By Kathryn O’Neill
February 16, 2011
When Fady Saad left Cairo to join MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM) this January, he did not know that democracy protests were about to break out in Egypt—but he did know his country was in need of system-wide change.
"I believe that the future of Egypt…will strongly mandate the need for professionals who will be able to design, build, and manage systems," Saad wrote in the statement of objectives he sent to SDM with his application.
Egypt has two critical needs, according to Saad: it needs a systematic way of building and developing organizations and a better educational system.
"Many times we have problems in different organizations, and they’re interrelated. For example, in government offices, people aren’t helpful. Why? When you trace the problem, you find people aren’t…compensated properly," he said. "Then you look at university and find that entrance isn’t based on proper criteria. It’s not about individual capability — it has to do with test scores. The high school system is promoting memorizing information; it’s not encouraging thinking."
Saad said the "paradigm shift" in his own thinking came as a result of the education he received at American University in Cairo, as well as from being a Boy Scout Leader. "In Scouting I learned a lot of things—especially about developing and educating people," he said.
Saad, who joined the Scout movement in 1996, was particularly impressed by the way that certain principles—e.g. be prepared, trustworthy, helpful—form the foundation for the organization. "When you look at the principles that gave birth to [Scouting] activities, you find that principles are very important," he said.
Professionally, Saad already has significant experience as a change agent. In 2007, he played a central role in managing the merger integration program of Nokia Networks and Siemens Communications in Egypt. "We had a factory and two premises—700 employees—and we had to pull everyone together to form one team," he said. "I compiled a proposal for the country director highlighting the importance of having a change management program—not to leave it loose."
Communication was one key element—Saad said he advocated for communicating "even too much." Another was inspiring people to lead change in their own areas—Saad quoted Mahatma Gandhi, "Be the change you want to see in the world."
Layoffs were necessary, but Saad said, "My concern was how can we lay off the people in a respectful, dignified way without frustrating those left behind." The plan used an Excel-based tool to help decide how many people each department would cut, and required a lot of preparation—on compensation, individual assessments, security—before the layoffs were even announced.
In the end, Saad said, "What we did in Egypt was a success story for the whole company."
Nevertheless, a few years later, Saad sought change in his own career. His job was "not addressing my passion, which has to do with building organizations, building systems, and educating people," he said. He applied and was accepted into a top MBA program, but before beginning classes, he discovered SDM by chance.
"The MBA was not a 100 percent match for my passion. SDM was a 100 percent match. So I had to switch everything over," he said. Saad arrived with his wife and 3-year-old daughter on January 1st — just in time to begin SDM’s month-long January session.
Now, even bigger changes are under way back home, and Saad said he believes the time is right: "Already sacrifices have been made, and I’m a believer that if you want to change, change altogether—don’t put an new patch on old clothes."
Egypt needs organizational systems and informal educational opportunities such as Scouting, Saad said, so he is looking forward to helping the country move ahead.
"My passion is for building organizations and human development. I hope by the time I receive my master’s in engineering and management from MIT, I will know more about this and be able to add to the body of knowledge of those two fields," Saad said. "I might look into how to build a nationwide educational system."
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography