Conference Board Q&A with George Khalaf on Social Entrepreneurs in the Middle East

The Conference Board’s Alex Parkinson talked with Synergos’ George Khalaf about how social entrepreneurship is filling voids left by the public sector in the Middle East.

Parkinson: Why is social entrepreneurship an effective tool for tackling the Middle East’s social issues? What are the hallmarks of an impactful social enterprise in the region?

Khalaf: The Middle East’s “youth bulge” generates pressure on labor markets, education systems, health care, and infrastructure. In this context, traditional development frameworks in the Middle East are inadequate and in need of transformation. Within the complex ecosystem of domestic governments, international donors, businesses and individual philanthropists, social entrepreneurship has emerged as one of the most promising approaches to improving the well-being of the people of the Arab world.

Whether creating sustainable agriculture practices in Lebanon, building bridges to a brighter economic future for the garbage collectors in Egypt, overcoming exclusion and promoting employment using mobile phone technology in Palestine, or creating a library in every neighborhood to foster a love of reading among Jordanian children, social entrepreneurs combine innovation and business skills with a determination to improve the well-being of the communities they serve. Many of the social entrepreneurs in the Middle East are filling voids in goods and services that one would typically expect from the public sector.

These exceptional entrepreneurs provide solutions to pressing social, economic, and environmental problems. Some of the most successful social entrepreneurs have been able to replicate their model across localities, countries, and even regions, thus serving as conduits through which development solutions are tested, adapted, and implemented.

George Khalaf is director of Synergos’ work in the Middle East and North Africa as well as of Synergos Consulting Services.

August 2015