What started off as a club composed of five friends at Cornell has now reached thousands of students across New York City, preparing them for success inside and outside of the classroom. Karim Abouelnaga (Hotel School ’13) successfully leveraged his social enterprise, Practice Makes Perfect (PMP), to help alleviate an issue facing low-income public school students. The New York Times says, “Perhaps PMP will grow up to become one piece of a solution — a way to give a larger section of low-income children the kind of summer enrichment middle class students take for granted.”
A New York City native, Abouelnaga went through the public-school system in Queens. He was aware of the lack of resources for students like himself growing up. Nevertheless, he did not realize how vast the issue was until he read about McKinsey’s research in 2009, ‘The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools’. He set off on a mission to create a summer school program to bridge this achievement gap by directly tackling summer learning loss.
At the heart of PMP lies its near-peer mentorship model. The social enterprise pairs students with a mentor four to six years older so that a close relationship develops during the summer months. There is also a classroom leader, called a Teaching Fellow, who is a college student. Mentors and Teaching Fellows go through rigorous training to meet the high standards set by the organization. The summer school focuses on core subjects such as English and Math, while including other enrichment activities. The organization extends its work beyond the achievement gap into other areas such as college-readiness and targeting teenage unemployment.
PMP works directly with school administrations to identify students who would benefit from the program, while principals pay per student. Abouelnaga raised over two million dollars to support the initiative in the two years after he graduated from Cornell. He has equated fundraising to sales, as Abouelnaga has had to follow up and convince countless individuals about the importance of his work. Abouelnaga has also discovered the power of asking friends for help.
The future of PMP was once uncertain when Abouelnaga was faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to pursue his organization full time upon graduation or accept a job offer, sharing, “Being raised by a single mom and knowing I didn’t have a financial safety net added an additional layer of pressure to make the best decision. After all, I wouldn’t be able to bounce back from a big failure as fast as some of my peers with more extensive family connections could.” Abouelnaga recognized the tremendous impact his work had and would continue to have, if he fully committed himself to the effort.
Several years later, his passion remains strong. The greatest advice he has received thus far is to always surround yourself with individuals who share their own expertise, rather than with individuals that tell you what to do. This was instrumental in his decision to pursue his vision. Abouelnaga’s favorite aspects of his job are being able to influence so many kids’ lives positively and watching the growth and transformation of the people he manages. He credits the support he received from Entrepreneurship at Cornell and the Cornell Public Service Center for helping him turn his idea into a reality during his time at Cornell.
It is no surprise that PMP has been greeted with tremendous success. The organization was honored by the Clinton Foundation and Abouelnaga was featured in Forbes ‘30 under 30’. Abouelnaga shares, “Our company’s big goal is to get to a point where when people think of summer, they think of Practice Makes Perfect. We’re working to build a company that intimately understands urban education and comes up with the most innovative solutions to address them in partnership with the government.”
To learn more about PMP and Abouelnaga’s efforts, please visit www.practicemakesperfect.org