Mohanad Alsaid and Dex Burns were classmates in a graduate class at George Washington University during the spring 2023 semester. By chance, they sat next to each other on the first day, and a simple “hello” led to the two GW alumni becoming business partners as they pursue their passion of helping others through their nonprofit organizations.
Alsaid, who graduated in 2023 with a master’s in organizational leadership and Burns, a doctoral candidate in the Human and Organizational Learning program, met in a consulting skills course taught by professor Ramien R. Pierre.
The class was assigned a project that allowed students to break into teams and put the lessons they learned in the course into practical business applications.
“The course was aimed at helping you develop your consulting skills and being sort of a mover and shaker for an organization,” Burns said.
Alsaid and Burns, both CEOs of a nonprofit, saw a chance to collaborate and use what they learned in their GSHED course to improve their businesses.
“It was great to speak to another young person who was also guiding the vision of a nonprofit,” Burns said. “When the assignment came out, we just looked at each other and knew we had to work together in whatever capacity.”
Burns is the CEO of First Trip, which works to build opportunities for underrepresented college students to travel abroad for the first time and pursue global careers.
“We work with a variety of HBCUs and minority-serving institutions to help students get their first passports, to get them excited about international travel and global citizenship,” Burns said. “We also have mentoring programs.”
Burns, who has an undergraduate degree in global studies, is a strong believer that everybody should have access to the benefits of traveling and experiencing other cultures.
Alsaid is the CEO of The Alsaid Foundation. The nonprofit supports global youth development and leadership with a heavy focus on increasing educational opportunities for students. He was inspired to start the organization after spending time in 2014 helping Syrian refugees in his home country of Jordan.
“I decided I want to do something for my country and for the people in the Middle East to support their education and help them return to school because education is important,” Alsaid said.
As Alsaid and Burns got to know each other during the semester, they realized there was overlap between their goals, and they shared the driving mission of promoting global opportunities for young adults.
“We both have a focus on supporting students having enhanced educational opportunities,” Alsaid said. He added that his study abroad experience is a testament to the importance of providing those opportunities to students.
When he was 9 years old, Alsaid came to the United States to take classes for a month. That experience ignited a passion that pushed him to work hard in school so he could eventually attend college in the United States.
“I learned many things while in America, and when I went back to my country, I wanted to work harder on my English and on my studies to get better grades on my exams,” Alsaid said. “So that experience, it kept me focused and active. I believe in the idea behind First Trip. I believe in people experiencing new cultures and experiences.”
During the course project, Alsaid and Burns worked together to identify areas of improvement for First Trip and find areas of collaboration between their organizations. Burns said the partnership with Alsaid ended up being instrumental to his company because Alsaid offered new insights.
“Sometimes, as a leader of a nonprofit, you tend to just look at a challenge and say you’re going to address it but you sometimes forget to peel back the layers to see what some of the underlying issues can be,” Burns said. “It’s always easy to see someone else’s areas for growth and not look at your own or understand your own. Because Mohanad is a CEO as well, he was able to look at things in my nonprofit that I couldn’t see.”
After the project was over, the board of directors of First Trip were so impressed by Alsaid they offered him a role at the company as a strategic adviser.
Alsaid said he also learned a lot from his partnership with Burns that he was able to take to the Alsaid Foundation.
“We’ve learned from First Trip, as a U.S. organization working to support American people,” Alsaid said. “Everyone at First Trip is so passionate and believes strongly in their mission to improve diversity and bring new opportunities. That passion is so important in a nonprofit because, without it, you won’t have any good ideas or keep pushing to make an impact.”
While the two classmates didn’t imagine they’d find a business partner at the start of the course, Burns and Alsaid said their encounter illustrates the importance of making connections with the people around you—especially at a university like GW.
“We have a lot of talented leaders here so it’s important to say ‘hi’, meet for coffee and be friendly,” Alsaid said.
“I sat next to Mo, and he said ‘hello’ and just him lending that friendly hand was what kickstarted our working relationship and friendship,” Burns said. “So that’s important. Understanding that no matter where you are in your life, somebody can add value to it.”