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Thursday, 23 December 2021

My Morning Routine: Sherif El Ashiry, founder and CEO of MUN Inc.

Sherif El Ashiry, founder and CEO of MUN Inc.: Each week, My Morning Routine looks at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Speaking to us this week is Sherif El Ashiry (LinkedIn). Edited excerpts from our conversation:

My name is Sherif El Ashiry and I’m an enthusiast for Model United Nations (MUN) and sustainable development goals (SDGs). MUN has been a part of my life for the past 15 years and it led me to my current career path where I work to create diverse learning experiences for high school students through my company MUN Inc. I first joined MUN in grade 11 and I was very influenced by the community of like-minded curious individuals that want to understand more about how the world works and how international issues are solved on the ground.

MUN Inc. happened somewhat by coincidence. A teacher at a school in Cairo asked me to help out the students on a friendly basis as they prepared for an MUN program in the US. I enjoyed the process a lot and it soon struck me that this could be a viable business idea — and so MUN Inc. was born in 2014. We started by organizing trips to MUN conferences abroad and delivering training sessions to prepare the students who would travel. At the time, SDGs had just been recently adopted and we felt we couldn’t talk about the UN without mentioning one of their most important agenda items. From there, schools started asking us to give sessions that were focused on just SDGs and we ventured away from our original business plan to incorporate more session offerings.

We take a consultancy-based approach with schools. We ask them what learning objectives they want to achieve and tailor a program based on a number of factors including their school calendar, educational system, and strategy. We try to make our sessions go hand-in-hand with educational institutions and prepare students for the future.

Our programs include a lot of gamified learning and community-based activities. We want our students to know that they can take action to make a small local impact and actually go through the planning and execution phase to really enforce that idea. Some students chose to create a carpooling initiative to lower individual carbon footprints within the school community, others planted trees around the premises, and one group launched an awareness campaign about harassment.

We recently launched a financial literacy program with EG Bank to teach students how to save and invest in the future. We teach the students about banking products, doing their taxes, investing in the stock market, and overall life skills when it comes to finances through simulations and hands-on activities. By the end of this month, we’ll have finished our goal of delivering the program to 1k students.

The pandemic forced us to pivot a bit to introduce virtual sessions and change up our business model. With the uncertainty surrounding everything, schools no longer want to commit to long-term programs so we’ve introduced more diversified, compact programs that can be delivered in the span of a few weeks.

As CEO, I stepped out of the classroom a few years back and now my responsibilities include making sure all the teams are working in sync, maintaining relationships with schools and governmental partners, and defining the strategy of the company. We’ve been entirely bootstrapped from day one, but as we expand our growth objectives we’re currently fundraising and talking to several investors.

I’m not a morning person and mornings are a personal struggle for me. I have played around with morning routines to have a productive start to my day, but what really stuck was starting the day by gaming [laughs]. I play on my PC or my PlayStation and it helps me wake up while also giving me ideas on new game-based learning. I’m currently playing the remaster of Final Fantasy VII. After that, I sit down and start reading Enterprise with breakfast and coffee.

My workdays don’t have a specific structure. I can be at the office or at a meeting at a school depending on the day. I try to have a constant in my day with three hours of deskwork where I follow up on emails or touch base with the team on tasks they have. It’s important to stay organized under these conditions and at the end of every week, we have a meeting to set up a suitable schedule for all of us as a team… Thank God for shared Outlook calendars [laughs]. I also have a physical personal planner that I take with me everywhere

What’s next for MUN Inc. is to introduce our first program where students can sign up individually instead of through a school. We also hope to bring back our international trip offerings, with ideas to launch a tech-enabled MUN conference.

The TV series I always recommend is Mad Men. I’ve watched it several times and it resonates with a lot of people. I’m somewhat of a movie junkie and I have a target to watch 100 movies a year — I keep a list and everything. So it’s very hard to recommend movies because it has to be a very tailored conversation. As for books, off the top of my head there are two that really influenced me: Power of Habit and Tipping Point.

The best piece of advice I received was to not fall in love with my products. It’s important to love what your products do for your customers, but you still need to be flexible enough to revisit them and see if there's a way you can better serve the end-goal. This really helped me in strategizing and taking into account feedback.

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