Zaki Djemal '15

Zaki Djemal profile photoFounder and Managing Partner,

Thesis Title: Doing the Right Wrong Thing: Towards a Serviceable Theory of a Participatory Public Good: A Call to Service

As a student in Social Studies, I loved being able to explore a process happening in the world from a variety of perspectives: its history, intellectual backdrop, behaviors, incentives, economics, and impact. For my thesis I looked at the effects of extrinsic motivation on intrinsic prosocial behavior. I explored the notions of service and volunteering, and argued for new theoretical and practical framework for increasing the supply of these behaviors; namely, how an action carried out systematically over time can be internalized into an individual’s value system, even if initially the behavior was carried out “for the wrong reasons.” Not only were the tools and skills I picked up in this process diverse and highly transferable but I loved how this interdisciplinary approach taught me to engage with the world rather than set myself apart in the name “objective study.”

I’m no longer in academia but the curiosity, methods, and drive to engage with the world I picked up in Social Studies continue to inform what I do on a daily basis in my home-town of Jerusalem. As a Venture Capital fund manager, I’m constantly researching new industries and trends, analyzing markets, predicting user behavior (trying to at least), identifying incentives at work, and drawing up hypotheses. As a social entrepreneur, I started a backgammon league for Arabs and Jews that harnesses one the most popular games in the region to build bridges between disparate and often rival communities. This project which draws directly on some of the work I did as an undergrad on the effects of games and play on empathy has rallied over 7000 participants in less than two years and gained significant local and international recognition (NYT, the Economist, TEDx, Forbes 30 Under 30 and more). In many ways this project, in particular, lies at the meeting point of the various skills and interests I cultivated during my time at Social Studies: history, group dynamics, behavioral economics, ethics, and social activism. In sum, Social Studies presented me with both the motivation and means to rigorously engage with the world not as a passive bystander but as an active, critical and informed participant, and for this, I will remain eternally grateful.