Through their organization Think.iT, Mehemed Bougsea and his colleagues want to connect tech talents in North Africa with jobs all over the world. A German-Libyan himself, Mehemed is driven by the idea that no matter where you are born, you should have access to the same opportunities.
You grew up in Libya and Germany, studied in the United States, and recently founded a company in Tunisia. How is all of that connected?
Mehemed Bougsea : During my childhood, I experienced two very different worlds: Libya, where I spent a lot of time on my grandfather’s farm, and then a much more settled, privileged life in Germany. What I noticed even as a child was the significant difference in opportunities that people had – starting from if and where they went to school and then to university and the job opportunities that they had access to afterwards. And realizing that what is not different is their talent.
Mehemed Bougsea has worked as a strategy consultant to GIZ and the German, Tunisian, and Libyan governments, specializing in the socio-economic development of youth in regions with elevated unemployment rates across Africa. Prior to Think.iT, Mehemed built the country office of Kiron Open Higher Education in Turkey. He is a BMW Foundation Responsible Leader and took part in the Responsible Leaders Forum in Casablanca as well as the Berlin Global Forum in 2017.
And this is the notion from which Think.iT was born?
Mehemed Bougsea : Yes, we believe that it is time to connect this talent with good jobs and to bring these two seemingly different worlds together. Thanks to technology, young people in North Africa see the different life that is out there and that they could have. And at the same time this technology is the means for them to reach it – without ever having to leave their home country. They don’t have to go to Silicon Valley to become top technologists.
So they work remotely?
Mehemed Bougsea : Exactly. We look for bright minds and let them go through a five-month curriculum that consists of technological and soft skills. Then we place them in tech companies globally, where they work remotely, while receiving ongoing support and guidance by a team of seniors and advisors. That way they can not only sustain their income but also fulfill their full potential.
That sounds a lot different from traditional outsourcing of IT services.
Mehemed Bougsea : We get compared a lot to IT agencies in Eastern Europe or India. But our model is different. We want the tech experts to really become part of the company’s team: post on its Slack channel, participate in daily stand-ups and email conversations, build a close connection to the on-site team. That also eliminates many problems traditionally associated with offshoring.
Why did you start Think.iT in Tunisia?
Mehemed Bougsea : We see a huge a potential in North Africa where a lot of young people, even though they went through university and graduated, do not find jobs. Local economies don’t provide enough highly skilled jobs, and this is especially true for the tech field. More than 50 percent of graduates end up unemployed. But at the same time, the growing market for new technologies offers many opportunities for the region.
The moment when I see someone succeed and live up to their potential, that sets free an enormous amount of energy.
Mehemed Bougsea : That is what we believe, yes. In Libya, for instance, where my own family is from, lack of economic opportunity is the number one reason for people to join militia groups, of which some then contribute to political instability. Finding solutions to youth unemployment is also central to solving problems of radicalization.
You are still at the very beginning of building Think.iT – what are your experiences so far?
Mehemed Bougsea : We started out with the training of ten tech engineers. And before we even started engaging in sales activities, companies that had heard of us approached us. We managed to place some of them in jobs immediately following the first training section. That was our successful first round and we’re now about to scale it.
Since early 2017, Think.iT has been enabling disadvantaged North African computer science graduates to become leading technologists. Through an immersive boot camp, Think.iT prepares them for the global labor market before connecting them with leading tech companies around the world. The founders Mehemed Bougsea, Joscha Raue, and Amel Abid live in Tunis, Tunisia, and operate between North America, Europe, and Africa.
What are the biggest challenges you are facing right now?
Mehemed Bougsea : One of the biggest challenges so far is creating a training that can be scaled and offered to potentially thousands of young data scientists. We use both online and offline elements in order to train advanced technologies, but also teach important skills like effective communication, mindfulness, and leadership in distributed teams. In that way, we hope to continuously grow the quality of the work of our Think.iTeers and aim to have trained 450 engineers by 2019.
What motivates you personally?
Mehemed Bougsea : The moment when I see someone succeed and live up to their potential, that sets free an enormous amount of energy. In the end, for me, it’s not about building a huge organization, it’s about individuals and the belief that we can help them build a life and bring opportunity much closer to them.