Unsung Hero – Youssef Aziz

It’s been quite a long time since I wrote any posts on my blog, but there are certain things that can’t be kept silent for too long. This is a message of gratitude to an unsung hero.

369751_529295847_1488966648_n_400x400I’d like you to meet Youssef Aziz,
a dear friend of mine, an activist, an a true unsung hero in several NGOs I’m engaged with.

This gentleman works behind the scenes, does double the effort than most, has the kindest of hearts and a brilliance that is rare to find.

Topping all of that, he is down to earth and a true believer in the values of the organizations he joins/founds/advises.

What triggered my post is the fact that this week…one of the dear NGOs to his heart, and mine, has been officially shut down. It wasn’t shut down by force or by external factors but by an unanimous Board decision, including Mr. Aziz. The choice was tough for all of us, but I know for a fact that it is by far the toughest on him than any of us.

In spite of all that, he’s been orchestrating the process, handing all the necessary documents and coordination to ensure a smooth and successful transitioning for the status of the organization.

But his efforts, input and value is not just about this NGO, but rather for the past 9 years I’ve known him in, he’s been the most trustworthy, consistent and resourceful individual in my volunteering experience.

So to you Youssef I want to say, your work shows when the organizations you’re involved in succeeds in whatever decisions it takes. To you I say, and bluntly, if it wasn’t for you, at least 4 NGOs that you and I know of/volunteer with/advised, wouldn’t have succeeded or existed. So what you’ve done, is setup the infrastructure for those NGOs to be built on, serve others and grow.

On my behalf, and undoubtedly on the behalf of many others, I say thank you for who you are, what you’ve done and what you continue to do day in day out.

 

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NGOs 101: Categories of NGOs

NGOs 101 Series

Considering that NGOs target various geographic scopes, they can be categories accordingly. Below is a breakdown of their categories:

Community Group: Family Associations, Village Cultural Clubs.

Local NGO (LNGO): Aie Serve, Sesobel, Greenline, Ayadina, Beeatoona, Ibtissama.

Regional NGO  (RNGO): MENA Entrepreneurs Summit, Anna Lindh Foundation(EuroMed), African Aid Network, European Youth Federation.

National NGO (NNGO): MentorArabia, Injaz, Safar Fund, USA Red Cross.

International NGO (INGO): PMI, World Vision, Red Cross, Rotary, Greenpeace, Save the Children, Oxfam.

It’s important to clarify here that the following International Organizations (IOs) are NOT considered NGOs: UNDP, ESCWA, UNESCO, ILO, OPEC, FAO, Arab League..etc.

Let me know how that sounds.

From 2013 to 2014: Reflections & Projections

2013 2014Now that we’ve embarked on 2014, and after spending some time reflecting on how everything went in 2013 in my life, I’d like to share some of the milestones and things that were important to me in 2013 and some of those that I have planned for 2014.

Over the years, I’ve learned that when we share and write what we have achieved, we value it more, and when we do the same for what we dream and plan of, we somehow become more psychologically motivated and committed to achieve it. So I do recommend you share the same, whether here as a comment on this blog posts or with your network somehow.

 

So here it goes:

 

2013

 

Personal:

·       Read A Lot: Just a quick estimate, I read around 3 articles daily on topics of interest, each ranging from 1 to 5 pages. So if I take an average, I read about 1,000+ different topics in 2013 alone.

·       Learned to Let Go: For someone like me who likes to stay on top of things and feeling in-control, it was a tough journey. But nevertheless, I did manage to let go of some personal relations, roles in NGOs and the actual need to be in-control of so many things.

·       Spent More Quality Time: Yes, this was a key goal for me to have a more balanced life in 2013, and I am glad to say I truly value the quality time I spent with family, friends and loved ones.

·       Traveled to New Places: In 2013 alone, I traveled to new cities I never visited before and are London, Oxford, Cappadocia, Mersin, Khartoum and Dubai.

·       Slept More Daily: As of early December, I managed to sustain a 6~8 hour sleep per day (up from just 3~4 hours previously).

 

Career:

·       Got Promoted: Through my work at CMCS Lebanon, I got promoted to the position of Deputy Operations Manager and will be starting my new role as of January 2014.

·       Coordinated A New Program at AUB-CEC: Also through CMCS Lebanon and in collaboration with AUB CEC, I’m proud to say I played a key role in launching and coordinating the Region’s 1st Project Management Postgraduate Diploma. But to be honest, team work is everything, and the team I work with at CMCS and AUB are the ones who truly made it all happen.

·       Trained A Lot: Throughout 2013 I gave more than 10 training courses at AUB and others, while I’ve also introduced a new certificate based training course about Business Analysis called Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) which I’m also the only certified professional in Lebanon till now.

 

NGOS & Volunteer Work:

·       Transitioned Out of Aie Serve: For 7 years, I served as a co-founder and president of Aie Serve and it was about time to let a new leadership come in place and shine. So I’m proud to say that we successfully did an elections where a whole new Board was elected and I transitioned to become one of the organization’s Advisors.

·       Revived Global Shapers Beirut Hub: In December, leaders of the Global Shapers Community from the World Economic Forum visited Beirut, and with their support and some Shapers in Beirut, I’m glad to say that I’m playing a role in reviving the previously dormant Beirut Hub. Thus 6 new Global Shapers were recruited in December.

·       Launched A Youth Project at PMI Lebanon Chapter: With the support of my fellow PMI Lebanon Chapter Board, we’re launching a new Project Management for Youth Initiative in collaboration with PMI- Educational Foundation.

·       Partnered with CSR AL Ahli: Another highlight for me is making a partnership between Aie Serve and CSR Al Ahli Group to provide Mentors for CSR in Action program to give Social Innovators who are working on serving the community the needed support to succeed.

·       Coached, Mentored & Trained Youth: Throughout the year, I realized I enjoy and become full of energy when I am training or coaching or mentoring youth, and thus I spent hours and days with 10s of them in training workshops, meetings, sessions and retreats.

 

 

2014

 

Personal:

·       Take Care of My Body: A healthy mind is in a healthy body they say, thus I’ll be focusing taking better care of my own body whether through sports, a healthier diet or just simply less stressful schedule.

·       Sustain Balance: Keep on the sleeping habits, take more vacations and continue spending quality time in abundance.

·       Keep Reading: With my current reading habits I guess I’m on the right track.

 

Career:

·       Excel At Managing Operations: Now that my new role involves working in Operations Management, I’ll be going the extra mile to learn more about it and excel at it.

·       Expand Training Regionally: Now that CMCS has some stellar training courses and workshops, it’s prime time to take them regionally in 2014.

 

Academic:

·       Start My Masters: I’ve got my eye on 2 Master Programs, and will be registering in one of them before the end of year if God wills. Eventually, it’s about time I proceed my academic growth after acquiring 3 professional certificates in the past 3 years which are PMP, CBAP and GPM-b.

 

NGOs & Volunteer Work:

·       Support Aie Serve’s Growth & Sustainability: With a new Board in place and a Strategic Planning Retreat scheduled early January, I’ll be doing all I can to ensure the new Board and all Aie Servians continue their work properly, grow and enjoy the journey.

·       Grow Global Shapers Beirut Hub: Now that we have a bigger team, January will be the month when the Hub will do their first event.

·       Transition Out of More NGOs: New challenges arise every now and then and in 2014, I’ll make sure to take on some of those, but to do that, I’ll need to drop of some of the current load. In this context, I’ll be transitioning out of my role in PMI Lebanon Chapter and Alumni UNESCO Club.

·       Building A Regional Network for Rule of Law: Through being a John Smith Trust Fellow, I’ll be working with other fellows all around the region from Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, and Bahrain, to build and  institutionalize a network of chapters in each country to promote and work on rule of law.

 

 

That is about it for the time being, and I hope you enjoyed it and perhaps got inspired by a few things here and there.

 

I’d really like to get to know your reflections on 2013 and your plans for 2014! 🙂

PMI’s International Development CoP Member Spotlight – Afif Tabsh, PMP, CBAP

Dear Friends,

I’m glad to share with you the below interview/article written about me and published in Project Management Institute (PMI’s) International Development Community of Practice. Link to the official article on PMI’s website for PMI Members is here.

Enjoy the below and let me know what you think,

Afif

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International Development CoP Member Spotlight

Afif Tabsh, PMP, CBAP
Consultant & Trainer at CMCS – Cofounder & President at Aie Serve
Lebanon

About Afif
As a management consultant and trainer at CMCS Lebanon I assist corporations and NGOs in Strategic Planning, Process Improvement, Human Capital Management, Project & Program Management and Leadership. 

I’m especially interested in the fields of Youth Empowerment, Diversity & Acceptance, Leadership, NGO & SME Management, Social Entrepreneurship, Coaching & Consultancy, and Training Techniques.

I’ve participated, organized, trained and was a guest speaker in numerous conferences, camps, workshops, conventions and seminars under Aie Serve, PMI, UNDP, UNESCO, Rotary, Youth Economic Forum, AUB Alumni Council, Arab Economic Form, LAU Peace & Justice Institute among others.

What Does International Development Mean to You?
With our growing interconnected world, global diversity is becoming a key topic on discussion panels as people from all walks of life are becoming interconnected with each other, do business together, volunteer for similar causes, even though they might be thousands of miles away.

Thus respecting differences and accepting the other has become a crucial factor of successful projects, programs and organizations at large, worldwide.

What Are You Most Passionate About?
I’m very passionate about professional volunteering, this has been reflected through the NGOs and clubs I have founded and others that I’m engaged in at the Board level.

Who Is Your Hero & Why?
My biggest hero so far has been my father who was able to balance a very busy life as a doctor with his passion for serving the community and promoting active citizenship along with taking care of his family and private life.

What Is One Strategy for Inclusion that You Can Share?
One of my best strategies is believing in the potential of individuals and focusing on respecting the differences, accepting the other and loving them for their humanity. Every person has a lot of potential to give, it’s just a matter of taking your time to understand them and see things from their perspective, know what they are good at and put it to work. When working in teams, it proves to be the best tool to really utilize the full potential of the team, as you don’t point fingers at them or have a prejudgment that they are incapable, but rather start from the preposition that they have the potential and you’re just there to uncover it.

What Exciting Projects, Programs or Portfolios Are Your Working On? 
I’m currently working on 4 very exciting programs in the volunteer youth NGO I’m leading called Aie Serve (www.AieServe.org – http://www.Facebook.com/AieServe). The programs are:

  • Aie Power – Platform for Youth to Transfer Project Ideas into Reality
  • Aie Consult – Incubator & Consultancy Program for Youth Led NGOs
  • Aie Skills – Training Program to Empower Youth with Soft, Life and Managerial skills
  • Aie Clubs – Network of Youth Lead Clubs in Universities and Local Areas that do Community Development, Service and Awareness Activities

What Is Your Favorite Book & Author?
I have 3 favorite books:

  • Who Moved My Cheese
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us 

What Have You Done to Change the World? What Will Your Legacy Be?
One of my proudest achievements is Aie Serve, I cannot say enough about it. I co-founded the organization 6 years ago with a group of friends from all walks of life, different countries, different majors, different ethnicity and different interests but with a shared vision: Serving The Community. From there it grew from a group of friends, to a team and an organization.

The true value of Aie Serve is not just what it does, but the fact that it is run completely by volunteers and the way it is managed internally. The core values of the organization drive it, and drive its programs and way of work. Those core values are simple, yet powerful as they make the way to move forward simple and straight forward.

Our values are: Respect, Acceptance & Love. 

Respecting others’ point of views and beliefs no matter what, accepting differences and considering them the seeds of diversity and finally, loving others for who they are, and not for their background, ethnicity, beliefs, colour or economic status.

If You Weren’t In Project Management, What Would You Be Doing?
If I wasn’t in project management I would be in the field of talent or human capital management. I believe working with, developing, empowering, and supporting people is absolutely crucial for everything we do in this world. Human potential is infinite, thus those who know how to tap into it, grow it and sustain it, will lead success.

NGO: From Charity to Social Enterprise

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With the dwindling funds and grants that are available, many NGOs are struggling to survive. They are either shutting down their operations or moving into new fields that have nothing to do with their mission but rather are chasing the money.

Majority of the people I meet, when I tell them “NGO” the first thing that comes to their mind is “Charity”. Now the fact that most NGOs depend on donations, grants and fundraising activities to sustain make it reasonable enough to have people link the word NGO to charity. Nevertheless, new innovative ways in income generation have been making their way to the NGO world.

In this context, and for the past few years, I’ve been advising and consulting NGOs on how to adopt a business model into their operations and projects, to create a shift in how they think about their work in an NGO not only as a way to generate enough income to sustain and grow but also a whole new mindset in what an NGO.

The point I focus on is to transform the NGO from a charity to a social enterprise. This happens when the NGO integrates into its work an income generation model that allows it to make money while leaving the positive impact it hopes for. It’s not just a matter of selling something, but rather a mind shift in how the NGO perceives itself in the community.

So here are few tips I usually share with the NGO leaders on how to go through this transformation:

  • Consider diversifying your income sources; not only donations and grants, but rather start considering fundraising activities, sponsorship,  membership fees, services, products and income generating activities that are aligned with your mission.
  • Income generating activities can be the same exact service you give to your beneficiaries, but include in it a small fee that goes as a donation to your organization. This is step one into becoming a social enterprise. Definitely more complex models can be considered on what services or products are offered for free and which are billable.
  • Invest in R&D to better understand what are the other players is in community, what services do they offer, where can you add value, what does the community really need and what is the best way to package your services/products. Utilize Design Thinking throughout the process, consider empathy and your community, really try to understand what their needs are and how can you package your work in a way that they would be willing to pa for the value they are getting.
  • Invest in Marketing to have a better outreach to your users/beneficiaries, potential partners, donors, sponsors and supporters.
  • Consider that your users/beneficiaries will be willing to pay for a service that fulfills their need, as long as it’s conceived value outweighs its costs. At its core, this is a social business transaction where you are trying to merge social value with the business value. Moreover, it’s important to clarify that the fees they pay will be considered as a donation for the NGO to ensure its sustainability, so that you can serve more people for a longer period of time. This transforms the relationship with your beneficiaries to become service users and partners in the community, a win-win situation for both of you.
  • Develop a Volunteer System into your organization to make it an integral part of its daily work and projects, this in turn gets you more community support, helps you get a better understanding of what the community really needs as the volunteers are most probably going to be from the community itself and it can held reduce running costs on human capital.

The above are just a starting point, but usually are enough to start building on them to transform the NGO from a “Charity” to a “Social Enterprise”. With good analyses, research and hard work, usually NGOs start seeing the impact within a year and will reap its benefits both on the short and long term.

So my advice to all NGO leaders, activists and good-doers, change starts with us. It’s about time we start utilizing some of the lessons learned and best practices in the business world and use them to better serve our communities. So start thinking of how are you going to help your organizations sustain, grow and become more self-dependent on securing its finances rather than having to constantly chase funds, grants and following donor agendas, not for your sake or your staff’s sake, but for the community itself to keep on benefiting.

Other interesting posts:

Project Management for NGOs: Lecture Given to PMI Lebanon Chapter

Last month I’ve given a lecture/session titled “Project Management for NGOs” to the PMI Lebanon Chapter as part of their monthly lectures.

In this context, I thought of sharing it with you. So below you’ll find the session description, learning outcomes and the link to download the presentation for your own knowledge and entertainment…. let me know what you think! 🙂

Session Description/Summary:

The world today has hundreds of thousands of active NGOs majority of which are project and program based and depend on ongoing grants and funding to secure resources for their projects. With grants and funding summing up to hundreds of millions of dollars annually, the amounts being lost on failed projects, unmet objectives and re-work is counting up to tens of millions of dollars.

Many leaders of NGOs consider this as a reasonable and un-escapable price to pay due to the fact that it is hard to recruit enough qualified project and program managers in the NGO field due to the short period of engagement, low wages with respect to private sector and lack of well identified project management training, tools and techniques.

With thousands of program managers, program coordinators, project managers, project coordinators, assistant program and project managers and so on and so forth, there is a huge gap to be filled for both the organizations and the individuals working in them.

What many don’t realize is that PMP standard can apply to NGOs by simply matching many of the terminology that is used by PMP with those present in NGOs. This lecture will help you understand how.

Lecture Learning Objectives:

  • Understand and Define an NGO
  • Identify the Numerous Types and Fields of Work of NGOs
  • Understand the NGO Project Life Cycle in Most NGOs
  • Map NGO Project Related Terminology with PMI’s Terminology

Link to Presentation in PDF: PMI Leb Chapter – PM for NGOs Presentation by Afif Tabsh – April 2012

Other Posts Worth Reading:

Human Capital Management in NGOs

To be honest I’ve researched for a while to get my hands on some useful material about Human Capital Management(HCM) in the NGO sector, especially in managing volunteers…not just staff. Yet I’ve failed to find substantial and relative material to build on. Therefore the following is a compilation of my personal experience in HCM in NGOs, specifically in Lebanon, through Aie Serve and other NGOs/Clubs that I train and consult.

To  make the discussion more meaningful I’ll separate HCM into 5 discussable stages, read on for the details:

Organization’s Structural Design

To truly create a Human Capital strategy for the organization, work needs to start on the Organizational Structure first. In this context, a lot of NGOs have a staff based structure, or volunteers structure, or simply committees or even no structure at all aside from the “Board”. This will need to change since adopting an HCM strategy, the structure will need to be redesigned to better fit the current needs and provide space for growth in the future.

Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • What is the current structure and is it really implemented on the ground?
  • Does the structure provide space for further growth or does it need total make over?
  • Do the positions fit in and complement each other or are there gaps?
  • Is the NGO based on volunteers, staff or both? Do they know how to interact?
  • How is the decision making done and who has it in the organization? Centralized or diverse?


Setting Roles & Responsibilities

After setting the structure, its time to know what does each and every person do exactly. The interesting and surprising part here is that many if not most of the NGOs I work with have incomplete roles & responsibilities description of the team. Many people are left without clear delineation of what tasks shall they do, what are they responsible of, who do they report to, what decisions can they make …and so on and so forth.  Therefore it is essential that each person in the organization not only knows where he/she fits in the structure but also know what role do they play. Moreover, if they wish to grow..then the path they should follow need to be clear.

 Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • Are there Duty Descriptions or Roles & Responsibilities documents for the positions?
  • Are people aware of each other’s role’s and responsibilities?
  • Is regular updating and upgrading for those documents done?
  • Who is involved in drafting and modifying those documents?


Setting & Implementing Recruitment Processes

Now that the structure is clear and so are the roles & responsibilities of everyone, the challenging part is how to get those people onboard. Having a consistent and clear recruitment process is essential to ensure that all potentials are tapped and the right people are recruited.  To do this a recruitment process needs to be designed in a way that it reflects the culture of the organization, the way people will be dealing with each other. The process should be clear for all those in the organization so that they understand what shall they do if they want to recruit more people.

 Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • How do people apply for the NGO?
  • Does the NGO recruit volunteers or staff or ?
  • Do members of the NGO join by invitation only or do they have an entry point?
  • Is there a standard procedure of interviews and applications or ?


Training & Coaching

Once everyone is onboard and in place, the time comes where people need to better understand how to do what they’re supposed to do. At this point, training and coaching all the new recruits comes in place. So developing a clear and flexible training program and coaching process are necessary to ensure that the new recruits are empowered with the appropriate information, skills and tools to do their duties properly. Moreover, the coaching process shall allow the recruits to not only do their roles properly but also to excel and grow as a person, and perhaps suggest improvements to the process.

Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • How will the new recruits know what to do and how?
  • Who will be training/coaching them?
  • Is there a training manual in place?
  • Is there a clear coaching procedure and standards?


Performance Evaluation & Enhancement

After having set everything and people are performing and excelling, it’s very important to measure the overall performance and growth of both individuals and the organization. It is important to ensure that both individual and organizational goals are synchronized for this process to work. Moreover, assessment metrics will need to be developed either at the “Roles & Responsibilities” stage or throughout the process of execution so that a clear evaluation can be done at important turning points and end of year assessments.

Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • How would you know or measure that someone is doing their role properly?
  • Who is responsible of assessing/evaluating?
  • Can a follow up and training process be designed to build the skills and fill the gaps according to the results of the evaluation?

Other Interesting Posts:

My Addiction: Volunteerism


Day in day out I find myself more and more indulged in volunteer work. For years now I’ve volunteered in numerous organizations, clubs, campaigns and on some personal initiatives. Yet I wonder sometimes: What makes me volunteer? What makes so many people around me volunteer as well? And how come so many others don’t even find sense and logic in why we volunteer…

At 12 years old, I started my first volunteering role in a student based organization at my school called “Student Life Organization” (SLO). I took the first step in my life-long volunteering journey but never knew that it will a life changing experience back then.

During my school years, I took several roles in the “SLO”, joined clubs and a varsity team…but I never really thought I will go this far from university and on.

University too was full of “extra curricular activities” and so I joined clubs, committees, groups, organizations and didn’t stop there…I launched even more clubs and organizations myself…and I still serve in them day after day.

Some ask me why do I put so much time and effort? How come I don’t get bored of all those meetings, activities, workshops and projects? How come all those trainings and activities are for free and we even all pay to do them?

My answer is simple, it’s an addiction. It’s both a hobby and a conviction.

Moreover I believe it abides by Newton’s Laws of Motion (I know it isn’t meant for humans but humor me here). According to Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object at rest tends to stay at rest. Without force acting on an object, nothing will change. So if I may compare, a person at rest tends to stay at rest so we could say that all people need then is a little push, some “force”, to get them going. And once in motion, people tend to stay in motion.

That is exactly why I constantly try to motivate or “push” people to volunteer, to do something, to join me or others in some organization/activity/campaign. You never know when this small thing you volunteer in becomes a life changing experience.

The beauty of it is that unlike regular work or chores, it’s not tiring but rather refreshing and invigorating. It fills you up with so much happiness and energy to know that you have helped someone, served your community or saved something in the environment. For me it has been the sole source of optimism and motivation to do everything else in my life.

If so many millions around the world volunteer everyday …and they keep doing it..then there should be something to it.

On a final note, I believe if you haven’t volunteered in something yet..take the first step and do something and do it now! 😀

Aie Serve: Uniting Youth Through Service

Aie Serve Logo

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The bellow article is featured on Youth Action Net Website
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What began in Tunisia in December 2010 led to the mass demonstrations in Egypt starting on January 25, and now the rest of the Arab world is following. Lebanon is no exception. On February 27th, many Lebanese youth activists gathered for a demonstration against the sectarian system in Lebanon, demanding changes in both the constitution and the way daily governmental business is carried out.

This rising consciousness and refusal to succumb to the status quo is rooted in the same spirit that prompted myself and a group of friends to launch Aie Serve four years ago. Instead of staying silent, we decided to take positive action.  Aie Serve is a youth-based, youth-managed, and youth-funded organization dedicated to promoting a culture of volunteerism in Lebanon. Translated from Japanese, aie (pronounced “I”) means love.

The idea for Aie Serve came during the aftermath of the 2006 July War on Lebanon and resulted from the sharp polarization of Lebanese youth along sectarian, political, and religious lines. We started brainstorming ways of tackling this issue and agreed that three basic values were missing in Lebanon: Love, Tolerance, and Respect. We espouse love for others based on who they are and not which political background or sect they are from, while promoting tolerance and respect of others’ point of views and beliefs.

Over time, we started gathering more ideas and people, organizing ourselves while focusing on serving our community and society at-large. Aie Serve evolved from a group of friends, to a group of community-service minded youth, to a team and an organization. Examples of Aie Serve volunteer activities include book and clothing donation drives, reforestation and recycling projects, and assistance to orphans and the elderly.

In the last four years, we’ve experienced exceptional growth in the number of projects we do, our members, and our outreach. The impact we see on the ground is both fulfilling and inspirational. We find volunteerism is now contagious wherever we go. What’s more – in keeping with our mission – we find that caring for others is a universal value that brings people together and bridges divides.

Those around me know quite well that I am an optimist and a hard worker and so I believe that with a vision, hard work, and true commitment a small, dedicated group can achieve great things… and the biggest proof is where Aie Serve stands to day!

Afif Tabsh is Co-founder and voluntary President of Aie Serve. In 2011, he was named one of ten finalists selected for the King Abdullah II Award for Youth Innovation and Achievement.