Sawsan Khuri – Leaving A Legacy
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the incredible Sawsan Khuri. Business owner, Entrepreneur, Scientist, Lecturer, Mum and Wife. A PhD from the University of London, a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts, a Member of the International Women’s Forum UK, a Resident at Kaleider in Exeter, featured in the Super Cool Scientists Coloring Book and bilingual in English and Arabic (as well as being conversant in French and Spanish). How’s that for a CV!
Born and brought up in Beirut, Lebanon, Sawsan moved to England as a teenager after fleeing the Lebanese Civil War with her family. After attending university, getting her PhD and starting her career working in academic environments, she then met her husband and proceeded to move around the world and, in her own words,
“reinvented herself every time she moved to a new country.”
After living and working on several continents, Sawsan and her husband ended up in Miami where Sawsan transitioned from being a traditional academic to taking leadership roles within academia. She became Director of Engagement at the University of Miami Center for Computational Sciences, a role that tasked Sawsan with making a super computer a household name in Florida.
This role fused the fast-paced world of tech with strong elements of social enterprise and classic academic research. It also gave Sawsan the opportunity to work with young people and actively encourage young women into the worlds of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Then, in 2016, Sawsan and her husband took the decision to move back to England for family reasons. She became affiliated with the University of Exeter where she continues to this day to lecture part-time in Biomedical Sciences at their College of Medicine and Health.
“I have discovered through my career so far that I am a fairly rare mix – a communicator, a connector and a scientist. These aren’t things which often go hand in hand! I highly value creating environments where individuals can ask big questions and collaborate together to find creative and innovative solutions to those problems. The momentum which collaboration generates is matchless and people can truly get further faster when they harness their thinking, energy and passion.”
Having made a career from empowering and equipping people of all ages, genders and cultures, Sawsan established Collaborative Capacities, a business which facilitates, trains and mentors people. They help individuals and groups to collaborate, create and make connections – either within their own organisations or between their organisations and other ones.
“I have always thrived at the intersections – in ‘the middle space’ between people and ideas. I get a huge buzz from working with groups of people from different backgrounds and making connections between them – equipping them to collaborate and innovate together.”
As well as creating collaboration spaces throughout her career, another common thread between the multiple roles and locations in Sawsan’s career has been her passion for working with young people aged between fourteen and twenty-four.
“I found myself frequently offering training and advice to young people about entrepreneurship so, in partnership with my brother, founded a dedicated second company called Advance Youth Now which mentors teenagers in entrepreneurship. We believe that using entrepreneurship early is life-changing and we empower teens to become more resilient, develop financial independence and take control of their time.”
“My brother and I both have two teenagers each and I remember several conversations that we shared when we bemoaned the lack of relevant training, upskilling and equipping given to our children in the mainstream schooling system. They weren’t being prepared for the world of work properly so we decided to start something ourselves to fill that gap and provide valuable opportunities and experience for young people.”
I quizzed Sawsan on her definition of entrepreneurship (aside from the somewhat stereotypical examples of Richard Branson or Lord Alan Sugar which often readily roll off of the tongue). She replied,
“We try to smash to pieces the common misconceptions around entrepreneurship in the first ten minutes of our workshops. We hold to the definition of entrepreneurship used by the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. They define it as ‘creating something new that is of value to others through learning by trial and error.’
She went on,
“This definition nods towards the common traits shared by true entrepreneurs. Bravery, creativity and resilience along with the willingness to get things wrong, learn quickly from their mistakes, adjust and try again. After all, there is only so much that we can train and prepare young people for the realities of the entrepreneurial life. There are some lessons that you can only learn first-hand by experience and not in a workshop or learning environment. But what we can give these young people are the fundamental skills to understand and navigate those experiences and situations properly.”
Reflecting back on our conversation, Sawsan concluded,
“I am inspired and driven by the idea of creating positive lasting legacies in business, academia and society. Both in drawing people together for collaboration now and training the next generation of business owners and entrepreneurs, I look forward to the future with excitement and with a belief that the best is yet to come.”