We support social entrepreneurship in the Arab World!

From Friday 14 May, to Saturday 15 May, Cairo witnessed a flurry of activity dedicated to social entrepreneurship in the Arab World.  The Arab World Social Innovation Forum hosted over 250 delegates hailing from over 20 countries.

On AWSIF’s second day, delegates attended one of three Roundtables: Developing a Social Investment Framework; Youth Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and Market-Based Solutions.  They concluded the roundtable sessions by offering pledges of support to Ashoka and social entrepreneurship in the Arab World.

We were deeply moved by the enthusiasm and dedication of our guests, among whom counted tens of Directors and CEOs from the private sector, scholars and policy makers, public figures, and up-and-coming social entrepreneurs of the Arab region!

Delegates at the Roundtable on Youth Innovation

Round Table 1: Developing a Social Investment Framework

Discussion addressed the concept of social investment and the necessity of constructing a mutually beneficial framework for engagement and investment between the social and private sectors.  The round table sought to develop such a framework that yields both social and economic gains.

The following pledges of support were made by Round Table participants:

  • Hibaaq Osman (Founder & CEO, Karama) & Maha Helali (Ashoka Fellow) will seek to hold a regional forum on social investment, in cooperation with a regional body, such as the Arab League.
  • Mohamed El Sawy will establish a company to invest in financially-sustainable, profitable social ventures.
  • Adam Said (Founder & Director ACE & Co., Ashoka Support Network Member) will give consulting services to Ashoka and Ashoka Fellows.  He will identify and structure for-profit social enterprises, where donations will roll into profit, as well as guarantee social return.
  • Nayim Khmaies (Ashoka Support Network Member) will promote hybrid definitions for concepts relevant to social investment, in cooperation with the social and private sectors.
  • Omar Sodoudi (General Manager, Souq.com) will facilitate awareness and activation of social investment via internet-based platforms.

    Round table 2: Youth Innovation and Entrepreneurship

    Entrepreneurship is essential for promoting youth inclusion, especially as the need for private sector development and job creation is at an all-time high.  There is no universally accepted definition for youth entrepreneurship, which affects the relevant policies.  There is also no general understanding of youth entrepreneurship’s long-term goals or short-term risks.

    The following pledges of support were made by Round Table participants:

    • Ahmed Younis (Silatech) will sponsor a female Ashoka Fellow working on innovation in job creation.
    • Shahinaz Ahmed (CEO, Education for Employment Foundation) will coordinate college-graduate volunteers who can provide in-kind services to Ashoka Fellows that need specific types of support.
    • Henriette Kolb (Director, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women) will work to improve the access rural farmers have to technology in Jordan, and will bring financial payment services, using mobile-phone applications, in cooperation with Ashoka Fellow Zeinab Momany (Jordan)
    • Matthew Stephenson (US State Department Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative) will push for a new award to support youth entrepreneurship in the MENA region, following State Department support for youth entrepreneurship.
    • Rama Chakaki (Founder & CEO, Baraka Ventures) will partner to support 1Ashoka-Baraka Fellow in the UAE.  This partnership will work on producing an open social community platform for social entrepreneurship to feature projects that attract donor consultancy and financial services.
      • Baraka will also work on an online platform to serve as a community for social entrepreneurs that will be launched and called Bidayat.
      • Abdelfattah Abusrour (Ashoka Fellow, Founder of Al Rowwad) pledges to help AAW with in-kind consultancy to help scale up Ashoka as an institution.
      • Karim Kasim (UNDP Egypt) will connect 1,000 young leaders within his UNDP Young Social Innovation Program with Ashoka.  These young leaders are fostering information sharing through ICT-based ventures and can use this online portal to help promote Ashoka and social entrepreneurship.
      • Nader Kabbani (The Syria Trust for Development) would like to invite 2 Ashoka Fellows to a Syrian development conference in May 2011 to announce their success stories.
        • He has also committed to do his best to bring Ashoka to Syria.
        • Deema Bibi (CEO, INJAZ Jordan) will connect Ashoka to her networks in Jordan.  INJAZ can furthermore add a leaflet in its publications introducing Ashoka.  With 45 CEOs the on INJAZ Board, Ms. Bibi can help Ashoka scale up its operations.  She will also provide consultancy services to Jordan Fellows.
        • Jacqueline Sfeir (Ashoka Fellow, Founder MaDAD) will capacity build for participatory practices, through a partnership with Ashoka Fellow Abdelfattah.
        • Simel Esim (International Labor Organization) will invite an Ashoka Fellow to his workshop in Beirut on entrepreneurship and development for women.
        • Nairy Abd El Shafy (Ashoka Arab World Staff) will promote the concept of social entrepreneurship amongst friends and youth within her network.  She will promote idea of volunteerism for as long as she lives.
        • Ziad Mokhtar (Principal, Ideavelopers) will mentor 2 Ashoka Fellows on making their organizations viable from a financial perspective.
        • Fairouz Omar (Ashoka Fellow) will develop student curricula to have a greater focus on social innovation.

    Round table 3: Market-Based Solutions

    Discussion focused on how to conceptualize and how to implement market-based initiatives for the social and economic development of consumers at the Bottom of the Pyramid.  The round table considered Ashoka’s Housing For All Initiative, a market-based initiative to provide affordable, structurally-sound housing to the inhabitants of informal urban areas through the microfinance institutions (MFIs) of 4 Ashoka Fellows.

    • Nick Sullivan (Fellow at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy) will encourage Tufts University Fletcher School graduate students to develop a thesis or make a research project on Ashoka’s Housing For All Initiative (HFA).
      • The journal Innovations will publish 1-2 case studies about HFA within the next 12-18 months.
      • Omar Hallaj (CEO, The Syria Trust for Development) will connect Ashoka with his organization’s think-tank, an upcoming platform for sharing knowledge, research and information on social entrepreneurship.  He also will advocate for AAW in Syria.
      • Steve Podmore (Founder, The Global Sustainability Challenge) will look into the possibility of funding the Ashoka Housing For All Initiative from his foundation.  He will also share contacts, knowledge and best practices with Ashoka.
      • Egbert Appell (Managing Director, The Hilti Foundation) hails from Ashoka Arab World’s long-time supporter, the Hilti Foundation.  Mr. Appel hopes to see positive market-based results from HFA.
      • Kareem Ibrahim (Founding Member & Former President, Egyptian Earth Construction Association) will coordinate and provide consultancy and technical services in low- income areas in support of HFA.
      • Ahmed Fattouh (Founder & CEO, Baron Group Holdings) will join the Ashoka Arab World Advisory Board.  In doing so, he will share his network, knowledge, and talent in order to scale up Ashoka Arab World and Ashoka Fellows in the region.  He will furthermore consider investing in HFA through his firm.
      • Hany El-Miniawy (Founder, ADAPT Egypt, Ashoka Fellow) will formalize ties with other groups and organizations to strengthen the HFA Initiative.
      • Sherif Kamel (American University in Cairo Dean of the School of Business) will oversee case studies on HFA, and coordinate the involvement of Business Society and Entrepreneurship Society students can get involved and help out.
      • Stephen Everhart (AUC Associate Dean of the School of Business) will support graduate-student research on HFA Initiative.
      • Salah Arafa (AUC Professor, Senior Ashoka Fellow) will give a fast start-up to HFA by giving 100,000 LE with 6% interest, in addition to the funding Ashoka has already secured.  Through his organization, he will train people to build their own houses.  Furthermore, the Forum for Dialogue and Conservation for Development will hold a series of seminars for HFA.

    Superheroes of Social Entrepreneurship: AWSIF (14 & 15 May, Cairo) features THE 99 Islamic Superheroes

    Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa is the creator of the comic book characters THE 99 – the first group of superheroes born of an archetype inspired by the Arab and Islamic heritages.

    This weekend, 14 and 15 May at the Cairo Marriot Hotel, Ashoka’s Arab World Social Innovation Forum (AWSIF) will feature and honor Dr. Al-Mutawa, whose truly innovative approach has created a better understanding of Islam and its values.

    Through his comic book characters, Dr. Al-Mutawa portrays Islam in a positive light, highlighting its traditions of diversity, rational thought, and moral self-examination.  The comics, launched in 2006, have already captured the imaginations of children around the world.

    His characters and their adventures communicate a marvelous vision of Islamic values and traditions to our youth.  It is a vision which sees no contradiction between modern Islamic values and multiculturalism, between Islamic civilization’s tradition of learning and the wisdom this heritage can offer children today.

    THE 99 conveys regional history, culture and traditions, expressed within the context of mainstream international media.  Characters like “Hadya”, a Pakistani-British superwoman who grapples with the questions of a multicultural childhood, or “Jabbar”, the super-humanly strong Saudi who struggles with the moral nature of his powers, provide thoughtful and inspirational images.

    The series’ name refers to a set of magical stones, which provides each of the 99 characters with their super-powers.  The plot line is a thrilling mix of history and fiction.  It goes like this:

    The legendary ninety-nine stones are literally the gems of ancient Islamic civilization.  As the Mongol Hulagu Khan set upon Abbasid Baghdad, so ending an era of Islamic civilization, the last Caliph and his librarians at the legendary Dar al-Hikma sought to preserve the immense store of knowledge passed down to them across the generations.

    As their city and heritage is consumed by the flames and massacre of the Mongol assault, the Caliphs’ men craft ninety-nine gems to hold the “light of reason” (a phrase that in itself indicates the series spirit and its enlightened vision of regional culture).

    The stones are smuggled out of Baghdad – an emotive metaphor for the temporary flicker in the flame of Islamic knowledge during that dark era – and arrive at Andalusia, where they are hidden in the “Fortress of Knowledge”.  A Fortress caretaker has the hubris to absorb all the knowledge contained by the stones, generating a supernatural fire that consumes the entire place.  The ninety-nine stones are lost amid the smoke and ruins, and lost to history.

    Enter Dr. Ramzi Razem, a historian and UNESCO official of uncanny intelligence, who has given himself the mission of finding and bringing together the bearers of the stones, for the benefit of humanity.  Naturally, Dr. Razem’s mission is riddled with globe-trotting adventure and nefarious characters, determining whether the unparalleled power of the stones will be used for good or for evil.

    THE 99’s mission is in line with broader goals of its owner, the Teshkeel Group, a Kuwaiti-based company focused on “creating, re-engineering, and exploiting all forms of children’s media based on or infused with localized culture, beginning with a proprietary superhero concept”.

    THE 99 has received the accolades of leading interna­tional media, with Forbes identifying THE 99 as ‘One of the Top 20 Trends Sweeping the Globe’.  Dr. Al-Mutawa has won a UNESCO prize for literature in the service of tolerance. He is also the recipient of The Festival Internacional de Humour e Quadrinhos Comics Award presented at Cartoons and Comics Fes­tival in Brazil, The Ecademy Award from Columbia Uni­versity School of Business, The Eliot-Pearson Award for Excellence in Children’s Media from Tufts University, The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations ‘Marketplace of Ideas’ Award and ‘The Schwab Foundation Social Entre­preneurship Award’, 2009 presented at the World Eco­nomic Forum on The Middle East, Dead Sea, Jordan. Dr. Al-Mutawa has recently been named as one of ‘The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World’ by The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, Jordan.

    Check out below the character profile of Dr. Ramzi Razem, the compelling and main protagonist in THE 99 epic.  (The profile is taken from the website at http://www.the99.org/article-36-33-Articles-9,ckl)


    Dr. Ramzi Razem is a psychologist, historian, UNESCO official and lecturer on a wide range of topics, ranging from ancient civilizations to alternative medicine.

    As a direct descendant of one of the Huras Al-Hikma (Guardians of Wisdom), Ramzi grew up hearing the legends and stories of the gems. He was captivated by the pain and potential that forged the Fortress of Knowledge, fascinated by the hope gem-wielders could bring to today’s fractured society. But they were just stories, weren’t they?

    One day, when Ramzi was a graduate student, he was sent on a UNESCO mission to Granada. The mission was funded by the multinational MAMLUK, and Ramzi was consulting on the meaning of an ancient Arabic scroll that had recently been discovered in the archives of The Escorial, Madrid.
    He eagerly translated the scroll, which showed a blueprint for an ancient building fitting the description of the Fortress! Finally, some measure of confirmation that the stories had been based on some kind of truth.
    And if the Fortress really had existed, then perhaps the Noor Stones had as well? Or still did exist.

    Ramzi completed his education, while learning still more about the potential of the gemstones and uncovering further legends of the Fortress. Over time, he developed strong international ties to political organizations and corporations alike.

    Now a doctor, Ramzi spent years filling in the information cracks on the Huras Al-Hikma and Noor Stones. He put together a blueprint for securing the gemstones. Scraps of historical information, piecemeal urban legends, and stories hidden in religious strongholds across the world all spoke to unexplained paranormal phenomena; especially stories of men who seemed to possess powers that mortals could not possibly attain.
    He analyzed these worldwide accounts of unexplained powers. Then, he tried to link these occurrences to specific people, specific regions of the world or specific family lines, trying to narrow down the possibility of who might have a gemstone.

    Now, he needs to find out if his suspicions – his theories— are true. Finding a person who could serve as a Guardian – as one of THE 99 – had proven difficult enough, but to actually find a gemstone and put that together with the right candidate? The odds seemed insurmountable at best, and all Dr. Razem could do was to keep searching and to pray for a miracle.

    Then, after a lifetime of searching in secret…a miracle happened. A gem was found! And it was found with a gem-wielder at the same time!

    Then Ramzi learns that finding is only the first step – now he has to recruit – convince the gem-wielder that he (or she) can—and should—help to change the course of human civilization. Convince them that others will benefit from their powers and that Ramzi can protect the wielder from others who might look to benefit from the powers of a Guardian. After a lifetime of waiting, wondering and working – Ramzis work has just begun…