EBRD supports Amman’s Alchemist Lab

By Volker Ahlemeyer

EBRD supports Amman’s Alchemist Lab

Jordanian children explore the world of science

Travelling around the world, discovering ancient treasures and exploring a medieval-style laboratory – these are among many activities on offer to spark children’s interest in learning at the Alchemist Lab in Jordan’s capital Amman.

The education centre allows children from five to 15 to explore the world of science in a fun, interactive way.

“The idea is simple: we want to help build a better future through education,” explained founder and managing partner Hadeel Anabtawi El-Taher.

“I am a strong believer in applying scientific methodology as a life skill. It can help children understand the world and, most importantly, how to solve problems by themselves.”

Ms Anabtawi El-Taher started a mobile lab, based on this idea, nine years ago. Her enthusiasm is infectious, so it is no wonder that the Alchemist Lab became a hit with children. She opened the permanent education centre with more than 200 activities in west Amman in 2012.

The EBRD came on board at this point and helped the Alchemist Lab access the advice it needed to ensure continued growth.

It matched the business with expert local consultants to review the educational services, propose promotional activities and establish a strategic growth plan.

“We have developed a much better understanding of our market position, our customers’ needs and our competitors. This understanding is reflected in more tailored offerings, well-designed marketing materials and our plans to develop new ideas,” said Ms Anabtawi El-Taher.

This has borne fruit: thousands of children have visited the centre by now, during school visits, for birthday parties or individual visits. Its founder could further develop her business and employs six full-time staff and 11 part-timers.

She also offers training classes for teachers. Students need to understand the connection between science and their everyday lives – in this way, teachers can capture their imagination, she explained.

With solar cells, for example, children can learn how to design and power objects, such as toy cars. It also teaches them how to face the challenge of lacking natural resources in Jordan.

A recent class took place in the Ma’an Governorate surrounding the ancient site of Petra. Tourism has provided for much of people’s income here, but visitor numbers have decreased in recent years, due to the political tensions and instability in neighbouring countries.

It is now more vital than ever to get youngsters interested in education and offer them a better professional future.

Demand continues to grow, so much so that Ms Anabtawi El-Taher is considering opening another centre in Amman. Furthermore, investors in Dubai and Saudi-Arabia have also shown a keen interest in her concept.

The Alchemist Lab is only one of more than 100 companies that have benefitted from advisory support through the EBRD in Jordan, since the EBRD started its operations in the country in 2012. The programme is funded by the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Multi-Donor Account.*

“Our projects have helped small enterprises to expand in a wide variety of business sectors – from electronics and pharmaceutical companies to agribusinesses and retailers,” said Khaled Alsaheb, Principal Manager in the EBRD’s Amman office.

“Although the consultancy sector is facing many challenges in Jordan, it has enormous potential. 75 per cent of our clients reported an increase in turnover.”

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world, Nelson Mandela once said. Ms Anabtawi El-Taher has a similar long-term vision.

“My goal is that our youth will not be led blindly in the future but ask the right questions,” she said. “I want them to think independently and express themselves freely.”

“Our method has become really popular over the last few years, so I am very optimistic now about the next generation’s prospects.”

*The SEMED Multi-Donor Account is funded by Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taipei China and the United Kingdom.