A new scholarship fund, established by Abdallah Abu-Sheikh ’12, promises to set a deserving student on the path to a successful future
King’s Academy alumnus Abdallah Abu-Sheikh ’12 reached out to his alma mater this year to establish a scholarship fund named in honor of his late father Mohammad Abu-Sheikh. His gift to King’s was the largest single donation from an alumnus to date.
The Mohammad Abu-Sheikh Scholarship Fund will support the tuition fees of a student who, in addition to financial need, “demonstrates motivation and ability for learning and growing.” In March, a dedication ceremony took place during which the Mohammad Abu-Sheikh Classroom in the Academy Building was named in recognition of the late Abu-Sheikh’s commitment to nurturing the advancement of Arab youth through education.
Currently settled in the United Arab Emirates with wife Sena Tatari and infant son Mohammad, Abu-Sheikh is chief executive officer of RIZEK, a highly successful localized digital marketplace platform launched to meet the lifestyle needs of UAE residents through verified service providers. A venture capitalist and tech investor, Abu-Sheikh is one of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s top tech entrepreneurs in the areas of sustainability, mobility and digitalization. His latest venture, BARQ, is set to be the MENA region’s first-of-its-kind tech-driven network of electric vehicles built to serve the delivery sector.
Beyond King’s sat down with Abu-Sheikh to learn why he feels so strongly about giving back to his alma mater.
What prompted you to reach out to King’s with this donation?
I had a very good experience here at King’s. In the workplace however, I started to notice people lack a lot of the basic, integral soft skills they need to operate independently from whatever ecosystem they belonged to before they came into the workplace, especially people who are starting out fresh. I feel most educational systems try to hand-hold kids a lot more than they should, to the degree that once they go into the world, they are really shocked when there is no “handbook” or no one to tell them the “rules” and what is right and wrong. But, when you are living at a school like King’s, you are very independent from your family, you are more reliant on yourself, you have to socialize in a certain way, take care of your schoolwork, your duties. I picked all of that up from King’s, so this is where I felt like [my donation] is best placed, within King’s.
The Mohammad Abu-Sheikh Scholarship Fund honors your late father. Tell us more about that.
I wouldn’t have come to King’s if not for my dad. Initially, I didn’t really want to come, but he insisted. He was a big believer in education, not in the adamant form that people think of, like “you have to get straight As,” but more in the sense of being well-rounded, aware, and that if you are surrounded by people who are trying to do very well, you will probably be influenced by that. He said that I would have a better future, better odds, I was going to learn and make good friends at King’s. I didn’t really buy it at the time! But I ended up having the time of my life, King’s was great. The friends I made here continue to be some of my closest friends today. So, this is my way of thanking him, I guess.
You want the scholarship to be awarded not to a student with the highest grades, but to a student who demonstrates “motivation and ability for learning and growing.” Why is that important to you?
I believe the way the education system is built judges people wrong. I was never a high achiever in school. If King’s had judged me only on my grades, I would never have been at King’s! So, this is where I try and extend the thought that grades are one thing, but they don’t judge how critical a thinker you are, your life skills, your emotional intelligence. Grades don’t guarantee you success after school. People who maintain a healthy balance of academic achievement and life usually fare better when they are put in a work environment. Everyone donates towards people who have excellent grades, while I believe there needs to be more people who don’t have excellent grades — so they can employ the ones who do when they graduate! Seriously though, it’s about getting someone who can’t be here to be here. Then it is on them to choose their own path and be their own person.
You have long been a supporter of Arab youth and talent. What other ways do you support them?
We foster a number of other scholarships in different domains, such as people going to university to study certain majors, then we hire them when they are done. My main work is in venture capitalism, so I invest in tech and in entrepreneurs, who I prefer to be Arabs and people in the region who are solving problems within the region. That’s the 360 of it.
What advice do you have for students and alumni interested in getting into your field of work?
I think they should start super early. Especially in my field — I’m in tech, software, Web3 and all of that — you see 12-year-old kids on the internet selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for a million dollars apiece, so there is no age limit. If you are still at King’s or just starting out wherever, just try and explore what life could look like afterwards. People are spending a lot of time and effort to graduate from school and university, but once they do, they are not prepared, they don’t know how to mint an NFT, or deal in cryptography, or to read or write code. The educational system will have to shift to cater to that, but I don’t think this will happen as fast as people’s own curiosity will teach them those skills. So, be very curious and really look into things, especially when you are coming into the tech sphere because it is super vast, ever evolving and moving at a speed that is unprecedented. Try to dive as deep as you can to learn as many things as you can, so that by the time you get to college you can say: I want to learn this type of cryptography, or this kind of code, or intern at this type of organization.
Your donation is the largest one ever given by a King’s alumni to date, but any support, no matter how small, has aN impact. Why Is it important for alumni to give back to their school?
We need to start looking at things holistically. If you are selfless enough to say that the world my children in 10 years will live in is a product of what I am going to do today, you will invest in that world. You will invest in the people who are going to be their mentors, friends, colleagues and teachers. King’s is a very rare place. You don’t have three “King’s” in the region, you just have this one. The quality of people coming out of here is unprecedented in terms of their skills. There’s a lot of work to do in the world, and there is no one better to trust to do that than the people who graduate from here.