Spotlight Interview with Victor Saad on How Taking Risks Create Defining Moments


As part of Greenheart Travel’s ongoing blog series on professional development through travel, I had the pleasure of talking with Leap Year Project and Experience Institute founder, Victor Saad, about the importance of community building and pushing past your comfort zone for personal and professional development.

His bio describes him as a “designer, strategist, and connector” and he shared how he was inspired to create his own MBA program through 12 experiences in 12 months, which lead to his current flurry of projects and recent launch of his second Leap Year Project initiative for 2016.

Read on to learn more about this Chicago change-maker and why he feels “life’s most defining moments are when we take risks.”

Q: What first inspired you to launch the Leap Year Project and how did you use travel to build your personal MBA program? 

I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine named Tyler Savage, and we were talking about MBA programs. I had mentioned to him that I could do this on my own and he said “why don’t you?”

Following that conversation, I took a spring retreat doing a service project at a camp, and the day after I returned I had a light bulb moment that I really should try and design my own educational experience. I then went to the dining room table and started scheming a plan for my year of learning, and at the top of the page wrote “Leap Year Project.”

This was April 3, 2011, and in 30 minutes I had everything down on a sheet of paper. I knew I wanted to work with people, I knew I wanted to read, and I knew I wanted to somehow build a community around this idea while mentoring and inspiring others.

So, that was the beginning. I left in December and my traveling started in early January of 2012, which happened to be a Leap Year. A friend of mine helped me create more structure around the idea, which evolved into 12 projects in 12 months.

Q: Did you have a favorite project or experience during your Leap Year Project?

All the projects and experiences were really different and included some amazing people. Some of the most surprising experiences included working in an architecture firm. I had no background in architecture and for someone to give me the time to work on a sound installation for Microsoft felt really good.

Going to China and seeing the manufacturing process behind the products being made was also really fascinating, and being able to be a journalist/documentarian for this team was an interesting way to get there. Those were just a couple highlights; I could go on and on.

Q: Did you have a lot of travel experience before you decided to take on your Leap Year Project?

My parents, and my mother especially, were really supportive of me seeing the world from a young age. My family is Egyptian, and I often went to Egypt in middle school. When I was thirteen years old, I traveled alone for the first time to visit my family there. Every summer after that, I did service trips around the world in places like Cairo and Nicaragua; I even lead soccer camps in Mexico for young kids.

Q: As the founder of the Leap Year Project and Experience Institute, you have made a career out of following your passions. Do you have any advice for those pursuing dreams of their own?

That is my entire life right now trying to offer advice on this question. I would say, if anything, start with a round of discovery. Really examine the things that inspire you and the things that you hope to become, and the things that you are already good at.

In the Leap Year Project this is described as your inspiration, aspiration, and assets, and I think this really helps you define a lot of things about your next step.

Another important part of this process is taking a look at the people you surround yourself with right now. We really are the make-up of the people we spend the most time with, so it’s important to determine if they are who we should be investing our time. Knowing your personal goals will help you surround yourself with a support network of friends and mentors.

Even at Experience Institute, every student has to think about the 10-20 people they will update throughout the year regarding their progress, and that is their “Leap Team” if you will.

Q: How important do you think it is to build a community in overall career development?

At least for me, the most important factor was having a community that included people that I had some personal history with, as well as individuals that were experts in the field that I was interested in pursuing.

When we think about community, many people also want some rock star to give validation in their goals. More than anything, we need someone that is going to be available.

It’s no help to me if a CEO offers to help but doesn’t communicate with me. You don’t need rock stars, you need the support from people that are really going to be there for you in what you are trying to achieve.

Q: How have your travel experiences helped you overcome challenges in launching the Leap Year Project and Experience Institute and as an entrepreneur in general?

I think more than anything, travel gives you empathy and that isn’t something you just learn once. It’s a muscle. If you don’t practice putting yourself in other people’s shoes, that muscle atrophies and it eventually shows in your work or messaging and in your character.

All of us know someone that has returned from a trip and sees the world differently and is now open to new ideas or a little more patient with how people react to things. I think travel fosters that new perspective and empathy.

For me personally, when talking about the Leap Year Project, my travels have helped me realize that leaps look different in many contexts. Often in Asian countries, risk is not looked highly upon, or in countries like Germany, decisions tend to be more conservative in markets, but that doesn’t mean that these people don’t still have dreams.

Understanding this, I want to be empathetic that everyone looks at risk in a different way. I don’t want to just promote quitting your job, but motivate people to assess what they want to do and why they want to do it and then go and pursue that goal.

Travel can help with that because it really is a remarkable way to learn and see another context in the flesh. Education is seeing the world and deciding and exploring what you are going to do to make the world a better place.

Leap Kit Teaser | Back the Kickstarter by November 3rd | bit.ly/LeapKit from Experience Institute on Vimeo.

Q: Do you have a quote that inspires you to get out of your comfort zone and follow your passions that might help others go after their travel dreams?

Without risking having to choose one quote that would have to define me, I do have a few that resonate.

“Not all who wander are lost.” – J. R.R. Tolkein

“Fairy Tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” G.K. Chesterton

Q: Any other additional thoughts or tips you would like to share?

I’m especially curious about how people design their own learning, and since next year is a leap year, I want to offer the question; “If you could take a leap, what would you do?

Want to learn more about how you can join the Leap Year Project? Check out the Leap Kit and take the first step in meeting your goals in 2016! 


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