Karim Abouelnaga: 32 Under 32

Practice Makes Perfect is very excited to announce that our founder and CEO, Karim Abouelnaga, is being honored as one of Magic Johnson's 32 Under 32. Magic Johnson’s 32 Under 32 recognizes individuals who exhibit the professionalism, hard work, values and talents to lead the reimagining of possibilities for tomorrow’s business culture.  Karim's entrepreneurship coupled with his passion, vision, and commitment to closing the achievement gap have made it possible for him to receive this great honor. Continue reading to gather some insight on Karim's life and career and read more about Magic Johnson's 32 Under 32 here. --------

Karim Abouelnaga is no stranger to the lack of educational resources in low-income neighborhoods. Growing up in New York City, he attended some of the NYC’s most struggling public schools and noticed a disparity in his educational experience. Now, he is the CEO and Co-Founder of Practice Makes Perfect, an organization that is providing 1200 students with high quality summer learning experiences.

"You have to own your decisions and be accountable. These are the moments that require reflection on all of your experiences. It is the time to align your decisions with your purpose and only you can do that."

Practice Makes Perfect

I wasn’t engaged in middle school. Both of my parents were immigrants and didn’t understand the U.S. education system. My high school in New York had a 55% graduation rate and only 20% of students were college ready. I wasn’t one of them.

After a stint at a local city college and with the help of a mentor, I transferred and then graduated from Cornell University. Although I could have taken a job on Wall Street, my educational experiences made closing the achievement gap and addressing a lack of resources in my community, a matter of urgency. That’s why I started Practice Makes Perfect, a summer school operator that leverages a unique near-peer learning model to provide academic summer programming in low-income communities. We have been incredibly effective in addressing the academic achievement gap and have created a demand for our services. Now, school districts hire our company to run their summer programs. We’ve now built a multi-million dollar education company, are in 19 schools across NYC and will be employing over 300 people this summer.

As I’ve built my business, I come back to three principles that have guided my path to success and I’m eager to share them.

1. Practice makes perfect.

I’ve had many rejections throughout my life and found that the amount of time and effort that you put into something predicts your success. In college, the number of hours that I studied directly correlated with the grades that I received. I knew that if I wanted an A, I had to push through 5-7 hours of studying. It wasn’t always fun, but that’s what it took. If you want to be great, you need to be dedicated.

How many hours are you putting into reaching your goals? No matter how smart or experienced you are, it takes time and practice to perfect any given skill, and there is always room for improvement. I can’t answer how much time or practice you’ll need, but I suggest keeping a daily and weekly schedule of your productivity; then track and budget your time. You need to build sweat equity into your projects.

2. Listen to feedback and trust your instincts.

Our “near-peer” mentoring approach came from the recognition that students in middle school and early high school had the highest risk of becoming disengaged with education. At this age, many students have fallen so far behind that they have lost confidence and motivation. We found that the older students benefited from reviewing the material of their younger peers, and the younger students benefited from having a positive role model. After we started, we found research supporting what we knew to be working on the ground.

As CEO, research is a large part of decision-making, but many of my decisions stem from communication between the students, teachers and staff. It’s important to have a feedback loop that allows you to make decisions in real time. In the end, trust your instincts.

3. Pivot when necessary.

Practice Makes Perfect is no longer a non-profit. We started as a 501c3 five years ago, but we converted to a B Corp, which has a for profit social enterprise model. We do the same work. We have the same mission.

As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to figure out which tax status will be the most effective in reaching your goals. It’s not easy to make money from solving social ills. People want to pay you to address their personal pain points. If you can align a social problem with a consumer pain point, then you’re golden. You can make money and make the world better. This model is the future of business in a millennial-led world.

You should always listen to advice but when you’re faced with major life decisions, no one will have 100% of the contextualized information that you have. You have to own your decisions and be accountable. These are the moments that require reflection on all of your experiences. It is the time to align your decisions with your purpose and only you can do that.

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