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What if Health Education Were a Game?

23 January, 2014
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BY Valentina Primo
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Named one of Forbes' Top 30 Social Entrepreneurs under 30, Egyptian physician Mohamed Zaazoue engages 600 volunteers in his globally recognized initiative Healthy Egyptians.Through a curriculum of coloring books, puppet shows and games, he explains children why medicine is not only for doctors.

How did you start as a social entrepreneur?
My community development passion started as an extracurricular activity while I was studying medicine. I started as a volunteer in an Egyptian NGO called Egyptian Medical Students' Association (EMSA), until 2012, when I decided to start my own NGO, Healthy Egyptians, to empower people to make healthier choices.

In a society where not many people have access to education, media, or even literacy, how do you innovate to raise awareness?
The problem in Egypt is that there has been a wrong culture deeply embedded into the Egyptian mindset: that health education is exclusive to doctors. When you are sick, you go to the doctor and get prescribed medications, but when you aren't, you do not seek to educate yourself regarding your health. And this has been supported by the fact that people do not encounter a single health education subject in their schools or professional careers.

This has made it very difficult for any social entrepreneur working on health education, because people simply have no interest in listening to what we have to offer. That's why I decided to come up with innovative tools to spread awareness. 'Montasser Overcomes' is a series of coloring comic books addressing different diseases or bad health habits provided in a simple and easy-to-understand way for the children. We have also developed 'Montasser Overcomes' into cardboard games that we use during our campaigns and puppet shows. Later on, we decided to transform Montasser into a high quality cartoon movie, and we have successfully produced our first episode 'Montasser Overcomes: Pneumonia' on Youtube.

I am also developing a 'Portable Child Cinema'; a booth that can be carried on a truck and installed in malls, schools, or impoverished areas. The booth is designed like a real cinema for children, with small attractive chairs, a wide screen TV and a sound system. We have reached over 50,000 children so far.

How does the company work now? How do you financially sustain it?
Healthy Egyptians conducts health awareness campaigns regarding the major killers of children under the age of five in Egypt and the region: pneumonia and iron deficiency anemia.

At the moment, Healthy Egyptians depends on grants, individual donations and infrequent sponsorships by interested companies. While we have managed to obtain financial stability for the past two years, we are currently looking for major partnerships with multinationals or interested donors to give Healthy Egyptians sustainability.

What advice would you give to a person that wants to start his own Social Business?
First of all, look around the community and realize a genuine social need to avoid any duplication of efforts.

The second step would be to look for a team of highly motivated people, who believe in your cause and are willing to give their all. I was lucky enough to find such a team, which is the [key to] the success of Healthy Egyptians.

The third step would be to brainstorm, along with your team, on how to tackle your cause in the most innovative and creative way possible. The key phrase here is: Think outside the box! Put yourself in the shoes of your beneficiaries, and think about how they would want to be approached and helped.

The fourth step is perseveranceno matter how big the obstacles are that you face, you have to be patient and persistent in tackling them. Nothing stands in the face of a true believer in his cause.

Social entrepreneurship is highly needed in developing countries like Egypt. Whether you want to pursue a career in social business, we should all allocate some of our time, efforts and resources towards community development. I am a full-time neurosurgeon, besides being the President of Healthy Egyptians, which has grown rapidly in less than two years to become a multi-million pound organization, claiming awards and recognition from all over the world, including Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Financial Times, and Forbes.

If your cause is related to the healthcare field in Egypt, you can contact Healthy Egyptians for legal, financial, logistical and professional support at info@healthyegyptians.org

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Tags Bridgegypt gamification healthcare Montasser Overcomes animation creative campaigns in Middle East Egyptian NGOs Entrepreneurs in Egypt Forbe's top 30 under 30 health education Health in the Middle East Social Entrepreneurs in Egypt

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