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UAE youths get ideas for businesses of the future

The conference was held for young social entrepreneurs, a growing sector of the UAE.

DUBAI // Almost 200 young people from the Mena region attended a two-day conference in Dubai for budding social entrepreneurs, which ended yesterday.

Business4Change was aimed at entrepreneurs aged 18 to 30. The event highlighted social enterprise as a growing sector in the region, as well as the challenges faced by those setting up new businesses.

The speakers included Iba Masood from Pakistan, Zuhairah Washington from the US and Mustafa Shamseldin from Egypt.

Ms Masood, 23, told how she felt lost and confused after graduating from university.

She barely had any idea as to how to apply her finance degree to a career, and soon realised many graduates had the same problem, lacking direction and needing guidance.

"I quit my job and started a business with my colleague called Gradberry.com," Ms Masood said.

The site is now the leading careers portal for student internships and new graduate jobs in the Middle East.

"We started our website with US$200 (Dh734)," she said.

Ms Masood encouraged the audience not to think of age as a barrier, but as an advantage.

Ms Washington, founder of Kahnoodle, an application created for couples in relationships, spoke about the importance of avoiding untested assumptions.

"Start-ups usually fail due to lack of customers, not product development, so develop your customers well," she said.

Testing a business before spending a large sum of money was key, Ms Washington said.

Maryam Al Hersi, 31, from Ajman, was among those who attended and found the workshops at the event beneficial.

"I liked what Soushiant Zanganehphour said regarding setting up your own business," Ms Al Hersi said.

"He said that one needs to look at the gap in her society and build ideas."

Mr Zanganehpour is from the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University in the UK.

After his speech, Ms Al Hersi said she had some ideas of her own.

"Many people mistreat animals here and less attention is given to the environment, so I want to raise awareness about these two fields," she said, adding that she was more concerned about social responsibility than making money.

Part of the conference was PepsiCo's Performance with Purpose award, recognising the best ideas.

Would-be business leaders from across the world submitted their business plan to the judges. Al Ahli Holding Group will award prizes worth $20,000.

Zainab El Kheshen's idea for a training centre for domestic help was one of six selected in the first round.

"In Egypt, we have so many foreign workers who do not know how to serve properly due to lack of training, which often leads to conflict between the boss and maid," she said.

"I want to set up a training centre in Egypt where workers get proper education on how to cook and clean."

aalhameli@thenational.ae

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