Mamduh Halawa, Uppsala Student of the Year 2020

28 december 2020

Mamduh Halawa

Uppsala Student of the Year 2020, Mamduh Halawa, wants to help people find greater meaning in life.

A sense of meaning: that is what the Uppsala Student of the Year 2020 hopes to help as many people as possible discover. While studying on Uppsala University’s psychology programme, Mamduh Halawa has also found time to write a book about the impact of social media, as well as to develop an app that can help users to build meaning in their lives.

Mamduh Halawa, who is 24 years of age and currently in semester nine of the psychology programme, was surprised to be named Uppsala Student of the Year.

“I was slightly shocked to receive the award. I really didn’t expect it. I was nominated by a friend. I guess that I won the award because I have already actively put my psychology specialisation to commercial use during the study period. I’ve tried to create various things of value,” says Mamduh Halawa.  

Mamduh Halawa. Photo: Johan Wahlgren

Mamduh has certainly done that. A few years have already passed since the publication of his book Like, which looks at the state of research into social media. Mamduh Halawa become aware of the diversity of opinions regarding how much or little time was a healthy amount to spend on social media and whether it had an adverse effect or if it might actually be a good thing. He knew that research had been published but that it was having difficulty reaching people.

“Solid proof rarely emerged during the debate. I was curious and wanted to take a more orderly approach to compiling research findings. I have reviewed some 80 scientific articles and other sources in an attempt to find the most relevant studies and then tried to distil them into a single book. The research is divided into three categories: biological, psychological and cognitive. My conclusion is that it is impossible to state that it is either good or bad; there are specific pros and cons for different functions, and for different people. The book provides greater detail.”

Swayed by a handsome brochure

It was pure chance that Mamduh enrolled in the psychology programme. It was not in his plans and goals, he was simply swayed by a handsome brochure.

“I really liked the brochure and so I applied. I was surprised by how theory-intensive the programme was at the beginning. It took me a few semesters to figure out what a psychologist actually does. Now I want to finish the programme and work for a year so that I can get my license to practice. The work of therapy seems very exciting, a little like detective work.”

Mamduh hatched the concept for Zeeds in May 2019 and immediately began to research the idea with one of his classmates. They wanted to create a platform that would help people to create meaningful habits. The idea was informed by their extensive reading on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which helps people to identify what is important in their lives and develop good habits accordingly. Zeeds helps users to identify and act in line with deep rooted values. As the user starts to act in line with and register meaningful behaviours, the app rewards them with plants that they can grow in a virtual garden.  

How did Zeeds come about?
“I was inspired by working on the book, when I realised that it is possible to scale these kinds of things up and reach many people. A book is fairly passive; I don’t even know if people are reading it. I wanted to do something more active and given that ACT is a relatively new form of therapy it is not yet on the app market. In this way, one can scale up psychology expertise and help many more people experience meaningfulness. In theory, a more meaningful life can be a factor in shielding people from issues such as minor forms of depression or anxiety disorder. That said, the app is not a clinical treatment – we see it as a tool.”

How have you managed to get so much done while studying full time?
“Basically, it’s a matter of putting in the hours. There’s no magic wand. Of course, it helps that I find it so enjoyable. I don’t find it stressful; it gives me energy to work on these things.”

While Mamduh is currently the company’s only employee, he has received a great deal of help and support in testing and validating the concept from UU Innovation. At a later stage, the app has attracted three investors:  Uppsala universitet Invest, We App and Sara Wallén, CEO of MindMore, a cognitive screening platform for primary healthcare.

In addition to the title Uppsala Student of the Year, you will also receive SEK 100,000. What does this mean to you?
“It means comfortable financial security. I have not made much money from Zeeds. In the initial period of development I didn’t earn a penny, so this money gives me some breathing space and the opportunity to draw a modest salary. After the many hours I have put into this, it’s nice to be well-rewarded financially for all of the work I’ve done. I’ll try to work full time with Zeeds after I graduate and it saves the company a lot of money to avoid some of the staff costs for me.”

Facts: Uppsala Student of the Year

The scholarship Uppsala Student of the Year is awarded by the Anders Wall Foundation. The successful candidate shall have distinguished themselves through their good, creative efforts at Uppsala University, taken part in student union and/or student nation activities or made special efforts in support of other students, alternatively developed entrepreneurship in connection with the University’s educational or other activities.

Justification:

“Alongside successful studies in the Uppsala University psychology programme, Mamduh Halawa has both started a company and written a popular science book. Through his company, Mamduh has developed the app Zeeds, which based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy helps users to create and maintain meaningful behaviour. The company has attracted investors from both the private and public sectors, including ALMI and the Uppsala University Innovation Fund. Like (2018), his book about the psychological effects of social media, has had a big impact in the media. Mamduh has also involved himself in student life, including as lecture coordinator for the student association Psykologisation, which promotes mental health in groups and organisations. Mamduh was named Young Psychologist of the Year 2020 by the Swedish Psychological Association.”