Baraka Blog

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Tag Archives: Middle East

bidayat – Building a network of social venture support organizations

For a while we’ve envisioned a network of organizations supporting social entrepreneurs.  The time is now.. it is happening.

On Tuesday, January 31st, we hosted a round-table discussion at the Shelter in Dubai.  The aim was to bring together organizations supporting social entrepreneurs to build a collaborative framework. A roundup of amazing individuals represented their organizations:

Each participant presented his/her organization services, and listened as others did the same.  We discussed ways in which we can deliver impact.  The group agreed to:

Build a network (Social Venture Network) that will…

  1. Define and develop the space
    1. Define the organizations that provide support.. categorize their service offering.. identify missing services..
    2. Collectively reach out to the Media to raise awareness
  2. Foster collaboration
    1. identify the stages of development from an entrepreneur’s perspective
    2. define the organization that can deliver support in the various stages
  3. Define social measurement metrics
    1. create an index of social challenges .. rate by urgency to address ?
    2. create an formula to measure social return on investment.
  4. Identify social entrepreneurs
    1. Campaign to reach them in schools, communities beyond the circles we are currently involved in.
    2. Reach out to Arabic media / web
  5. Mentor social entrepreneurs
    1. share the list of social entrepreneurs working in the field
    2. create one or two success stories in the GCC
  6. Fund social ventures
    1. Create packages for prospect investors who would be interested in investments in social enterprise

Participants are working in groups, and invite collaborators to join to help address the targets above. If you are interested in supporting, please leave a comment on this post with your contact details and services you can offer.

Tune in for updates on our progress in this domain.

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Social Entrepreneurship and the Middle East – A Vision

Picture 14

Over the past eight years, I have read, listened to and watched material on Social Entrepreneurship.  The work of Mohamad Younis of Grameen Bank,  Jacqueline Novogratz of the Acumen fund and Bill Drayton of Ashoka inspired me.  I found that like countless others, their work focused on Africa, East Asia, South America, some work in Afghanistan, but the bulk of Arab nations in the Middle East were overlooked!

At first glance I thought perhaps we don’t have the extreme issues that nations face in Africa, India and the rest; no famine, natural disasters and rampant disease.  Social Entrepreneurs work to solve problems of marginalized communities, eradicate social and environmental problem areas, and work in a triple bottom line  model.  It turns out the Middle East, Arab / Non Arab nations, Christians, Muslims and all others have their fair share of  marginalized communities, social and environmental issues that are crying out to be addressed; and there’s a strong and growing population of positive change agents who are devoting their lives to solve them.

Our issues it turns out are of a different variety, maybe more subtle, no less alarming, and with far reaching consequences if left unaddressed.  We have the largest population under the age of 30, with bleak prospects for education and employment opportunities.  We have some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world, especially in children.  Some of our nations rank highest in carbon footprint, yet have the lowest fresh water supplies in the world. Deforestation is a critical problem, over-fishing, eroding coral reefs, use of pesticides in crops, polluted cities and much more. Our children don’t read, don’t interact with nature and when asked, many lack dreams and role models.

The encouraging fact is there are hundreds, if not thousands of social entrepreneurs who have been working and continue to work to address and solve these problems. Yet, until recently, they worked alone, and didn’t have the banner of Social Entrepreneurship to collaborate under. The term is slowly making its way into the media, university discussions, forums and state dialogues.  Organizations are beginning to pop-up to encourage collaboration, dialogue, experience exchanges. Some of the forerunners have received acclaim from international organizations, like Injaz-AlArab. Women, who are often the spotlight of the international media for their low employment rates, are among the leaders in their civic responsibility  and can do more given the training and collaboration tools.

I dream of the day when social entrepreneurship is taught at middle school level. When children are taken on field trips to show them role models in the field, where every university student is asked to give his or her idea of how to solve a problem, save a forest, educate a village, eradicate diabetes; a day when every business has a social bottom line and a community problem to solve.. where the media celebrates the social heroes  and governments write about them in school curricula. I dream of governments collaborating across boarders for cleaner air, higher fresh water tables and much more!

CSR is Indispensable


I was talking to a friend who held a position as a CSR (corporate social responsibility) manager, until last week. She was laid off due to budget cuts. What I found interesting was her attitude towards the matter; “of course CSR will go, why would they need it if they’re having cash flow problems?”. This isn’t the first time I came across this view on the relationship between CSR and budgets. In recent months, I have heard a number of business people including executives link the two proportionally. Why is the link so strong and proportional in people’s mind? Why has CSR become a luxury that corporations can do without at times of financial strife? Shouldn’t a company act responsibly towards its stakeholders irrespective of its financial standing?

The root of the problem is the gross misunderstanding of the term CSR. CSR suggests that corporations have a duty of care to ALL their stakeholders in ALL aspects of their business operations. Stakeholders include shareholders, employees, clients, partners, the community and the environment. CSR requires that a business account for and measure the actual and potential economic, social and environmental impact of its decisions.

CSR goes well beyond philanthropy and is more linked to corporate ethics, values and most importantly behavior. How a business conducts itself with its stakeholders determines the degree of its social responsibility. Furthermore, there is a difference between social responsibility and cause marketing. While CSR describes how a corporation demonstrates responsibility through the practice and policies that govern their production and service delivery, cause marketing leverages a charitable brand to increase sales and support product positioning. Successful cause marketing is done on an ongoing basis through a charity that is strategically aligned with a company’s products or consumer interests.

The proportional association the market has placed between budgets and CSR leads me to conclude that CSR is confused with Cause Marketing. Clearly, if the financial situation marks an economic slowdown, and revenue declines, then marketing budgets can be affected proportionally. A decline in revenue or investment should not absolve corporations from caring for stakeholders. Care does not cost money, but requires thought, planning and commitment. How reckless would we find parents who abandon their children during economic hardship? And how admirable do we find communities that bind together and support each other during times of crisis? The same logic applies to corporations. During hardship, social responsibility becomes indispensable!