MBA Student

Radwa Hamed

MBA ’23
Radwa Hamed
Radwa Hamed
It’s hard to change the world without having the right systems in place.
January 6, 2023

As a student in Stanford’s Design Impact program in 2020, Radwa Hamed worked to solve a crippling efficiency problem in Ghana and Nepal as part of the Himalayan Cataract Project: How to free up medical professionals to do more eye surgeries when the program paperwork was taking longer than the surgeries themselves?

“They collected patient data on a piece of paper,” says the Knight-Hennessy scholar, who has undergraduate degrees in computer and electronics engineering, and a master’s in Design Impact. “Sometimes that took 60 minutes, when the surgery itself takes only 10 minutes. It was insane.”

The far more efficient system she helped develop involved inexpensive patient bracelets embedded with a data chip that gathered information and created those medical records automatically before the surgeries, and then stored the data on a local server until it could be uploaded to the cloud when internet access became available.

“That was my pride and joy,” says Hamed, whose desire to turn tech solutions like that into viable businesses brought her to Stanford GSB.

You say one of your ambitions is to become Egypt’s minister of innovation and technology. What appeals to you about that job?

When I joined Stanford, I realized most of the products being designed in Egypt are focused on functionality and not on design. So initially my main goal was to understand how to prioritize the user and optimize the design. Then it started becoming bigger and bigger. How do you scale this across the whole system and not just for a specific product?

And you think a government position like that would enable you to do things on a bigger scale?

Egypt is operating a lot like the U.S., where private companies have a lot of autonomy. It will allow me to instill a culture in the public and private companies that will prioritize the user. Hopefully one day I can go back and help.

Can you describe a data or tech product that has had the kind of social impact you want to make? A product where you think, “OK, that was a leap forward.”

One of the most exciting products I have worked on is creating an EMR system that works off the grid, to be used by NGOs operating in rural areas of Ghana and Nepal. This helped streamline the delivery of ophthalmic care for cataract patients in [hard-to-reach] areas.

You’ve described yourself as an “audacious, fast learner.” Explain.

When I was growing up everyone asking me why I spent so much time studying, telling me I didn’t have to worry about it that much. But I really cared about learning a lot of things. As an undergrad I made this crazy decision to major in engineering, because I wanted to understand how a computer works from the transistor level up to the software level. I had to spend extra time in undergrad just to finish this.

“Feeling acknowledged and supported has been one of the biggest motivators for me to truly believe the GSB is a place where I can thrive and set an example for other Muslim Arab girls.”

When I joined Stanford’s Design Impact program, I was the novice and had to spend a lot of hours in the lab. At one point I broke my nose when a piece of wood ricocheted from a band saw, but I finished my assignment before going to the hospital. I really care about learning, and if I get into a question that’s interesting enough, I stay on it for a while.

What did you learn about organizational culture while working at Apple?

It’s the only big company that’s working on a functional-structure level rather than a product level. You’re trying to build products that work on the phone, the laptop, the iPad, and the Home Pod. You try to make sure you’re aligned with every single person across the company. Secondly, because of that there’s no one person who owns the P&L of a product, it’s a joint responsibility. With that, they can prioritize user experience over cost of the product. The cost of the product only comes very late in the process when you’re shifting from design to the supply chain part. So you get to be very innovative and build all sorts of crazy things until you hit the last mile and it becomes “How are we going to shift that to a product for the customer?”

How are you integrating what you’ve learned in the Stanford design program with what you’re learning at the GSB?

There’s a lot of value doing the design work quickly and prototyping to make sure it provides the value you think it does. I call that the fail-fast phase. The second part is doing two types of due diligence, business and technical. That’s where I fall back on my engineering background. Will it work from a technical point of view? And what’s the value from a business perspective? And who can pay for that?

Can you give an example of that?

This year I’m working with another GSB student and someone else on a startup. The software would enable behavioral therapists and special education teachers to build visual aids for students on the neurodivergent spectrum in a fast way using artificial intelligence. They spend about 20 percent of their time building visual aids, which limits the time they can spend with their patients and students. But this new AI technology can generate visuals on its own to speed up that process. That’s important because right now the ratio of therapists to students in public schools is 1 to 500, so it’s not working.

Is this what you mean when you talk about “empathic design thinking?”

Yes. Obviously, none of the three co-founders have this background. We interviewed more than 50 therapists and special-ed teachers to figure out how they interact with visual aids, and then tried to build a process around it. We built mockups of what an app is going to look like and showed it to them for quick feedback. At the same time, we worked on a business model and pitched it and got a grant to build it. Then finally we’re doing the technical due diligence now by hiring a team of software engineers to see what it would mean to actually build this product.

You did some design work for a job portal app that would enable refugees to better manage their salaries and finances. What was the main problem you were trying to solve?

There is a lot of potential in unbanked groups in different areas. Refugees lack a legal persona in many countries, except for Turkey. The reason for that is that Turkey provides them with a specific form of ID to help them get jobs. We were initially trying to tap into that market in Turkey where we could help Syrian refugees have some sort of a bank account where they could get access to their money, pay for specific services, and avoid being exploited into jobs that would underpay them. We tried to get it up and running, but the legal obstacles were not small. Eventually it got shut down.

What did you learn from that project?

I realized I need to do more work with users. How do I learn more about product development, making sure it’s easy for users but also understanding the business side of it? It’s hard to change the world without having the right systems in place. Sometimes you have to push for systemic change in order to be able to do the kind of micro-interventions you are trying to do. I also realized that there is a lot of courage and empathy required to show up for systematic and product change, especially when you come from a minority group. However, there is even more kindness and empathy needed to show up for others as well. Being cognizant of how my identity sometimes stands out within the community here, but still feeling acknowledged and supported has been one of the biggest motivators for me to truly believe that the GSB is actually a place where I can thrive and I can set an example for other Muslim Arab girls that they can do it as well

Was it hard coming to GSB from another culture, especially during COVID?

Imposter syndrome is real. You get to Stanford and you’re just like, “Oh my God! What did I get myself into?” You have to breathe and say, “OK, I can make this work.” I couldn’t have survived Stanford or the GSB without the people in my life who are supporting me through all this. My dad passed away when I was 14, but my mom, who is a chemistry professor, and my siblings, and my partner, who is a software engineer at Facebook, were there for me every moment of the day. Just being alone here was not easy, and I needed people to get through this. Eventually this support system started growing. I started making friends at Stanford, which I’m very grateful for, but you just need to step out and ground yourself with a support system.

Any professors that have been especially helpful?

My finance class with Amit Seru helped me understand what it means to run a company, not just from a finance perspective. I also took a class with Keith Hennessey called Freedom, Democracy, and Capitalism. That was a way for me to get involved in U.S. culture. Also, Innovation in Healthcare with Robert Chess. That was a favorite because it gave me a lot of insights into how U.S. healthcare system operates and emphasized for me my passion for trying to work in that space. Another often unrecognized population at the GSB that always has helped me is the staff. Whenever I reached out for help, they were always by my side whether it is for classes or for career-related questions. One special group is honestly the school custodians. Not only are they essential — but they always have a smile even on rainy days, and for that I will forever be grateful for them.

Photos by Elena Zhukova

Radwa Hamed
Radwa Hamed
MBA ’23
Cairo, Egypt
MS, Design Impact, Stanford Graduate School of Engineering
BS, Computer Engineering and Electronics Engineering, The American University in Cairo
Professional Experience
Product Manager, AI/ML Future Hardware Investigations, Apple
Co-founder and Product Manager, Ample Health (Himalayan Cataract Project)
Data Engineer and Project Manager, Affectiva Inc.
Current Profile