Hey Everyone! So I am very excited to introduce you to Mazen El-Baba; founder of Happi.
One of my passions is social entrepreneurship and I met Mazen in (believe it or not) elementary school at the Best Buddies Conference; a movement that creates one on one friendships for people with intellectual and development disabilities.
With a full time job, he has managed to create a not-for-profit called Happi within a span of a few months and has been featured in the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Huffington Post & CBC. This is his story on how he managed to make it all happen! His story is truly inspiring for those who say, “I don’t have enough time to pursue my dreams.”
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you go to University and what did you study? Where do you work now?
-Undergraduate: University of Guelph in Brain And Cognition
-Currently working in research and doing his Masters at Western University in London, Ontario in Neuroscience
-One of his passions has always been the topic of mental health
2. When and how did you get the idea to start Happi?
Happi was an idea many years in the making. He witnessed and experienced mental health illnesses within his own family and being from the Middle East, he saw how society is not very empathetic or knowledgable about the issue. They believe it is the individual’s fault and not their environmental factors.
In 2015: he mobilized the idea and made it a movement
- He registered organization as a federal mandate non-profit (Read the guide here if you are looking to start your own)
- He started spreading awareness and blogging in languages such as English, Arabic, and French
- He noticed an opportunity when Canada agreed to aid 25,000 Syrian refugees
- He started working with the families and noticed several issues
- Then stemmed the idea of creating a summer camp for them as an escape/get away for the children and a place where kids can be just kids
- The camp would promote emotional and mental health along with literacy skills and get them ready for school in September so it would be easier for them to adjust to a new environment
Note*: When Mazen started this whole process, he had no idea about how to run a camp or a non-profit. It was his passion that led him to his success
3. How long did the whole process take from the time you had the idea to the time when your camp started?
It was a 3-4 months process to get everything set and ready to go for the camp. This included registering, finding donors, volunteers, advertising etc. The camp started in July 2016.
4. How did you get donors and sponsors for your project?
“You have to go out there and look for them”.
- Biggest donors: Service Canada who gave him $36,000 and some of it was used to hire 10 students to run the camp
- He received $20,000 in cash donations that came from private citizens : online page donation (didn’t work out as hoped), he started personally going to peoples houses that he knew. He also sent out a lot of personalized emails to businesses
5. How did you find the people to help you run the camps? Where did you advertise and how did you incentivize them?
-Happi was initially solely done by himself and his handy computer, however in order to register the organization, he needed 3 directors and asked his friends. But they left shortly after
-Happi camper program: His mother helped him a lot as she was one of the main volunteers at the hotel where the Syrian refugees were staying and that helped build trust with the families to allow their children to attend the camp
The Hiring Process:
- He had 2 weeks to recruit to hire and train the camp counsellors
- Advertising channels used: social media & word of mouth. They had to be Arabic speakers, youth and the job must fit within their career outlook
6. What was your biggest challenge when starting Happi and how did you overcome it?
- Having an organization that is fresh off the ground and there is a time commitment especially when he is working full time
- Finding people who actually care about the cause
- Motivation to keep going when things don’t go your way
- Stigmatizing in the regions regarding mental health and cultural barriers
- The cause was not a priority to discuss previously and in the Middle East region
7. Were you afraid at any point that you would fail? If so, how did you overcome it?
- “There is natural fear when you are going out there and doing it by yourself. You are really out of your comfort zone. I would always ask: “Is this something I can do by myself.”
- He felt immense pressure to succeed
- Things had to still get done in other aspects of his life
- He turned it into a positive note: That in the end, no matter what happens it will be a win-win situation. He would gain experience and lives will be impacted in a positive way
- He stated, “When I thought about failure, I always went back to my vision: Happi will be a community rather than an international organization”
8. Do you have any productivity hacks/tips that you would like to share with us?
-His first tip: PRIORITIZATION is key to success
-His Masters thesis will be done next year but Happi will be a continuous thing for the rest of his life and it is important that he incorporates it into his everyday lifestyle. When he takes a break from his other tasks, his break is working on Happi
-He creates daily to do lists and not weekly lists because things that need to be done change really fast and his schedule is always changing
-Sleep, Eat & Cooking: Cooking is his sacred time when he gets to relax and do his creative thinking
9. What advice do you have for 20 somethings who want to start their own social enterprise/not-for-profits?
-Don’t be afraid to do it alone
-Don’t try to find people who share the same views right away
-Be really passionate about a project to take it somewhere
-If you feel passionate about something, then just do it
-Stop trying to find your passion because you really cant find your passion. You don’t go looking for something like that. Passion is something that is a process and develops over a lifetime. He realized mental health was something he was exposed to for such a long time, that it came naturally to me and that’s how Happi was developed. IT WILL FIND YOU.
-LOSE THE PRESSURE & DON’T RUSH