programming, robotic training, biology, human anatomy, astronomy and pharmacy.
Photo taken by Oumaima Bendjama.
In order to continue with the implementation of STEPS and to continue organizing workshops, Oumaima found herself at a lack of resources, so she started applying for grants and programs that would help her fund her project. The first program she applied for is AIEF: The Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund which is sponsored by the US embassy. After winning the AIEF grant, the STEPS team applied for the program SafirLab which is an accelerator of social innovation and it is funded by L'Institut Français. SafirLab
connected the STEPS team to a business incubation based in Algiers called The Algerian Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Winning the grant and having the opportunity to be incubated by ACSE gave the STEPS team a new vision for their project, so they started considering turning STEPS into a social enterprise and that is what they are currently working on.
Photo taken from STEPS Facebook page
As Oumaima was working on implementing her project she faced some challenges. She says that one of the major challenges she had to deal with was finding people who were committed to the project and willing to put their best efforts into it without gaining profit from it:” it is not easy to try to create something of quality and at the same time you cannot pay people for it.” Team management is another challenge that Oumaima faced. The best solution in Oumaima’s opinion is to create a system that preserves the quality of the project, so even when volunteers leave unexpectedly, new volunteers can just follow the system. “What I try to do is to share as I can with my team and to make them involved in what I’m doing.” Since Oumaima is still a student and some volunteers too, time is also an obstacle they have to face. She considers time as a precious and limited resource, so it needs to be used well. The tip that she shared with us is to put your full attention and energy on the task that you are performing at the moment. If you are doing your homework do not think or worry about your work, and if you are working you need to put your studies aside, do not mix the two together. So if you are working on a project and you have problems with time management, you might want to note this down!
Photo taken by Yaakoub Benarab.
So far STEPS organized workshops in the city of Setif and Constantine, but in the future, they might organize one or two workshops in the capital Algiers, there is also a possibility of them being present in the International Book Fair of Algiers (SILA) of 2019. As a social enterprise, their business model is based on offering private schools or private companies premium offers so they can organize workshops, programs and camps in these schools or for the children of the employees of the private companies. However, they are still working on it.
Photo Taken by Oumaima Bendjama.
Oumaima Bendjama has two pieces of advice for young people interested in starting their own projects or in addressing the same issue: the first piece of advice is related to social impact in general and the second one about science and technology. For the former, she advises you to analyse an issue that touches your heart and to see where you can make the best impact. She emphasizes that sometimes it is not by creating a social enterprise that you could make the best impact, sometimes it is simply by joining an organization that already exists and by using your skills (such as researching) in where you can make the best impact. So, analyze your own skills and abilities and find a fitting job or opportunity where you could use them to make the best out of your abilities and help others benefit from. When it comes to science and technology she thinks the best thing to do is to become a mentor for kids and teenagers, because then you can plant the seed of passion in them. So try to engage kids and teenagers in activities related to science and technology, and especially in activities outside of school because it catches their attention more. “Kids feel encouraged when they see an adult who believes in them and pushes them to do better,” said Oumaima when speaking of her own experience as a mentor.
Facebook: STEPS - خطوات
Additional helpful links:
Facebook of The Algerian Center for Social Entrepreneurship
Further information on SUSI program here.