top of page

Achieving Your Dream in the Most Difficult of Situations

By Mohamad Alhabbal

“I've always tried to unlock human and social transformation. Transformation is possible, even in the most challenging of circumstances.”

These are the words of Joe Slaven, a strategic manager who spent the early part of his career in refugee camps leading university institutions and delivering transformative education for young leaders. He worked in refugee camps in Malawi, Kenya, and Iraq. Additionally, in 2018 he led the rollout of the SNHU program in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya and Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi in partnership with the Global Education Movement.

As a student, Joe studied psychology. This would turn out to be useful for his career. His higher education work with refugees involved creating education programs for people who live in difficult circumstances and face challenges that most people with his background coming from the United States wouldn't understand.

"Psychology is one of those subjects that once you have a good understanding of how people think, or how people react, or how they can potentially live, you can incorporate it into anything that you're doing," he said.

He designed solutions that are especially centered on positive psychology and how these solutions make the world better.

I was particularly interested in his work with refugees where he developed educational services for people who were in extremely difficult situations. He was creating an experience that would allow people to benefit from these services and create new ones that were specifically targeted at the problems refugees faced. In June of last year, Joe joined Censeo Consulting Group, a consultancy that helps public sector and mission-driven organizations run more effectively and efficiently, deliver better outcomes and lower costs. His day is filled with client meetings and interactions with colleagues focused on how to deliver results.

How Experiences Move One to Action

I was really impressed when he described the experience of seeing people living in places where they are pushed to the margins and going hungry every day, yet are really working hard for justice and surviving against the odds.

"I think it's the sort of thing that maybe you see on TV and in movies all the time,” he said. “But to actually be there with people and witness that first-hand is one of the most inspiring things you could possibly see."

Despite terrible conditions, people can still be happy and still pursue fulfillment.

“I will do my best in the future to try to use these experiences from the past few years of working with refugees, to create more positive change where I can,” Joe said.

As a Syrian refugee, I found his thoughts on the Syrian crisis to be extremely interesting. When the Syrian crisis began, people all over the world became aware of it. The public began to comprehend what it meant to be a refugee, as well as who refugees are. Prior to that, there was a widespread view of refugees as impoverished people who had fled to Africa and little attention was paid to them.

Joe shared: "When I started working in 2015, this crisis was in the news every day and we were getting more stories from refugees who were forced to flee."

During this time, his perspective of refugees shifted. He became very close to many refugees because they were the only people he saw on a daily basis.

"Once you do that, you realize, ‘refugees’ are a broad category of people who are human beings. They are refugees simply because of certain events that happened to them."


"As a student, of Southern New Hampshire and the GEM program, you are in a very good place to see the most impactful efforts that have ever been undertaken from a perspective of higher education," Joe told me.

He continued: "If you’re really aiming to learn about innovation and how to achieve sustainable innovation that has positive impacts on people's lives, there's no better place to look than GEM. They have created entirely new ways of doing what they're doing because they're really the leaders in that field.”

I'm truly in a fantastic position to be able to watch and participate in this experience.

“You are with some of the most innovative people I've ever met, and I think that you should take part in it,” he added.

Finally, Joe persuaded me to investigate GEM's work and how it has disrupted higher education, since they are unquestionably the best in their sector. In reality, this encouraged me to pursue my dream of founding an organization to assist refugee students in achieving academic success and scholarships because I believe in refugees' ability to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

Enrolling in the GEM program has increased my motivation and expertise in meeting this challenge. In the most difficult of circumstances, you can always pursue your dream and activate individual and social change, knowing that transformation is possible.

Connect with Joe Slaven on LinkedIn. Mohamad Alhabbal is is a Business Administration student who is part of the Global Education Movement initiative at Southern New Hampshire University. He wrote this story after going through the Global Innovators Academy Interview an Innovator experience.

bottom of page