Searching for the Hidden Gems Across the Arab World!
The task of the Search and Selection team in Ashoka is to look, dig and search long, deep and hard for the hidden gems of the social entrepreneurship scene in the Arab region. Ashoka is looking for people who are truly, deeply and madly committed to bringing about positive change regardless of their gender, race, religion, ethnicity or socio-economic status. The entrepreneurship/start-ups scene is currently experiencing a boom and Ashoka is seeking the leading social entrepreneurs; Ashoka reserves the standard of choosing the leading social entrepreneurs that are characterized by their daring approaches in initiating unconventional methods towards solving social problems. Our definition of leading social entrepreneurs are those talented individuals who innovatively tackle social problems from their root causes, rather than deal with their symptoms, hence creating a real system change while tackling all system stakeholders and influencers; in other words, people who change the rules of the game.
One of the most frequently asked questions we receive as the Search and Selection team is what are the criteria we use to evaluate the endeavors of social entrepreneurs who want to join the Ashoka Fellowship? The first thing our eyes are drawn to is whether or not the idea is ‘new’. Is the idea tackling the social issue in a way that has never been done before in the Arab region, is it tackling it from a different angle, or is it just a repetition of previous efforts that aimed to solve the same issue in the region? We keep in mind that solving problems in the same way humanity has been using for decades and centuries will only produce the same undesirable results. When Marwa El Daly was elected as an Ashoka Fellow, her new idea was evident in her new approach to sustainable development through reviving and modernizing the traditional model of giving and local resource mobilization known as the Waqf Model.
Our critical evaluation of the idea, after ensuring that it is in fact new, is that it is reaching out to solve a problem from its roots, tapping into existing systems to make them work. Looking to Ashoka Fellow Hisham Kharma, one can really see how his approach to the blood donation problem in Egypt is completely revolutionizing the system by addressing the very root causes of the problem. Rather than joining the numerous efforts aiming to encourage blood donation, or spending all of his effort in finding existing blood shortages, he pioneered the first effort to unify previously scattered and distrusted actors under one umbrella, connecting blood donors with recipients, aggregating all blood donation initiatives in one place, and mapping out areas of the country where there is availability or shortage of blood. He finally founded a centralized matching system that before him was non-existent and was limited only to scattered initiatives.
Fairouz Omar demonstrates the significant social impact achieved, which is another criterion necessary for the Ashoka Fellowship that ensures that the idea has been implemented on the ground and is proven to work with real results. At the time of her election in 2009, Fairouz’s model of the professional psychological counseling system for teenagers in Egyptian government schools covered Helwan governorate’s 60 government schools, and rehabilitated and trained all 95 counselors recruited by the Ministry of Education there. In this way, Fairouz penetrated and changed systems rather than establishing parallel ones.
Complementing the aforementioned criteria is the creativity of the idea itself, the entrepreneurial quality of the candidate, and their ethical fiber.
Our process is thorough and the criteria are very specific, all to serve our purpose of identifying the real leading changemakers of the Arab World. Upon achieving Fellowship, Ashoka offers our Fellows lifetime support and engagement, empowering them to have deeper social impact and wider scale reach. We always renew our motivation and remember the drive for what we are doing by looking at the map of the Arab World and seeing our gems, social entrepreneurs, spanning it, working around the clock and finding solutions for social challenges in all sectors of health, education, income generation and job creation, disabilities, human rights, environment, information communications and technology among others.
Ashoka Fellows in the Arab World range from people working on government accountability and fighting corruption via civic engagement in Morocco, and in Egypt our Fellows are empowering local people to establish alternative sewerage systems, building social capital to manage local disputes instead of waiting for court systems, unleashing children’s creativity in education, changing cultural norms and fighting stigmas against the marginalized, disadvantaged and HIV patients and fighting sexual harassment and abuse. In the Levant region within the Arab World you can find our Fellows spreading a culture of volunteerism, engraining tolerance and acceptance for diversity within their communities by gathering people around their commonalities, breeding a new generation of Arab leaders through establishing egalitarian systems. The gulf also contributes Fellows that empower women, both politically and economically, offer a healthier life for people through sports and others finding new systems for dealing with refugees.
At the end of the day, as the search and selection team, we go home with fascination and intrigue knowing that we have succeeded in finding these hidden gems and that Ashoka, along with its search process, will always continue to identify and empower them!
Help us find a hidden gem in your local area, city or region!
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Search and Selection of Ashoka Fellows Team: