May El-Khalil is a Lebanese citizen, accomplished runner and world-traveler who has used her passion for running to educate others about both the power of sport as an instrument of peace and the transformative effect of physical activity. Based in Lebanon, Ms. El-Khalil is the founder of both the Lebanese Ladies Society and Beirut Marathon Association, an NGO which she runs as both President and Managing Director.
EXCLUSIVE NEW LEARNING TIMES INTERVIEW
Question: How did your educational trajectory and past professional experience shape your current work?
Answer: The year that witnessed my high school graduation was also the year I left my homeland to join my husband, Faisal, in Lagos Nigeria. I was pregnant with Zeina, my first born, and had to put my college plans on hold. With four kids to raise it seemed impossible to find the time to earn a degree, so I opened my arms, my mind and my heart to everything and everyone around. I decided to become a pupil of life. I would read any book I come across, I would learn from my kids’ wide imagination and my husband’s strategic thoughts. I even joined an American women club as a silent guest as I was not allowed official membership (I am a Lebanese citizen). Their structured work inspired me to establish the Lebanese Ladies Society and the committee went on to do amazing social impact projects in the area.
Having lived 23 years in Nigeria, we decided to come back to Lebanon and my learning venture never ceased to grow. I ran through the streets of Beirut City and was able to experience the city by practicing my favorite sport of all time.
I have always been a runner; my earliest childhood memory is running the little green field next to our house. For some reason, everything felt much better after I completed a run. Running in Lebanon opened new doors of friendship with other runners who were deemed crazy in the eyes of passengers. Lebanon was not a " runner friendly" country back then.
My newly formed running group, Faisal included, decided to run our very first marathon in 2001. During one of my training runs, I had an accident that took a toll on me. I was no longer able to run. It was then that I decided to organize a full-fledged marathon in my own country.
In 2003, I founded the Beirut Marathon Association, an NGO that organizes running events in Lebanon. I am the President of the association and have been the Managing Director since I took over in 2010. I can honestly say that no book and no person can ever teach you about the little things that can make or break a day at work. Although I am very much aware that I have no educational background in management, this didn’t stop me from leading, inspiring, and motivating an amazing team that works day and night to make sure that all races are world class organized events with secured roads and happy soles.
My work module is very aspiring, challenging, and motivating. I don’t kill an idea until I’ve fully explored it. I am a big fan of insourcing and encourage storytelling in all the organization’s departments. I root for active listening in meetings and I foster transparency in everything we say and do. Life taught me that!
Question: How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?
Answer: I have always been a firm believer in the power of sports. Running can be a non-competitive sport. One can practice running at anytime of the day and at any day of the week. It’s not a demanding sport, it costs little or nothing and the more one runs, the better you feel good about yourself. The Beirut Marathon association organizes running events and encourages everyone, the youth mostly, to take on running as their sport. Sports boost energy levels and lead to happier, healthier, and better people.
Question: What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
Answer: One cannot deny the growing effect of technology on learning. The Internet and the wealth of knowledge available online is impressive; we live in an age where most questions can be answered at the push of a button on our phones. This being said, I think that technology may also have an adverse effect on learning, in that it encourages the seeking of instant answers and discourages real in-depth understanding. Another growing trend that I think will have an impact on learning, and that really works well with the spread of new communication technology, is mentorship. I find more and more people adding value to their traditional education and experience through the help of mentors that can expand their scope of vision.
Question: What are you currently working on and what is your next big project?
Answer: This year, 2015, we are introducing for the very first time the "Youth Race," an event to encourage the youth to run the distance and foster causes to run for by pledging to become peace runners and responsible citizens.