Photo: Stuart Productions
Dina Abdel Wahab
Project: The Baby Academy
Location: Cairo, Egypt
When Dina Abdel Wahab's son Ali was born with Down syndrome, she was unable to find a preschool to meet his needs. Children with Down syndrome do not benefit from environments where they are kept apart from mainstream society. They need to be integrated in classrooms with non-disabled children whom they can interact with and enjoy mutually-beneficial learning experiences. In Cairo, at the time, Dina had no such options for her son. If such a place was going to exist, she would have to create it herself.
Abdel Wahab felt that preschooling in Egypt amounted to little more than babysitting. Early childhood education was not grounded in the science of child development and psychology, as it is in European and American schools. Determined to help Ali lead a normal life and to improve preschool education in her country, Abdel Wahab made a brave choice: She decided to open her own school where Ali would become the first student.
"I didn't want to change my son's lifestyle, so I decided to try to change society," she said.
"Being an entrepreneur I had the flexibility of doing what I really believe in. In my past development work there was too much bureaucracy, too many agendas. Now I could put away the papers and be there to give what I felt the children needed."
What Does The Baby Academy Do?
The Baby Academy is a chain of preschools for children three months to five years old. The school's child-centered philosophy is based on love, learning and play and its curriculum is tailored to children's developmental needs and designed to inspire children to achieve their potential.
Today the business is thriving with a remarkable 20 percent of its preschoolers children with special needs. Abdel Wahab recently opened a new branch in Cairo and plans to open two more schools in the next two years. Eventually she'd like to franchise the concept.
According to a United Nations report, less than four percent of Arab children have access to preschool education. The mission of The Baby Academy is to become a leader in early childhood education throughout Egypt and the Middle East.
Now that her private model is working, Abdel Wahab is preparing to work with the government. Since not everyone can afford The Baby Academy, she advocates for inclusion opportunities for special needs children in Egypt's mainstream education system. She believes it is the role of entrepreneurs to envision new ideas to solve society's problems and assume the risks of bringing them to life.
She says, "It is easier for me as an entrepreneur to take the risk and do something, than for the government to do that on a mass scale. I do think that this is the future, I do think we can work together as partners."