Ihyaa: How a group of Saudi architects revived schools in under-developed areas of Jeddah

'We chose the name Ihyaa to represent how we’re reviving the community through education,' says co-founder Samira Taye

First volunteering program. Courtesy Ihyaa

Ihyaa, a word which means "to revive" in Arabic, is a social enterprise in Saudi Arabia that was established by a group of young architects and engineers in 2015.

The group, which started by renovating schools in underdeveloped areas of Jeddah, was born out of the need to inspire hope and help less fortunate communities in the city. "We were just a group of volunteers who wanted to do something for their community," Samira Taye, co-founder and chief executive of Ihyaa Group, tells The National.

The best part of the job was the look on the students' and teachers' faces on the opening day

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and ours began with a simple meal.”

It all started during Ramadan six years ago, when a group of students and young professionals came together to share meals with people in need. After realising they wanted to have more of a longer term impact, they took it a step further. “Our goal is to lift their lives through education, after realising a scarcity of well-established educational centres in the areas.”

So they utilised their professional experience and worked with the local community of Al Jamea District to complete their first school renovation project that summer. In the images below, you can see the before and after shots from this job on the right and left, respectively.

“The best part of the job was the look on the students’ and teachers’ faces on the opening day and the impact it made on their lives. Which made us want to strive to continue.”

Although this first renovation project started as a volunteering initiative, the team said the positive feedback they received made them realise they were in it for the long haul. They even started getting requests from nearby schools for renovations.

“We decided to continue with the initiative and chose the name Ihyaa to represent how we’re reviving the community through education, and reviving our youth’s energy and passion to serve their community,” says Taye.

Our group started with 10 architects and engineers, seven of whom were females and six were still students

Since then, Ihyaa Group has completed eight other school renovations and community projects, impacting more than 1,000 students' and teachers’ lives.

“Our group started with 10 architects and engineers, seven of whom were females and six were still students. The experience helped us all learn a lot since everyone got to work first-hand on different tasks and scopes, which enabled us to notice our different strengths.”

Today, the team is more committed than ever to their vision, and two of the founding team members have even quit their corporate jobs to pursue this social work full time.

This year, Ihyaa also officially became an independent social enterprise with legal registration and is expanding its range of work. This includes recruiting a multidisciplinary team to offer specialised design services to educational institutes, a move they hope will help financially support their social projects.

One of our Schools’ Playground After Renovation. Courtesy Ihyaa

“Developing Ihyaa into a social enterprise was a necessary step that was taken to sustain our work and expand," says Taye.

"Now that we are independently registered, we will hopefully be able to work alongside many more organisations through their corporate social responsibility projects in our community to ensure a greater impact.” At the moment, they are working on a variety of corporate campaigns for Ramadan.

Taye says Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Vision 2030 has also helped, as there has been more support across the kingdom for women-led and social enterprises, as well as start-ups.

“Vision 2030 had a major role in supporting Ihyaa’s growth over the last few years since some of its main pillars include enhancing education, encouraging socially responsible organisations and raising volunteering rates among the community.

“And today, more than ever, we are honoured to be part of achieving the national vision."