Daily News Egypt publishes article on Social Entrepreneurship

” The social entrepreneurial sector holds the key to reform and sustainability long after the oil wells run dry. “

In a commentary that appeared in the Daily News Egypt yesterday, Iman Bibars, Regional Director of Ashoka Arab World and VP of Ashoka Global, argues that in times of financial hardship investing in social entrepreneurs makes more sense than ever.

What do you think? Do you agree?
We’re waiting for your comments.


Fellows Speak Out: Influencing International Agreement & the Case of Current Climate Negotiations

Our Fellows represent some of the region’s most innovative social innovators – Arabs that are experts in their fields, and have committed their lives to bringing about positive social change. Our ‘ Fellows Speak Out’ series on this blog will present a platform for  these leading social entrepreneurs to share their views, to spread their message and to describe their daily work to create lasting impact in the Arab world.

The first post comes from Wael Hmaidan, a social innovator from Lebanon who is promoting youth activism by identifying ‘local heroes’. Based on his own experience as a climate activist for Greenpeace, Wael is now working to spread social activism amongst young people in the Arab world through his ‘league of  independent activists’; IndyACT.

Picture of Wael

Ashoka Fellow Wael Hmaidan

What would cause any individual to leave everything at the drop of the hat, and live for two weeks with little food and even less sleep, and without any pay during the UN climate negotiations? It is the same reason why IndyACT exists: passion to save the planet. We first and foremost are activists working for a better future for us and generations to come.

People think we enjoy our work (which we do, though sometimes we wish we had a different job) and some believe we might be paid well for it (in fact most of us are not paid, let alone paid well). But we at IndyACT do know one thing: if we do not reach a strong agreement on climate change in the Copenhagen UN summit at the end of the year, life on earth will be threatened.

A typical day in the life of a climate activist is not a normal day by anybody’s definition (maybe only normal to the climate activists themselves). Take the Climate negotiations sessions for example; up by 6am to finish up yesterday’s work, 7am is breakfast time (or better known as the only meal of the day), 8am is when the meetings start. You spend the day lobbying, lecturing, intervening, organizing events, meeting delegations, publishing reports, etc. By 11pm, those of us who aren’t on editing shifts to produce the daily NGO newsletter at the negotiations head to the hotel to work and prepare for the next day, we are lucky when we are in bed by 2am.

Being a change maker working on climate policy negotiation is not an easy job to do. You have to be at the top of your game 24/7, reading and following on any climate change related research, discussion, or policy position every day of the year. You also have to be an expert on foreign and domestic policy of each country, their economies, political issues, social behavior, etc. in order to know how to talk to delegates, how to influence countries to change their policies, and how to get the NGO community to stay united at all times. You have to understand that while you are doing all these enormous tasks, you are considered a hero if you are able to change one sentence in the whole negotiation text.

By Wael Hmaidan – IndyACT (www.indyact.org)

Young Entrepreneurs: The Power to Create their Own Solutions

The “Youth Problem” in the Middle East has received much attention and research from around the world. With 63% of the population in the region under 29 years of age, there should be millions of educated, able-bodied youth to actively contribute to society. Instead, over 25% are unemployed. Many complete a university degree, only to find that there are no available jobs, let alone ones that provide a deeper fulfillment by utilizing their higher education.

People reflexively look to the government for help. In a region dominated by the public sector as opposed to private enterprise, government jobs are highly sought after due to their security and prestige. Earlier this week, an article applauded the Tunisian parliament for “fighting youth unemployment” by passing a law that will allow earlier retirement for public employees. The new policy could potentially result in 7,000 vacancies primarily for new university graduates.

Though this will certainly help to alleviate youth unemployment in Tunisia to an extent, this type of program does not provide a long-term solution. The government can only support so many employees, and more civil servants will do little to increase the economic competitiveness of the Arab world. Instead, we must begin to look to the private sector – particularly that outside of the oil industry – as the future for economic growth and prosperity, more specifically encouraging new, entrepreneurial endeavors.

Arab business elites have already begun to recognize entrepreneurship as crucial to the future success of the region in the global market. Fadi Ghandour, CEO and founder of Aramex, one of the leading logistics and transportation companies in the Middle East and the first company from the region to go public in the U.S. Nasdaq stock exchange, states that, “young Arab entrepreneurs are the future of this region…they are the job generators, they will, with their innovative and creative ideas have an impact on the direction our economies will take.” He calls on the private sector to “invest in its youth and…assist them to create their own future and compete in the global market.”

The necessity of increased entrepreneurship seems to be catching on. A recent TV series presented 16 Arab youth with weekly challenges in engineering, design, business, and marketing, culminating in a final original project. Such a large-scale public promotion of entrepreneurship is encouraging.

At Ashoka, we believe in the potential of youth also as social entrepreneurs, with the ability to provide innovative solution to some of the region’s most pressing problems. One of our current fellows, Ehaab Abdou, has also recognized this potential, creating a program that helps young social entrepreneurs generate and implement ideas for economic and social development. Another fellow, M’hammed Abbad Andaloussi is facilitating a connection between the private sector and the Moroccan education system, working to develop the entrepreneurial skills and capacities of students.

We must stop looking at the youth population as a “problem” and instead begin to view it a demographic with incredible potential: their own “solution”. Arab youth are more educated and technology-savvy than any previous generation, but this knowledge is under-utilized. The private sector, government, and citizens alike must work together to ensure that youth have not just the skills, but also the resources and encouragement to transform their innovative and creative ideas into reality. Youth are not just the future, they are the present, and we cannot afford to wait.

Creative Solutions for Affordable Housing: Fixing Egypt’s Housing Problem the Ashoka Way

Over the last week a lot of attention has been paid to Egypt’s housing issue. Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif announced the government’s new plan to address the problem. Ashoka Arab World sent out a press release about its Housing For All Initiative. Daily News Egypt even published an editorial on “The Slums of Cairo.” The current discussion about Egyptian informal settlements and the poor communities who live in them highlights the need to move away from traditional solutions to the region’s most pressing concerns. It’s time to start looking at these crises from a new perspective, to involve beneficiaries in the solutions, and to make a lasting change. This attitude is exemplified by Ashoka Arab World’s Housing For All project.

The slums of Garbage City

The slums of Garbage City

The housing problem in Egypt has been building up for years. The country suffers from a fundamental mismatch between available housing and those who need housing. More than 11 million people live in informal slum settlements. 90% of Egypt’s housing is built informally and 10% is built by professional companies. Unfortunately, construction companies are building new homes primarily for the high-income market for the sake of profitability. This has lead to the creation of one million unoccupied apartments in Cairo while over five million people have been pushed into the cemeteries of Cairo’s City of the Dead.

The flaw of traditional solutions to this problem is not that they do no good. The Egyptian government’s new plan to deal with 29 slum areas includes giving out alternative plots of land and offering commercial, health, and sports projects to increase employment. There is no doubt that this plan will help people and have some benefits. However, it fails to address the core of the housing problem. The government’s solution is simply not the right answer; it will not give people safer, cleaner, and better homes. Moreover, Prime Minister Nazif’s idea, though extensive, may have the side-effect of placing some slum residents at risk of losing their homes all together.

That’s where Ashoka comes in. Ashoka Arab World is approaching this problem from an innovative angle: the Housing For All (HFA) initiative, called “El Dawar,” leverages the collective purchasing power of the poor to make them viable customers for construction companies. It will transform housing markets by providing a market-based model which creates low-cost housing solutions to low-income communities. Ashoka Arab World and four of its Fellows are partnering with local communities, the business sector, and the government to implement the project, which will create an estimated 3680 housing units over 2 years. The houses, which will be newly constructed or renovated, will be affordable, safe, and ecological. The initiative takes into account everything that obstructs impoverished Egyptians from living in proper homes: it provides affordable building materials through partner construction companies; it makes financing possible through microfinance institutions; and it makes building low-cost housing safer and more environmentally sustainable with the help of engineers and university students. Furthermore, HFA centers will help residents obtain some ownership over their new housing so they have greater control over their lives.

Ashoka Arab World is bringing in experts from all sides of the housing issue to make HFA an effective, comprehensive solution that is bound to go farther than governmental projects and traditional solutions. Ashoka Fellow Hany El Miniawy has built over 10,000 affordable housing units in the El-Monib, Imbaba, and Mansheyet Naser areas of Cairo. Waste disposal, which is linked to public health and environmental safety, will be addressed by Ashoka Fellow Sameh Seif Ghaly, who is introducing low-cost sewage systems in Egyptian villages. In addition, Ashoka Fellow Salah Arafa has experience with economic development and environmental protection of rural communities living in informal settlements in Bassayssa. Finally, Ashoka Fellow Maher Bushra is working to provide essential living needs to Egypt’s informal sector and to raise awareness among poor communities about their rights and resources. All of these Fellows understand that Egypt’s housing troubles are about much more than just homes.

By directly dealing with the issue of housing HFA can address many more closely linked problems such as poverty, public health, environmental sustainability, human rights…The list goes on.  Any solution to the housing problem must attack the fundamental challenge facing the inhabitants of Egypt’s informal areas; poor people cannot afford homes. Moreover, solutions to that long list of socioeconomic problems above must include a solution to the swelling of slums. In Egypt and throughout the Arab world, all of these problems are inextricably connected, and HFA finally looks at them as such.