A conversation with Elisa Sednaoui Dellal.
By Maryem Sáder – Emzingo.
The life of international actress, model and philanthropist Elisa Sednaoui Dellal was shaped by culturally diverse experiences and early exposure to the creative world. She grew up between Egypt, Italy and France, daughter of an architect who has been working extensively in the Middle East and a versatile fashion-editor, her life has been influenced by an inspiring mélange of people and places.
After starring in advertising campaigns for Chanel, Armani, Roberto Cavalli, Buccelati and Missoni –to name a few– and appearing in several feature films, alongside stars like Vincent Gallo, Edgar Ramirez, and Alain Chabat, in 2013 Elisa created the Elisa Sednaoui Foundation and begun working on it’s flagship project: Funtasia.
The Elisa Sednaoui Foundation (ESF) is rooted in Elisa’s belief that all children should have access to creative expression and cultural exchange, unlocking opportunities for positive personal development and a better future. Since December 2015 she acts as an official Supporter of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and ESF is what she dedicates most of her time to, currently serving as the organisation’s acting Executive Director.
What was the motivation behind the project?
The world is more interconnected than ever, and at the same time it is becoming more divided and polarized. Access to quality education is not equally available – it is still a rare occurrence to find education that does not only teach academic content and specific skills, but supports young people in teaching them how to find creative solutions to life challenges, how to make their own choices, how to live as a contributing member of local and global community or to empower them to realize their full potential.
This is what pushed me to start Funtasia, the first project developed and funded by ESF.
Are there any achievements you’d like to particularly highlight?
The number of people trained and employed. The consequent enabling of communities members, in some cases people who never worked in education before their first Funtasia experience, to feel motivated in a job which allows them to effectively contribute to and enrich their communities. Women and men paid the same in a country like Egypt where this is not always the case. Having also begun to be a “support base platform” for educators, who feel like they are provided with a space where they can discuss the issues and doubts they confront as they carry their work. They often say they had not experienced this before in their job as educators and they now feel like they are heard and seen, sometimes for the very first time.
On the youth side, I am looking forward to seeing what I deem the real long term impact, what I dream of, and which will be shown by the adults and professionals that such youth will ultimately become. Nonetheless, what motivates me is to see how quickly things can shift thanks to the Funtasia educational approach. To witness the youth who came in the first time and could be defined slightly “disruptive”, return with a much different attitude. To see them thirsty and hungry for more experiences, knowledge, care… This to me is the result of the power of the love and care that is so intrinsic to the methodology.
Another great achievement to me is the sense of ownership that the children and youth start having in relation to the physical centre. For example when, in Egypt, during a recent week-long creative workshop during which we were receiving 5 international artists, I met with some young people that I had not seen at the centre before. I asked them if it was the first time that they participated to the programmes, and they replied to me, like it was evident, “We are the ‘Wednesday’ kids”. This made my day, as it meant that yes, it was their first Creative Workshop, but they felt at home, as they are effectively students attending every Wednesday, our weekly educational programmes.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in my everyday life. This is something that I particularly love about my work, that I can find ideas of what educational programmes we can and should offer to offer to youth and adults from my own life experiences. From a conversation with friends or with new acquaintances, by spending time with youth, by reading an article or a book, watching TV or a movie, everything to me is research. I believe it’s about being open and curious. I learn enormously by traveling and learning about other cultures and approaches, and that’s a big aspect of what we try to bring, a “curated multicultural educational approach and experience”. Another important source for me comes from being able to observe the first steps of my son’s educational journey, whether it’s the more academic, traditional aspects of it in nursery school, or all the extra curricular activities we have been attending in different countries since he was a baby.
To you, what makes a responsible leader?
A responsible leader knows how to recognize the strengths of the team, how to nurture them, to keep the members of the team inspired and challenged. It knows how to listen deeply and recognise “messages” that are not only expressed through words. It knows how to create a safe environment where people can express their opinions, ideas and feelings and where people can be critical too, in the goal of always bettering the offering. A responsible leader communicates clearly and takes accountability.
Any good advice for aspiring founders or entrepreneurs?
I can hardly think that I could have any worthy advice for anyone, as I still have so much to learn and experience. The one advice I can give perhaps, as it’s an approach I bring with me in all the different facets of my life, is that genuinity and sincerity in your endeavours and your rapport to people become very evident to others and are very powerful. I believe in direct feedback as the base on which to build long lasting relationships.
About the Elisa Sednaoui Foundation
The Elisa Sednaoui Foundation was established in 2013 with the aim to provide youth and adults with opportunities to access qualitative educational programmes which would support them in the realization of their full potential.
The goal is to empower and engage the next generation of problem solvers through arts, cultural exchange and facilitation of life skills.
Funtasia is the first project developed and implemented by ESF. Its objective is to curate and implement interdisciplinary Educational programmes which are focused on competency development, the strengthening of confidence and soft skills among young people, such as, for example, deep listening, conflict management, the ability to express one’s opinion and capacity building among local educators and facilitators building self-awareness, skills and community.
Currently working in Egypt and Italy, to achieve this goal, Funtasia’s educational programmes use tools such as the arts, gardening, nutrition and health. By learning to discover nature, cooking or conflict management, whilst concretely deepening different artistic skills (photography, painting, sculpture, film directing, digital storytelling,…) , the aim is to prepare youth for a life of meaningful connections – with people and their surrounding, for the job market of tomorrow and to promote the use of creativity as a mean to find solutions to their and their communities’ challenges.
Funtasia has curated curricula in partnership with artists, creatives, global partners and other experts to ensure effective and community-tailored programmes, based on innovative and interdisciplinary methodologies.
We are now present in 4 locations in Egypt: Luxor, Cairo, Haram City and Alexandria, and in Italy, the Funtasia programming is being implemented in Rome, Bari, Torino. In September we will launch in Milan, Genoa and Sassari. We have also started working with governmental teachers and have now trained over 230 adults and have reached more than 900 young people in Italy and Egypt combined.
Today, our curricula exist in three languages: English, Arabic and Italian, and Funtasia’s programming is delivered in three formats: after-school classes (and upcoming sessions within the formal education); creative workshops; and the training for adults.