OK, you know that there is much wrong with the world today. There are climate problems stemming from global warming. There are polarizing politicians dispensing with civility and decorum. Diseases nearly eradicated, like the measles, are making a comeback. Entire countries are failing and releasing vast numbers of economic and anything-for-safety refugees. Inequality is rising between countries and within countries. And much more.
How can all of these problems be fixed? How much would it cost? Where would this humongous sum come from?
Chris Haroun is among those who believe the answer to all these problems is education. In his view, it does not have to cost much. The technology needed is already in place and proven. What's more, you, personally, can earn money as you become a part of the solution.
Many people would say that Haroun's opinion is rather naive. But is there truth in what he says? And should you pay attention to him?
First, you need to know something about Haroun. Haroun's father was a Coptic Christian who lived in Egypt and persuaded an army officer to let him out of military service and leave the country. He wound up in Canada where he created a business that eventually had 300 employees and where his son was born.
One of Haroun's vivid childhood memories is about his mom and dad. It was the 1960s. His mom was white, and dad was Egyptian. They were holding hands and walking when a man came up and told his mother, "Your father would be ashamed you are dating this man."
This episode planted a seed in Haroun's young mind: He knew down deep that education could help people break out of this sort of bigotry. Haroun majored in information systems at McGill University and earned a master's degree in business administation from Columbia Business School. He did stints at such well-known companies as the mulinational professional services firm Accenture. And then he made a mistake and went to work on Wall Street.
"I went after money," he says ruefully. "When you do this, you lose your dreams and your happiness. If you make money your goal, you will always want more."
There was a cancer on Wall Street, he felt. Everyone was miserable, always comparing himself to someone else. Haroun read The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by the Dalai Lama (1998, Penguin), and his thinking started to change. Then he made his second mistake.
"I went after more money," he says. matter-of-factly. He went from Goldman Sachs to a venture-capital firm, started a hedge fund and played in the financial-services bazaar. He hated it. He recounts that he woke up one day to an insistent voice: "Why am I doing this?"
He started teaching at charities for free. He taught poor kids with deadbeat dads. One Saturday, in January 2016, he taught 20 teenagers for 12 hours straight.
"It was an MBA in a day," he laughs. The next day he taught eight hours, recorded it, and put it on Udemy, an online marketplace for user-generated educational content. It was "An entire MBA in one course," he says, unabashed.
The course sold more than 200,000 units. He created more courses. They earned him "several million dollars" in less than three years, he says, declining to specify the amount. He has become one of the top instructors Udemy, and his An Entire MBA in 1 Course offering is Internet famous. Now Haroun is bent on changing the world.
"Education," says Haroun, his voice vibrating with conviction and joy. "Education is what brings kids out of poverty, blasts prejudices into oblivion and knits disparate communities together in common interests."
And the best platform for educational videos is there for anyone to use. "YouTube is the answer," Haroun says, turning evangelical. "You don't have to send troops to other countries. It makes no sense to do so. Instead, you can create a million Malala Yousafzai."
Malala, of course, is the young Pakistani who became an international symbol of resilience and inspiration after she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman who objected to women being educated. She was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
Beyond academics, videos can teach people the kind of fundamental life skills that are not taught at college, such as time and money management, says Haroun. And, of course, you can also learn practical things, such as household repair, such as how to fix air conditioners and leaky faucets.
Haroun walks his talk. He has created dozens of courses and is working on dozens more. He has a new online MBA course, and he expects it to disrupt business schools. He plans to price it at $499.
Of course, if you want to create great online courses, you need great video. Haroun became a student of video and found his teacher in Steve Washer, a business communications consultant in Windsor, Conn., about whom I wrote last week. Haroun learned the ins-and-outs of green screens and was disabused of several notions he'd held about the medium. They're now collaborating on a course that will appeal particularly to entrepreneurs.
If you are passionate about something, you can be a great teacher about that subject, Haroun says. "When we have millions of such teachers, the world will stop being a conglomerate of warring factions," he says.
Maybe. Maybe not. Decide for yourself. While I do not believe that everyone can become an Internet teaching sensation, I do believe that a few people can. Will you be one of them?