The Story Behind One of the Arab World’s First Learning Experience Design Studios

Nafez Dakkak
Kashida

Kashida is Lebanon-based learning experience design studio with a footprint beyond the MENA region. Recently, part of the leadership team was in London to receive the award for Best Learning Technologies Project in the Public Sector based on their work with SEDCO in Saudi Arabia on the Riyali Financial Literacy for Entrepreneurs Program.

QRF sat down with Raneem Mourad, Managing Partner at Kashida, and Hassan Mourad, Director of Technology Innovation to learn about their entrepreneurial journey.

The interview has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.

 

QRF: Thank you for being here with us. We are excited to learn about your entrepreneurial journey. Can you tell us about yourself - what is your story?

Kashida: We are three siblings and we started exploring e-learning in 2004. We founded Kashida in Lebanon in 2011 but work with partners across the globe. We started Kashida because we realized that most providers in the market came from an almost purely IT background and were trying to retrofit the education component around their technology solution as opposed to the other way around: starting with education first. Essentially, we are focused on the learning experience design and then build our solutions from there. The meaning of the Arabic word Kashida embodies this importance of creating connections and enhancing meaning.

 

QRF: What are the biggest challenges you are facing today?

Kashida: We have a customer base that’s HR focused, and HR especially in our region is still not fully focused on learning and development (L&D) – most often due to lack of management buy-in. As such, we find that we spend a fair amount of time with clients helping them analyze and understand their L&D needs, so that then they can begin to understand their aims and goals, and then lobby for a clear training budget with a robust case. In other words, the challenge is to empower our customers to know more about what is possible and guide them away from looking at older metrics.

Second, our biggest challenge is finding the right talent in learning experience design. The industry is still quite nascent. To date, nobody we’ve hired has had previous experience in e-learning. You often find people with the raw components - but nobody with experience in learning experience design itself.

 

QRF: What are your top two or three lessons from your journey so far?      

Kashida: We actually have three key lessons we can share. First, as a family-run business we’ve realized that it’s very rewarding working with the people you trust the most, but on the other hand you often get so invested from a personal perspective that it’s hard to create a work life-balance. In that sense, it’s important to always be conscious of drawing the needed mental and physical barriers.

Second, incorporating video into the learning journey or experience is very important to clients in the MENA region. Having said that, we have noticed that the market in the region tends to adopt global trends quite quickly - especially in the GCC.

Finally, a key lesson for us has been that collaboration in this industry is key - we are yet to meet an e-learning company that we feel is “competition”.

 

QRF: Most education entrepreneurs enter the space with the goal of creating a positive social impact, in addition to healthy financial returns. How do you balance mission and profit at Kashida?

Kashida: We are still trying! Our vision is to give everybody the opportunity to learn simply and easily. In order to do that we need to be sustainable, and we are currently focused on delivering a B2B model. We are big believers in open learning for the end user. Our end goal is to really have our own open platform, where the content is subsidized by sponsors and free for learners.

 

QRF: What recommendations, or thoughts, do you have for improving the state of educational innovation and entrepreneurship in the MENA region?  

Kashida: From a policy perspective, traditional educational institutions need to better embrace innovation in education and new ways of teaching - both in regards to the degrees they offer (e.g. learning experience design) and how they teach. We believe that will spur innovation in the educational ecosystem by creating demand for more creative ways of teaching and learning. For example, we need to start recognizing the value of informal education and creating credentialing pathways for skills learned outside a formal educational setting. We believe these developments would be critical in offering better educational outcomes for refugees and other disadvantaged learners - sadly, an issue of growing importance in our region.  

 

QRF: Thank you for your time and insightful answers. We wish you and the team the best of luck going forward.