Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Has Arrived

For offering some much-needed financial education and empowerment to young people

Nuha Hashem was pursuing a doctoral degree in the United States—until her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in. She and her friend Alok Kumar had started working on a banking platform designed specifically for young people in the Middle East and North Africa. And she found she could no longer resist the siren song of the project. So, after a few months, Hashem relocated to Dubai to go all in.

“I realized that it’s a massive opportunity to impact the lives of Gen Z and to revolutionize the way that they think about money,” she says. “It seemed like a once-in-a-life opportunity that I definitely didn’t want to miss.”

The two had stumbled on the idea after Kumar’s younger brother had an issue getting a bank card via his father’s account. After waiting for weeks, the supplementary card finally arrived, but it was in his father’s name. Plus, account notifications were only sent to the account holder, not the cardholder. Many would have shrugged it off as bureaucratic red tape. But Hashem and Kumar saw an opportunity: They could empower young people with a money management app that would let them earn rewards for developing good financial habits like budgeting, spending wisely and saving.

And so Zywa was born.

It was a user-centric solution much needed in a region where only about 40% of people ages 15-24 have an account at a bank, financial institution or via a mobile money service, according to The World Bank.

“Financial literacy is one of the most important lessons that people should learn early in life,” says Hashem. “If they have this necessary knowledge, and they learn it every day—through budgeting their allowance, saving some of their income, even investing—little by little, it would be very impactful on their lives.”

So instead of that doctoral degree, Hashem earned her own version of an advanced degree in project leadership. She was already a keen problem-solver, but as she started leading the engineering team, she discovered she needed to bolster a few skills, namely delegation and task management. “I had limited exposure to leading a team and starting something from scratch. It's been a learning curve for me, and I’m still working on it.”

That learning curve accelerated when Zywa was selected for the Y Combinator program in 2022. The startup accelerator gave Zywa guidance and experience on how to access early users and engage with them, which helped hone the team’s customer-centric mindset and influenced how it incorporated feedback for updates. The program also helped Hashem forge partnerships with schools and universities to hold hackathons and financial literacy lessons.

With the platform live in the United Arab Emirates and plans to expand to Egypt and Saudi Arabia by the end of 2023, the team is collecting data that will help it adapt Zywa to each region’s financial regulations, customer demographics and languages. “Even within one country, you find different cities need different approaches,” Hashem says.

But she wants Zywa’s connections to be more than virtual. So Hashem has opened the startup’s HQ, known as the Zywa Clubhouse, for weekly meetups that give Gen Zers a space to hang out and network. The company also offers internships for high school and university students. Hashem sees these offerings as a win-win—a chance for Zywa to engage directly with users and an opportunity for students to gain real-world project experience.

“These teens are way ahead of where I was at that age,” Hashem says. “They’re running our whole community—wanting to improve it and the platform. I see so much passion in them.”

Nuha Hashem | Honoree

Photographer: Andrea Salerno Jácome

Q&A: Nuha Hashem on developing positive habits, finding inspiration in Malala Yousafzai and colonizing Mars

What’s your project management superpower?

Empathy. It’s the key to building a strong and loyal team that is committed to achieving a shared vision. It means creating a safe and inclusive work environment where everyone feels valued and heard. It means taking the time to listen to my team’s ideas and feedback, even if they are different from my own. It means recognizing team members’ achievements and providing constructive feedback when necessary.

How are young people changing the world of projects now?

Young people are not afraid to challenge the status quo and come up with innovative solutions to complex problems. As a result, they are driving a wave of disruption across industries that have been resistant to change for too long.

What’s the biggest challenge facing young project leaders right now?

Young project leaders are facing a rapidly changing business landscape and need to keep up with emerging technologies and trends. They must balance innovation and agility with regulatory compliance, talent acquisition and retention, and effective communication. Those who can successfully navigate these challenges will be well-positioned for success.

Fast forward: What’s one way managing projects will have changed over the next decade?

The next decade will see a significant shift toward technology-driven project management, which will enable greater efficiency, accuracy and collaboration, ultimately leading to better project outcomes. More sophisticated project management tools and software will allow for better collaboration, communication—and tracking of tasks and deadlines. This will free up more time for team members to focus on higher-level strategic thinking and problem-solving rather than spending excessive amounts of time on administrative tasks.

What are you obsessed with recommending right now?

The book Atomic Habits by James Clear is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to develop positive habits and break negative ones. It offers practical strategies and actionable advice for making small, incremental changes that can lead to significant improvements in your life. I also highly recommend the How I Built This podcast by Guy Raz, where successful entrepreneurs share their stories of building and growing their companies. It’s a great source of inspiration and insight.

What famous person would you want to recruit for your team?

Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Prize-winning activist and advocate for girls’ education. Her passion for empowering the next generation would inspire our team and our user community alike—and her global perspective would help us build a truly inclusive and impactful fintech platform for Gen Z.

What moonshot project would you most like to work on?

My moonshot project would be to develop a self-sufficient, closed-loop ecosystem for human habitation on Mars. The ultimate goal would be to enable humans to live sustainably on Mars, paving the way for further exploration and potential colonization of the planet.

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