This fall, ICGL Associate Director Zeena Lattouf will head to the Harvard Kennedy School to start her two-year Master’s in Public Policy (MPP). So, what is an MPP? Ms. Lattouf often asks this very question. The core purpose of an MPP is to give one the skills to solve a complex set of issues that society faces. “That sort of overarching connectivity between various societal challenges is what I am so interested in,” Ms. Lattouf said. “Even if I don’t fully get exactly what an MPP is, I’m excited about this opportunity and I think it’s the right program for me.”
Ms. Lattouf has already identified the “complex set of issues” she wants to solve. Her concerns are equality, equity and understanding the economic forces of a community or country and how those forces affect security within a region. “I think that fundamentally to have a strong economy and security, you must also have a strong education system,” said Ms. Lattouf. She is primarily interested in access to education, which also includes family financial planning and preventative health education.
To have opportunities for education, a society needs a population that has the capacity or bandwidth to be educated, according to Ms. Lattouf. “The two major obstacles that I have identified for access to education are family finances and family access to healthcare,” she said. She highlights families without cars or transportation to school. Also, without healthcare, families cannot afford school supplies when they have to worry about medical bills.
Ms. Lattouf understands the irony of these cyclic problems. Families need transportation to get to work to make money, but they don’t have the money for that transportation. Or, a family without health coverage will require more visits to the doctor and more health-related expenses if they lack quality healthcare or basic preventative health education.
These are exactly the ironies of society she wants to solve. “I want to find a way for immigrant families and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to have the capacity to use their skills in their own small business or other occupation so that they can grow their assets and become truly comfortable,” she said.
Ms. Lattouf enjoys her job at Pace because she gets to help guide leaders of the next generation. But, her teaching and her work in the area of entrepreneurship do not end with her involvement at Pace. She runs a small nonprofit she founded called the Hope Education Project. She organizes tutoring in English as a second language for mostly Syrian refugees at Academe of the Oaks in Decatur.
“Right now it’s small but great,” she said. “It’s my passion project, but I want it to grow.” Ms. Lattouf is proud of but not satisfied with her work. She is a staunch believer that every non-profit needs a for-profit component because an organization that only gives is unsustainable.
She envisions a new ecosystem where non-profits generate returns and have easier access to funds. This way, up-and-coming talent in the business world with a passion for non-profits considers work in the non-profit sector rather than being wooed exclusively by top dollars at giant corporations.
At the Hope Education Project, students who can’t use their parents for homework help rely on their weekly sessions with tutors. “It promotes diversity and inclusion more than anything,” said Ms. Lattouf. “We’ve built a community.” The Hope Education Project is just the beginning for Ms. Lattouf, as she hopes to apply more than a generous heart to some of the challenging issues in our world. “The project is a beautiful program, but I’m a metric-oriented person,” she said. “I realize that I have to pull back from that in this situation.”
Ms. Lattouf will get to explore her passion for both the beauty of education and the beauty of data-driven problem-solving in her completion of the MPP. This non-profit entrepreneur and incoming Harvard master’s degree candidate wishes to leave Pace with a word of advice: “If you have an idea, and a will to pursue it, then just go out there and do it. Now.”