Enactus Ryerson President Rand Abou Ras on Advocacy and Social Change

What impact would you like to make on this world?

This is the question that Rand Abou Ras, a third-year entrepreneurship student and current President of Enactus Ryerson, asks herself everyday. Abou Ras asks, “What is the point of being human if you’re not going to do good?” Her answer: “Success is all about impact; what good you do in this world.”

Abou Ras came to Canada three years ago with her family seeking asylum as a Syrian refugee. Her goals have always been to “help people in any way that I can by advocating for their human rights.”

“When a woman is raped in the Middle East for not wearing a hijab and she’s told she was was asking for it, that is something that frustrates me,” she says. “The human trafficking situation in Africa, that is something that frustrates me. I just want to make this world a better place in any way that I can. I know how cheesy that sounds, but that’s my goal and that’s why I love Enactus”.

 

Syrian roots

Although born in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Abou Ras is a Syrian citizen because of her parents’ Syrian citizenship. Her parents moved to Abu Dhabi when they got married while her father was building his business. Abou Ras spent a couple of years in Syria and would visit her family back home every summer. During her time in Syria, Abou Ras explains that she lived an “organic lifestyle,” on a farm in a very small village. “If you needed anything you had to make it or get it yourself,” she says.

She had no television and no internet which forced her to purely rely on natural resources. Living in Syria was a “really amazing experience, I think it really built me up and made me more creative … more resilient to everything,” she says.

Although living in the Middle East had many positives, Abou Ras spoke about her challenges and hardships as well, especially for young and ambitious women. In her opinion, one of the most pressing issues in the Middle East, mainly Syria, is the lack of opportunity and education.

“There isn’t much opportunity for women, or anyone to begin with. In Syria, it is very hard for you to make it anywhere or to be anyone,” she says.

Abou Ras says that if she’d stayed in Syria, she would’ve followed the lifestyle of getting married at a young age, having children, and living with [her] husband while he works.”

“The stereotype of women is that they should stay at home and take care of the kids … I wouldn’t have been able to do what I wanted without being judged.”

Not only did Abou Ras’ gender restrict her opportunity, but her ethnicity did as well. Abou Ras’ family are members of the Druze religious minority, which makes up approximately 3 per cent of the country’s population. The Druze population has been recently targeted by ISIS because of the difference in their religious beliefs and the ongoing Syrian Civil War. When the war started in 2011, Abou Ras and her family were still residing in Syria during the summers. As the conflict started to escalate, her father decided that it was no longer safe, which resulted in the family’s permanent move to Abu Dhabi. However, residing there became risky too, and that’s why the family decided to move to Canada in the summer of 2016.

 

Working with Enactus

Abou Ras’ experiences in the Middle East are what primarily drives her to be such a strong advocate for human rights.

“I think that rage and that anger, not only at the war but at the Middle East in general, how it discriminates, how it limits your opportunity … it just made me very eager to just go out there and prove everyone wrong,” she says, “to show everyone that it doesn’t matter what colour you are, it doesn’t matter what gender you are, you can still be as capable as anyone.”

It is her personal belief that “everything bad that happens to you, you can choose to either go to the dark side or you can choose to take it, build it and become a better person.”

During her time in Canada, Abou Ras has risen to the top of the Enactus ladder and has worked on several social ventures such as Project Coat & Shelter, where she worked with members of Toronto’s homeless populations providing them with basic necessities. She also worked on Project Welcome, which is a project that is still “very close to my heart,” as she says. Project Welcome is an Enactus venture that works to educate Syrian refugees on various skills to help them succeed in Canada, like learning English and using computer programs like Excel and Word. This project was very rewarding for Abou Ras as she got to help people expand their skills and have more opportunities in this country.

Although accepted to both the Rotman School of Business and Schulich School of Business, Abou Ras chose Ryerson because she wanted to gain practical experience in her field. Before enrolling at Ryerson, Abou Ras wasn’t sure how to achieve her goals, calling them an “unrealistic dream”. Now, she feels like Ryerson has equipped her with the skills to get where she wants to be and succeed.

Through Abou Ras’ experiences at Ryerson and as Enactus’ President, she has learned valuable lessons about leadership. “Leadership is more about the people you work with rather than what you are doing,” she says. “It’s about digging deep into the personal lives of your colleagues, knowing what they want to achieve, and making them grow in their position.”

“Think about it as being a mother; when you’re a mother all you care about it your child’s growth and you put your child’s benefit above yours. I think that is a quality of a good leader”.

 

Making an impact

Abou Ras intends to attend law school to learn more about and advance human rights. She wants to utilize her skills as an entrepreneur and combine them with legal knowledge to advocate against human rights violations, such as human trafficking, all over the world.

When thinking about how she defines success, Abou Ras asks herself, “What impact do I have on other people’s lives throughout my journey?”

“If I become ‘successful’ simply by becoming a billionaire and not helping others, I would consider that the biggest failure,” she says.

Abou Ras is making her mark on this world with passion, drive and resilience. She serves as a role model not only for young women at Ryerson, but to every student who aspires to not only better themselves, but better the world as a whole. Abou Ras encourages all of us to take a step back and recognize our lessons and opportunities in life , utilizing them to make a positive impact on the world around us.