Fellows Speak Out: Raghda Boutros’s New Initiative

Raghda BoutrosOur 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.

This post comes from Raghda Boutros, a social innovator from Jordan who is working to reframe the policies and strategies of development work in Jordan and the Levant to be more responsive to real needs while providing a more cost effective, reliable and systemic structural change. She is introducing a comprehensive collaborative model whereby the private sector and the poor communities can interact and learn from each other. Raghda is promoting a comprehensive, participatory approach to development through her  initiative Hamzet Wasel. .

As active citizens, we are both entitled to and responsible for the preservation, development and sustainable growth of our cities, and the only way I believe we can achieve this is by genuinely engaging with each other and building authentic relationships, so that together we can find creative ways to tackle complex challenges and explore unique opportunities. This is the essence of Hamzet Wasel, an initiative I formed, along with several other citizens of Amman from all walks of life, and one which has quickly begun to gain momentum.

Hamzet Wasel stems from a passion for venturing into communities to meet people, interact and discuss new ideas and the simple realities of everyday life. The discovery of a new place, the stories that lie undiscovered in its alleyways and homes, the very existence of worlds within worlds and truths beyond stereotype, coupled with a deep desire to create change, is what takes me time and time again into Amman’s oldest and less-trodden neighborhoods.

The latest adventure takes place in Jabal Al-Qala’a, where human settlement dates back 7500 years and where excavations have revealed numerous Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic remains. Jordanian and tourists alike come to Jabal Al-Qal’a to visit the Islamic Ummayad Castle, the Byzantine basilica and the remains of the Great Temple of Hercules.

I have often visited the area to do the same, and to enjoy Jabal Al-Qala’a’s serenity and the spectacular view of Amman from the top of the highest hill in old part of the city, but this time, I was there for a different reason. Nestled behind the famous site, is one of Amman’s oldest neighborhoods and among its most intriguing. Given the area’s history, it’s no wonder that this is where Amman’s modern urban settlers, Circassians, Syrians, Jordanians and Palestinians among others, chose to make their beautiful stone homes, some of which still standing today. I can only imagine what life was like in Jabal Al-Qala’a in the first half of the 20th Century. Fancy cars and donkey-drawn vegetable carriages leisurely moving along while children flew kites and people in their varying headdresses, each according to their culture and heritage, went about their business, reminding me of why my friend and renowned urban heritage expert Dr. Rami Daher calls Amman “the city of many hats”.

Overlooked by the Citadel from above, its main street overlooking the Roman Theater, and only a downward stairway away from the “Balad”, Amman’s thriving downtown; Jabal Al-Qalaa has long enjoyed fabulous open views and easy access, contributing to its residents’ entrepreneurial, progressive and welcoming nature. Even today, and despite the fact that the neighborhood has gone through several setbacks, with people moving out, government policies negatively affecting people’s livelihoods and time taking its toll on its homes and streets, Jabal Al-Qala’a is still a place of beauty and hospitality.

I was attracted to Jabal A-Qala’a’s diversity, the fact it is a truly urban community formed by choice, not by happenstance; the way it still resembles the Amman of my childhood, with children playing safely in the streets and close-knit neighbors sharing joys and sorrows, but also because of the threat, sometimes subtle, sometimes manifest, that hangs over the neighborhood and could lead to its eventual demise. The threat comes from tourism plans, from “development” projects, from neglect and from the insularity that keeps most “Ammanis” from taking much of an interest in the place.

It was easy to meet and get to know the people of Jabal Al-Qala’a, to make friends with the kids and to apply the lessons I had learnt from the experiences of others and from my own in other communities. Instead of asking “what are your issues and problems?” and “what can we do for you?” as is the trend in development work, I kept asking “what’s great about your community?” and “what can you teach others?”

This led to the very first activity that Hamzet Wasel organized in Jabal Al-Qala’a where kids from the community taught a group of adults and children from elsewhere in Amman to make and fly kites. That and subsequent similar experiences have proven to be incredible for building trust, changing stereotypes and helping to alter the view that people from marginalized communities are “beneficiaries”, rather equal partners and “benefactors” in their own right. They also allows members of the community to share their abundant love and pride in their community with others.

These initial experiences have paved the way for continued work in Jabal Al-Qala’a where Hamzet Wasel is now developing a community-led effort, in partnership with volunteer businesspeople, heritage architects and activists from all over Amman, to revitalize the area and benefit from increased tourism and a regained interest by the people of city in the area. This is alongside efforts to bring the attention of government entities to the service-related needs that exist in the area, which they have already begun to respond to.

Along the way, there has been resistance from several sources. Those with vested interest in changing the face of the neighborhood, government entities not wanting anyone to rock the boat with regards to their plans for the area, others wondering what made us take interest in this particular neighborhood. Strangely enough, however, there has been little suspicion of our motives from within the community. There also has been no shortage of people wanting to become involved and give their time. I believe that the former is owing, in part, to the make-up of this particular community, but that both these facts are an indication that the people of Amman are eager to come together and reach beyond the radius of their comfort zones to meet, connect and work together for their city.

There is an awakening in Amman as to the importance of our roles as citizens and as people who love and appreciate our city, and I’m excited as to what new and wonderful forms this awakening will take. For my part, I’m very much enjoying the Jabal Al-Qalaa experience, while also looking forward to my next adventure in a new community.


Social Entrepreneurship and Private Equity: Should it always sound like an oxymoron?

By Nayim Khemais – Ashoka Arab World ASN Member.Nayim

I joined Ashoka Arab World as a support network member in March 2009, for I was thirsty to make a difference in a region known for the daunting challenges it is facing. The private equity field – that I work in – would not obviously be the first place to look at to learn transferable social practices. As you may know, this part of the financial sector is more publicly known for its unethical greed by means of notorious tactics such as stripping companies’ assets and laying off employees. Nevertheless, underneath the often superfluous contrast between these two worlds, “the nice vs. the nasty”, which may be just the tip of the iceberg, there is a connecting fine line between private equity and social entrepreneurship, a link that could unlock an untapped and powerful potential for the region.

In order for me to expound on the similarities between the two sectors, I should first introduce the world of private equity. Private equity has many definitions, from the most esoteric to the simplest one. I will define private equity in broad terms, as seeing in any asset an opportunity where others see a challenge. Most of the time, the asset is a family-owned unlisted company that you buy, grow – by bolstering sales and improving operational performance for instance – and then resell for a profit. As a seasoned investment professional, you are supposed to look at a company from an angle that others don’t see and substantiate that view with judgment and facts. Buying a company, private equity firms generally seek to partner with smart and motivated management teams to migrate the company to a completely new dimension, a dimension that will attract more buyers because of the compelling success you have instilled into the company. Due to the fact that private equity is about changing and empowering organizations with the best available resources, the most successful private equity investment tends to realize, more than any other form of investment, the importance of emphasizing vision, creativity, and ethical leadership as key success factors of a lasting and positive change for a company and its stakeholders. By now then, you may start to see the similarities between private equity and social entrepreneurship. What private equity aims to do for the corporate sector is akin to what social entrepreneurship endeavors to bring to citizens and society as a whole.

My interest in social entrepreneurship and private equity has reinforced each other strongly over the past few months. When I started learning about social entrepreneurship – reading an inspiring article by Bill Drayton in the Stanford Social Innovation Review – I still didn’t know much about private equity. Oddly enough, when I set out to work in private equity, I quickly became convinced that there would be no chance whatsoever to escape from the dollar profit obsession and that it was inevitable to turn into a “nasty coldhearted dealmaker”. However, reflecting back on these two experiences, I figured out that I started subconsciously shaping a new personal understanding of these two fields. Particularly, I started to think deeply about social entrepreneurship from a practical, “bottom line”-oriented point of view and how my current experience could be of any benefit. And yes, there are benefits, because to me social entrepreneurship is about utilizing business skills to leverage social impact. The process of going from business to social value was not obvious to me, nor was it systematic and rigorous. The Arab region is facing a number of pressing societal issues; this puts a premium on applying the appropriate problem-solving tools and approaches to fruitfully solve these complex social problems. These social problems are only the symptoms of the real issues, though. Dealing with the whole iceberg problem, and not just its appearing tip, implies taking the courage to change mindsets and behaviors towards the identified new social standards, be they in women rights or education or any other area of social concern. Similarly, oftentimes in private equity deals, management incentives plans are put in place – the underwater part of the iceberg to take the same analogy – to enable the smooth and successful transformation of a business. These core incentives carry oftentimes more weight than the most apparent issue of driving a company’s day-to-day operations – the tip of the iceberg.

Many of the solutions to some of the long-standing issues the Arab region is grappling with can be imagined through a private equity, or social entrepreneurial, lens – by capitalizing on leading social entrepreneurs and supporting their efforts to scale their “social business model” up. The private equity approach can teach social entrepreneurs to create a roadmap to capture the best change – exploiting opportunities and thickening the “skin” of their enterprises for social profit to weather the roadblocks impeding their full potential.

The private equity analogy can help social leaders think in new ways about creating a plan to get there in the most efficient and traceable way. If private equity firms in the region realize the importance of bolting a far-reaching social goal to their profit-maximizing goals, they could easily double the impact they are making. As Ronald Cohen, co-founder of Apax Partners, a prestigious UK private equity firm, and one of the most iconic figures of this industry, recently said in Private Equity News: “I think the private equity industry has the skills and the resources to turn social entrepreneurship into mainstream activity and social investment into an asset.” These two fields have much in common and are here to help the rare breed of visionary individuals, those passionate social and business entrepreneurs, lead more and better and leave their mark on society for the benefit of all.

تبرع لأشوكا الوطن العربي في شهر رمضان المعظم

إذا كنت تريد أن تحسن حياة أطفال الشوارع، ذوي الإحتياجات الخاصة والمرأة وتؤثر علي الحقوق المدنية والبيئية، التعليم، والصحة تبرع لأشوكا

إذا كنت تريد يكون تبرعك ذو فائدة كبيرة ومستمرة، تبرع لأشوكا
تضمن لك أشوكا ذلك من خلال زملاء أشوكا الوطن العربي
لأن زملاء أشوكا هم الرواد في مجال العمل الإجتماعي ويمتلكون الحلول المبدعة والعملية للمشاكل الإجتماعية الملحة حيث يبلغ عدد زملاء أشوكا الآن في الوطن العربي 48 زميل وزميلة

تبرعك لأشوكا سوف يضمن فاعلية إستثماره وإستخدامه، حيث تقوم أشوكا بتقديم الدعم الفني والمساندة والمتابعة ومراقبة الجودة لزملاء أشوكا من أجل تحقيق أكبر أثر إجتماعي ممكن من التبرعات المتاحة
مع العلم أن أشوكا الوطن العربي لا تقبل أي تمويل من الحكومات، شركات الخمور أو شركات التبغ

تبرعك لأشوكا في رمضان سوف يساعد:
سهام إبراهيم: تتمثل فكرة سهام ابراهيم في تغيير المنهج المتبع في معالجة مشكلة أطفال الشوارع من قبل كافة الجهات و الأطراف المهتمة بالقضية و التى تعمل منذ أوائل التسعينيات على تحسين الظروف المعيشية لأطفال الشوارع دون تبني منهج متكامل و مستدام لمعالجة المشكلة من جذورها الأساسية.
تامر بهاء: يقوم تامر بهاء بارشاد الصم للمطالبة بحقوقهم كمواطنين و القضاء على الانماط الفكرية المعتادة و التى تشكك فى قدراتهم.
Ashoka Fellow

مها هلالى : تعمل مها هلالى على دمج ذوى التوحد فى المجتمع بناء على احتياجتهم و قدراتهم ومدى اصابتهم بالتوحد وذلك لرفع كفائتهم ليكون لهم القدرة على اختيار نمط الحياة المناسب لهم.
مروة الدالي: تقوم مروة الدالي باحياء و تحديث ما اصطلح على تسميته مسبقا ب ” الوقف الإسلامي” و ذلك من أجل تفعيل العطاء الاجتماعي في مصر مستفيدة بالخبرات و التجارب السابقة و ذلك بهدف الحد من الاعتماد المتزايد على التمويل الاجنبي و بالتالي ضمان استدامة المبادرات التنموية المحلية.
ماهر بشرة

سامي جميل: سامى يعمل على دمج و تمكين الصم اولا عبر تغيير مفاهيم المجتمع السلبية و اثبات انهم قادرين على المنافسة فى سوق تكنولوجيا المعلومات و ثانيا بدعم الصم بالادوات التى تمكنهم من تحسين اداؤهم الوظيفى ورفع ثقتهم بإمكانياتهم
تنديار سمير: بدأت تنديار سمير تطبيق فكرتها في صعيد مصر و المتمثلة في العمل على تحسين مهنة التمريض في مصر بهدف توفير و تحسين الرعاية الصحية بالاضافة الى خلق فرص عمل جديدة في هذا المجال.

وائل حميدان: يعمل وائل على تغيير النظرة السائدة في المجتمع اللبناني التي تقيس النجاح بمقدار الثروة والسلطة ليجعلها تعتمد علي مساهمة الفرد في المجتمع، حيث يدعم وائل المبدعون الاجتماعيون أو “النشطاء المستقلون” الشباب في مشاريعهم ويشجعهم على خلق حلول جديدة للمشاكل الاجتماعية، والبيئية والتنموية الحالية.
سامح سيف: تتمثل فكرة سامح غالي في تقديم أنظمة صرف في القرى المصرية ذات تكلفة أقل و باسلوب المشاركة وتتماشى مع احتياجات المجتمع و ذلك بهدف الحفاظ على البيئة و الصحة العامة.
عصام غنيم :فكرة عصام تعتمد على تقديم برنامج غذائى مكثف لتطبيقه فى المدارس الابتدائية و الحضانات لتحسين مستوى صحة الاطفال و رفع ادائهم الدراسى مع تأهيل اخصائيون التغذية المدربين على تنفيذ البرنامج
علا أبو الغيب: تهدف علا الى تمكين المرأة الفلسطينية من ذوى الاحتياجات الخاصة و خلق بيئة تمنكهم من الاندماج الكامل في المجتمع من خلال تمتعهم بالمساواة و المشاركة الكاملة وذلك من خلال زيادة الوعى و التعبئة المحلية و الاقليمية عن الحقوق المدنية للمرأة ذات الاحتياجات الخاصة بالاضافة الى توفير الخدمات لها. و تنفذ علا الفكرة من خلال جمعيتها الأهلية و التى يديرها بصورة أساسية نساء من ذوى الاحتياجات الخاصة.

للتبرع علي حساب أشوكا
البنك التجاري الدولي حساب رقم 1090002500
أشوكا الوطن العربي
93 شارع عبد العزيز أل سعود، المنيل – القاهرة
الدور السابع شقة 1
تليفون/ فاكس: 25328586 +(202)

Ashoka’s Million Dollar Challenge!

Google is one of the most innovative for-profit organizations in the world. Ashoka supports the most innovative social entrepreneurs to create social profit. Given these parallels in commitment to innovation, dramatic change and relentless inspiration, the decision of Google co-founders Anne Wojciki and Sergey Brin to invest 1,000,000 USD in Ashoka makes sense.

Only two years ago, Sergey Brin admitted that his philantropic investments would be picked with the utmost due diligence. “I take the philosophical view that, aside from some modest stuff now, I am waiting to do the bulk of my philanthropy later, maybe in a few years, when I feel I’m more educated,” he says. “I don’t think it’s something I have had time to become an expert at.”

Now, Ashoka is challenging others to join these social change leaders and match their donation; inspiring a global movement of social innovation to take force right now.

For more information on how to join this challenge; click here.