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So, you want to be a social entrepreneur?
Despite the general perception, there are immense opportunities for the people in the Gulf who want to give back to their society as social entrepreneurs. Atique Naqvi investigates.
August 15, 2011 10:00 by Atique Naqvi
Keeping in mind the high standard of living and the abundant oil wealth in the GCC countries, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, one would think that being a social entrepreneur in this region is not practical. But there are immense opportunities for the people who want to give back to their society and the only criteria is that the start-ups have to be extremely innovative and determined to bring positive change in the region, said the social entrepreneurs and the business leaders who attended the Acumen Fund event in Dubai last month.
The ‘Social Entrepreneurship: Social Impact’ event attracted people beyond capacity of the venue but the crowded place did not reduce the enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs and investors attending the conference. Besides the panel discussion, some of the region’s social entrepreneurs shared their stories of success.
Founder of Webpreneur, Amir Anzur, said that as the technology is changing extremely fast and people of more 25 years of age sometimes struggle to keep up with the latest changes. He started an academy to train executives in the latest technology and how they can apply the latest gadgets to the best of their business strategies. “There were days when people use to prepare resumes but now they can market themselves as a brand through Internet,” he said. Webreneur also helps businesses in the region go online, and thus go global. “We helped Anwer Ahmed to set up a website for his honey products. He buys honey for $12 and sells it for $45 online – reaching the global market.”
Where there is abundance, the chances of waste are high and Marwan Chaar, co-founder and managing director of FuGu Energy, realized that quite early and turned the idea into a business. The statistics he gave were startling. “The energy used by buildings in the UAE is 72 percent of the total consumption and if effective ways are applied to reduce consumption by 10 percent, then with the saved energy all of Yemen can be powered,” he said.
FuGu derives its name from a Japanese delicacy fugu, poisonous enough to kill unless served correctly. There is no known antidote to the poison of the fugu fish, just as there is no “quick fix” for the world’s energy needs. The firm, which was established in 2009, is a member of the UAE Business Council for Sustainable Development and provides innovative solutions to identify, develop, and implement demand reduction in facilities.
Among other social entrepreneurs, who narrated their success stories, were founder and CEO of CareZone Ritesh Tilani and founder of Nakhweh Kamel Al Asmar. CareZone connects the corporate world with the customers so that customers can help their favorite causes with no extra cost to them, while Nakhweh bridges the gap between volunteers and the organizations looking for volunteers.
The panelists, founder and CEO of Acumen Fund Jacqueline Novogratz, co-founder and CEO of Baraka Ventures Rama Chakaki, regional director of Ashoka Arab World Dr Iman Bibars, head of Sougha initiative at Khalifa Fund Leila Ben Gacem and manager of entrepreneurship development at Khalifa Fund and the director of Hub Dubai Najla Al Midfa, gave their insights about the social entrepreneurship in the region.
Leila Ben Gacem shared a story of a ‘socially and digitally isolated’ Emirati woman in Sila, who started weaving handicraft, which became an instant hit. The Sougha, or gift, initiative has taken steps to revive the art of weaving in the UAE with the help of government entities. “Now Etihad Airways has decided to sell her products,” she said, adding that “with our Sougha program we are helping out the local artists turn their art into micro-businesses.”
Rama Chakaki said that there is a misconception among people that social entrepreneurship means charity. It is an innovative business plan for the betterment of the society, she said. Social entrepreneurs, most of the time, require a lot of volunteers, which is quite a big challenge in this region. “There are a lot of young people who are working as volunteers
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