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Insights from Ghassan Nuqul, Vice-Chairman of Nuqul Group

We tend to make a marked difference between the concerns of the private sector and those of the public sector. What most people are still unaware of is that there is a grey area between the two that is covered by a quite recent business construct: The Social Enterprise. While the concept of focusing business-oriented thinking towards solving social challenges is not new within the Arab world, where altruistic actions and modestly publicised charity is part of day-to-day business, the emergence of social enterprises has given this trend a palpable form. Ghassan Nuqul, Vice-Chairman of Nuqul Group, Jordan, reflects in his article on the presence of social enterprises in the Jordanian economy and the Arab world in general, making a point of recommending the inclusion of this new business-construct into education and policies.

Social entrepreneurship is certainly not a new concept, but it has markedly evolved since its initial introduction over a decade ago. More than simply philanthropy or charity, this recent approach encompasses fresh ways to tackle social challenges facing both the Arab world and the international community. Today, social entrepreneurship encourages partnerships between the private and public sector, ensuring effective and sustainable achievements. It combines passion for a cause with solid business skills and tools. And although many believe the involvement of the private sector does not extend beyond providing funds, today’s social entrepreneurship is based on real alliances and innovative ways of tackling social issues in an impactful, sustainable manner that ensures continuous empowerment and involvement of communities.

The concept of social entrepreneurship is clearly rooted in Arab culture, stemming from the basic tenet of doing good for others. Often confused with corporate social responsibility, philanthropy, or even charity, social entrepreneurship is more strategic and business-oriented. To date, programs that encourage the involvement of the private sector have focused on relieving a short-term issue like preventing famine. While undeniably important, there is also an interconnected, long-term goal of social empowerment and sustainable success to consider. This is precisely where social entrepreneurship becomes significant, as its very foundation is the creation of interconnected social solutions and economic value.

Social entrepreneurs, as a whole, attack social challenges creatively, dynamically, and with a constant focus on sustainability. Consider Mohammad Younis, a 2006 Nobel Prize Winner who founded the Grameen Bank. His initial goal was to eradicate poverty, which as most would agree, is not exactly a simple endeavour. Younis’ approach to the problem – providing micro-loans to underprivileged people – appears deceptively simple, albeit novel, which is often the mark of social entrepreneurship in its purest form.

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In Jordan there are many partnerships between public and private sector already established, yet the contributions of the private sector are mostly of monetary nature. It would perhaps be a beneficial development if the private sector were to work with governmental groups in order to develop a more entrepreneurial framework to tackle pressing social issues. The public sector also plays a key role in facilitating the partnership process and ensuring that the private entities are able to work proactively. It is important to remember that the private sector‘s involvement is only effective and successful when it is allowed to provide more than funds; social entrepreneurship is at its best when the private sector provides its distinct vantage point, analysis, as well as its planning abilities and development processes.

In Jordan, there are various untapped platforms that can be utilised effectively to encourage an increased understanding of social entrepreneurship. When used appropriately, media is a powerful tool to spread information effectively and to a wide array of audiences across the Kingdom. Media professionals as well as bloggers must first understand the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship so that they may best translate its benefits.

Also, with 65% of Jordan‘s population under the age of 25, there appears to be another fresh area in which social entrepreneurs should focus: universities. By offering tailored social entrepreneurship courses and encouraging business and management students to understand social entrepreneurship, there is hope that the concept will become much more than simply an altruistic vision. There is hope that social entrepreneurship will become a way of life.

Finally, we must not ignore one of the most effective means of promoting social entrepreneurship; the introduction of both critical thinking and community involvement at an early age, not solely through after-school activities, but as a part of the basic school curriculum. Further, it should be a more results-oriented module that encourages children to look differently at themselves and their relationship to the world around them, continuously exploring ways of finding creative solutions to solve crises.

In order to ensure an increased public-private partnership that works, it is absolutely essential for private sector entities to fully collaborate with each other, resulting in more unified efforts, complementary in nature and avoiding duplication. Various Ministries should also participate with innovative business practices, proven industry tools, and real alliances. Ministries of Education and Higher Education in the Arab world can integrate a comprehensive module in schools and universities that provides students with the knowledge of social entrepreneurship and the tools needed to prepare future generations of young social entrepreneurs. They will become our greatest hope.

Tharawat Magazine, Issue 4, 2009