x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Companies intended to help others get help themselves

Corporate-backed 'Social Innovator' project reaches UAE.

DUBAI // Is the next Muhammad Yunus living in the UAE, wondering how to put a great idea into practice? If so his moment may have come, thanks to a programme intended to help social entrepreneurs, which was launched yesterday in Dubai Internet City.

A social entrepreneur is someone who creates an enterprise with a social purpose. Mr Yunus, a Bangladeshi, runs Grameen Bank, which helps poor people in Bangladesh become entrepreneurs themselves. Another example is Jay Sutaria's company Bhookh.com, which leverages the power of the internet to fight hunger in India.

Yesterday the Arab World Social Innovators programme, which has operated in some Middle East and North Africa (Mena) countries for two years, arrived in the UAE.

The programme, sponsored by Microsoft and Synergos, will provide 15 innovators with financial support of Dh46,000 per year over two years, as well as business training classes and access to Synergos' global business network.

George Khalaf, the Mena director of Synergos, runs the programme. He said the selection process for this year's group of social innovators was under way.

In its initial two-year cycle, the programme supported a network of 22 social entrepreneurs from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Palestine. It is now preparing to select 15 from among a new crop of 200 applications it has received from Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and the UAE.

"There must be a social return to the projects and we will be looking at the ethical fabrics of individuals by speaking to their references to learn more about them," Mr Khalaf said.

"The applicant must be able to showcase his work [comfortably] in the English language to an audience," he added, "as we typically get five innovators to come with us to attend global forums like the Clinton Global Initiative and the Wamda conference in Dubai that they otherwise don't have access to in their local community."

Mr Khalaf said Synergos would also find strategic ways to connect participants to his company's network of philanthropists and non-governmental organisation leaders to help them scale up their business.

"In some cases we have mentors and we're thinking of having our alumni class to serve as mentors for our new class," he said.

After signing the partnership agreement Peggy Dulany, the founder of Synergos, said the UAE had "several viable candidates" and there was an especially high interest in entrepreneurship in the country.

Samer Abu Ltaif, the Gulf general manager of Microsoft, said the programme was "a very important milestone in our journey in creating partnerships". He said it shows individuals how to build a company into a small or medium enterprise.

"The UAE is blessed with resources and leadership and it has been the magnet for talent in the region," he said, adding that the country was setting an example and that the development of SMEs and the incubation of ideas were instrumental in the country's economic diversification.

Taufiq Rahim, a visiting scholar at the Dubai School of Government, said 100 million young people in the Mena region would enter the workforce in the next decade.

He added that 61 per cent of Emirati youth between 18 and 24 would prefer to work in the public sector.

"We know that's not sustainable and this programme emphasises the triple bottom line where an enterprise is profitable, with a social impact and has positive consequences," he said.