Iman Bibars: Meet Class 12

Iman Bibars: Meet Class 12

“I have always been a serial social entrepreneur.”


In September 2017, Iman Bibars will join Class 12 of the THNK Creative Leadership Program from Egypt.


Iman is the Vice President of Ashoka Global as well as Regional Director for Ashoka Arab World, which she launched in 2003. She is also the co-founder and chairperson of the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW), Egypt’s first microfinance organization that provides credit and legal aid for impoverished female heads of household. With over 30 years of experience in strategic planning, policy formulation, community development and project design, Iman has dedicated her life to working with marginalized and voiceless groups in Egypt's poorest areas. She has also authored many books on these subjects.

How Iman came to THNK

Iman first heard about THNK through Roshan Paul, who told her that he could not have launched his organization, The Amani Institute, were it not for his experience in the Creative Leadership Program. After hearing from other Ashoka Fellows who had participated in the program, Iman decided it was time to enrol. “There were many things in my ecosystem telling me I have to talk to THNK.”

Like many THNKers, Iman loves her work, but finds that she’s often overworked because she’s interested and involved in so many projects. Like a true serial entrepreneur, Iman always has something going on. She tells me, “I can’t stop.”

Iman’s need to renew, reflect, and recalibrate is exactly why she is excited to join the next cohort of the Creative Leadership Program. Iman tells me that for her, THNK is like a monastery or an Ashram, where she can revisit what she has accomplished, refuel, and discover fresh insights before tackling a new challenge.

“I love what is happening at THNK. I want to sit with creative people to think outside of the box, to think about what’s really going on, to be out of my comfort zone, to be somewhere with people with new ideas, different ideas, different backgrounds. To renew my blood, to renew my brain cells. To challenge whatever I have in my brain. I want to get excited and inspired by other people as well.”

Iman Bibars

Iman has witnessed the energy and enthusiasm of Egyptian youth; she is currently designing an initiative to foster entrepreneurship.

The Endeavor Iman will tackle during the program

Since the Arab Spring six years ago, Iman has observed the growing energy and enthusiasm of young people in Egypt and the Arab world, particularly in their desire to learn about entrepreneurship. In response to this trend, there has been an influx of startup incubators, accelerators, and training programs in Egypt, but Iman explains that the services offered are directed towards those who have already proven a prototype or who have elite education.

“All these other young people are left, even though they have wonderful ideas. They deserve attention, but neither our education system nor the ecosystem will help them. In addition Ashoka believes that everyone is  and should be a changemaker and only by focusing on youth Ashoka can achieve this mission”

Iman’s response is her initiative Innovation Factory; a global online and offline platform to help young entrepreneurs at any level. Based on her years of experience with hundreds of entrepreneurs and social innovators, Iman designed the program around a theory of change from the South. The program is unique to the needs of Middle Eastern business and doesn’t try to emulate American paradigms of what makes a business successful. “As long as you’re innovative and problem-solver and really trying to be a changemaker, why should I scare you from the beginning and say the only way to be successful businessman is to be McDonalds or Google?”

“I designed an initiative about how you can really work with somebody to ensure the feasibility of their idea. And then, whatever stage they are in, how they understand the ecosystem, what type of organization they need to achieve their goal, how they can sell the product. I even redesigned the social business canvas so that it fits with these young people so that we can work with startups, middle stage, or wanting to grow.”

Rediscovering creativity

Coming from the world of nonprofits and NGOs, Iman currently struggles with traditional funding models and wants to explore how they can evolve. She is also interested in how to unleash her creativity while in a management position. “Now I am at a stage where I am always managing and I really don’t feel I am doing anything creative. Yes, I give my colleagues or staff members ideas here and there, but what happens when you become a manager? Do you stop being creative and instead start being a crisis manager whenever people come in to complain? How can we make my work more fun again?”

Iman is one of the many inspiring leaders who participated in the Executive Leadership Program.

To join the upcoming program and rediscover your own creativity, visit the program page.