Author | Storyteller | Narrative Coach | Digital Entrepreneur


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My Story

“Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.” — Rumi

death and identity. For much of my teenage years and adult life, I’ve had to contend with these two powerful and inescapable forces of human experience.

And boy was it hard at some points.

The loneliness of being a stubborn misfit.

The agony of feeling lost and like you don’t belong.

The struggle to reclaim your voice and do work that matters.

The courage to act despite your fair share of fear and self-doubt.

It wasn’t easy, but from those experiences, and behind the slain dragons, I found treasures that made it all worth it.

This is the blog where I openly share the lessons I learned and chronicle the continuing journey. As for who I am, here’s my formal bio, and the following is my story.


My name is Amir, which means “prince” or “leader of the faithful” in Arabic (an irony if you ask me, given my hell-ish relationship with organized religion growing up).

I’m a 26-year old Afro-Arab global citizen straddling East and West, and the son of an oral traditions and anthropology professor, and house-wife mom.

I am a veteran digital activist turned author, storyteller, CEO and entrepreneur, and trusted strategic advisor to thought leaders, start ups, and mission-driven organizations. 

I am also the author of My Isl@m: How Fundamentalism Stole My Mind–and Doubt Freed My Soul, described by famed internet theorist Clay Shirky as “a love letter to freedom of speech,” and recommended by Foreign Policy Magazine in its list of top 25 books to read in 2013.

And depending on my mood, I am sometimes a sarcastic joker who likes to write parody and satire.

The Economist calls me “puckish” and WIRED says I’m a “formidable speaker.”


From 2006 to 2011, I was the anonymous and mischievous voice behind The Sudanese Thinker, nominated three times in a row for the Weblog Awards.

From 2006 to 2011, I was the anonymous and mischievous voice behind The Sudanese Thinker, nominated three times in a row for the Weblog Awards.

Many considered it the most well-known English-language blog on Sudan-related issues authored by a Sudanese at the time, and consider me an early pioneer of the Sudanese blogosphere for the purpose of cause advocacy and instigating cultural change.

Using that experience, by mid 2008, I took a leap into the world of ecommerce and digital marketing, and became enthralled by technology’s disruptive power in business and beyond.

In 2011, at the height of the Arab Uprisings, I defiantly revealed my real identity, and as of 2012, The Sudanese Thinker has evolved and turned into this new blog you’re reading right now, where entrepreneurship is a spiritual path, irreverence is a necessary virtue, and bold storytelling is a revolutionary act.

I currently live in Southeast Asia, eat insane amounts of hummus, and love to travel regularly.

I am passionate about serving audacious individuals and organizations who truly give a damn.

I help do-gooders to stand out, hack their growth, and do more good, especially in the contexts of the Arab world and the United States, for the purpose of entrepreneurship and innovation.

As for what I specifically do, it spans a wide-range of activities that I’m insanely and intensely passionate about, all aimed at serving one supreme function: culture hacking.

And hence, ultimately, I’m a culture hacker.

What is culture hacking, you ask?

Culture Hacking

 

The art and science of altering and “recoding” a specific culture in the most effective ways possible with the aim of making it more democratic and inspired, and better-equipped to meet the needs of the moment.

It’s sort of like upgrading a company’s work-culture or a traditional town’s culture from Windows 95 to Windows Vista. Or better yet, screw Windows. Go Mac.

In other words, it’s sort of like upgrading a company’s work-culture or a traditional town’s culture from Windows 95 to Windows Vista. Or better yet, screw Windows. Go Mac.

Yes, I’m an Apple fan, and yes, inherent in what I stated is the fact that some cultures are better than others at enabling certain outcomes.

So, a friendly warning: If you’re a huge fan of cultural relativism, you probably won’t like some of what I have to say here on this blog.


I was born in 1986 in Khartoum, Sudan and raised in Qatar until the age of 10, before moving again to Southeast Asia where I joined Western international schools.

That makes me a TCK, short for Third-Culture Kid“a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

(The question ”where’s home?” isn’t one that’s straight forward to answer for us).

Growing up TCK gave me the ability to be quite objectively detached from the cultures I was immersed in, and made me aware of the good and the bad in them, which then helped me hack a “third culture” of my own made up of the best aspects of the cultures I experienced.

In the words of the Lebanese-French intellectual Amin Maalouf, which he wrote in his acclaimed gem of a book, In the Name of Identity:

“I am myself and not another, at the edge of two countries, two or three languages and several cultural traditions. This is precisely what determines my identity.”

“I am myself and not another, at the edge of two countries, two or three languages and several cultural traditions. This is precisely what determines my identity.”

“… Because of this situation, that I do not dare call ‘privileged,’ [such] people have a special role to play: building bonds, resolving misunderstandings, reasoning with some, moderating others, smoothing and mending conflicts.”

And that’s what I hope to contribute to.

In short, growing up TCK made me an intuitive culture hacker before I even knew what culture hacking was. Hence, it’s a major defining aspect of who I am and how I see the world.

Another defining factor was my late grandfather, one of the best mentors and teachers I’ve ever had.


When I was seven years old, sitting in the shade of a lemon tree on a hot afternoon in Khartoum, my grandfather shared with me some profound advice over a game of chess.

He told me, “son, see this lemon tree? It’s getting old, and it’s dying. Just like me. And soon, you’ll be old and dead too, but while you’re still alive, be sure to make your contribution. Just like this lemon tree made hers in our lives. All that delicious cold blended lemon juice we drank? It’s thanks to this tree.”

My grandfather was never the kind of guy to ignore the big elephant in the room. He never hesitated to point it out, sometimes bluntly and boldly, and sometimes gently and with humour.

And on that hot afternoon, he brought my attention to a fact which many of us aren’t comfortable thinking about and confronting: the reality of death.

The reality that the clock is always ticking, and any moment could be our last. Question is, what are you going to do with your life before that last breath? What contribution will you make?


Much of my work occurs at the intersection of digital media, conscious business, and cause advocacy. Simply put, I believe in the power of transformational entrepreneurship and culture hacking.

And we better get good at it.

Why? Because in a world plagued by all kinds of complex challenges, we need to rise to the moment boldly and assertively to instigate the cultural change we need. To be the change we wish to see in our communities, cities and countries, as well as organizations of all kinds.

And here’s the kicker: it starts with you. Yes, you, because no matter where you are, no matter what circumstances you’re dealing with, you are the singular building block of a culture.

Your beliefs, behaviors, and the stories you tell.

That and more is what creates and shapes a culture, and in this age of Facebookistan and era of easily-available disruptive technologies, you’ve got more power than ever to influence the world around you.

From the initial digital stages of the youth-led Arab uprisings and growing challenges to religious orthodoxy, to the exciting rise of Khan Academycrowdfundingconscious consumerism, and the sharing economy–the old dysfunctional status quo in many domains is slowly going bye bye.

And as someone who’s been fortunate enough to participate on many of those new and emerging frontlines of change, the future looks promising and very exciting.

Full of major challenges certainly, but still very exciting. Especially when one sees it from the right perspectives and through the right lenses.


The simple fact is culture can be stifling or liberating.

Enabling or disabling. Crushingly destructive or awesomely constructive. And no matter what, there’s no escaping its effects.

So why not get good at hacking it?

And heck, while we’re at it, why not pursue that with a drive and intensity that disrupts the frickin’ system and that can reinvent our world for the better?

I say we do it. And I say we eat lots of hummus, and have lots of fun along the way.