For the Middle East and North Africa, 2011 was a year where people’s voices were heard, where citizens finally felt their presence and participation could make a difference. What we have experienced in the last year and a half is an increased sense of citizenship, self-efficacy and social responsibility, opening the door for social entrepreneurship to flourish.
As the Arab Awakening swept across the region, the whole world witnessed the ingenuity that thrives in the Arab region. With many interested in finding innovative ways to contribute to long-term social development in the Middle East and North Africa, the rate of positive citizen-led change in the Arab region is growing exponentially.
Change ignited by one person stimulates change within individuals and communities, and at Ashoka Arab World (AAW), we aim to build a world where everyone has the ability and confidence to seize opportunities, to turn challenges into solutions, and to craft positive change to build better lives for all. At AAW, we work with individuals who recognize their ability to create positive change in their societies, and have innovative ideas that address the region’s most pressing social issues.
Ashoka : A Brief History
Founded in 1981, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public promotes social entrepreneurship, a term first coined by the organization’ founder Bill Drayton. Ever since, Ashoka has been the leading facilitator of citizen-led innovation focused on social change across the globe.
A social entrepreneur is an individual who is persistent and deeply motivated by his/her groundbreaking idea, who seeks to change the world and diligently works to do so. We believe that the most powerful force in the world is a big new idea in the hands of a great social entrepreneur, who transforms old traditional ways of thinking and solves existing problems in a sustainable and inspiring way, to build societies we can all support.
Nowadays, the rise of social entrepreneurship reflects a growing understanding that the most effective solutions to society’s most pressing issues do not necessarily come from government agencies or charity work, but rather from individuals working at the grassroots level using entrepreneurial thinking and innovative, sustainable methods.
Ashoka has a vision of Everyone a Changemaker™ (EACH), that everyone is, and therefore can recognize themselves as Changemakers. We work toward creating and fostering an environment where everyone realizes, understands, and becomes a catalyst for EACH. With the right kind of support, we believe everyone can become a Changemaker. We challenge the historical notion that positive change can only come from a small group of intellectual elites, and seek to empower more and more individuals to drive change in their communities and take ownership of their futures. We seek a world where – Everyone [is] a Changemaker.™
At Ashoka, we empower the leading social entrepreneurs to put their system-changing ideas into actions by electing them as Ashoka Fellows. We provide our Fellows with a range of support that allows them and their organizations to grow, scaling up and maximizing their long-term impact. Social entrepreneurs – Ashoka Fellows – are the best ambassadors for innovation and creativity to their own countries, region and the rest of the world. These individuals are valuable examples of how social entrepreneurship can transform the world in which we live. We believe that through social entrepreneurship, individuals can find the right channels and tools to ensure positive sustainable impact in their communities and beyond.
Ashoka in the Arab World:
Launched in 2003 in Cairo, Egypt, AAW has built a strong network that includes 64 of the region’s top social entrepreneurs, who have been selected as Ashoka Fellows. Through the work of these Fellows, AAW has positively affected the lives of more than 7,100,000 people in the region and has reached 7 countries in the Arab world (Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Kuwait) and counting. Our Ashoka Fellows have also influenced 13 government policies in the Arab region. In Egypt, for instance, Ashoka Fellows have advocated for policy reforms ranging from more inclusive labor policies and social benefits for home healthcare employees to restructuring the national education system to include new teaching methodologies aimed at the disabled populace. As a part of our work, AAW has helped the social and business sectors work more closely and has formed 35 strategic partnerships to widen the scale of impact across all sectors.
The support we provide our Ashoka Fellows is profound and measurable. In 2010 & 2011 alone, almost 40% of our Fellows collaborated through Ashoka’s network with the private sector on a national, regional and global level; 40% of our Fellows attended major international development events; and media coverage increased for over 60% of Fellows.
We are optimistic and envision a much brighter future for the Arab world where social entrepreneurship plays a pivotal role in the reshaping of the sociopolitical landscape. New ideas, groups, projects, coalitions, and social enterprises are still emerging. It is an era of opportunity in the region, where people feel empowered and informed. The energy and engagement of 2011 are promising, and the knowledge about social entrepreneurship grounded in a desire to build a better future is on the rise.
As more and more young people are looking for ways to live the ideals embodied by the Arab Awakening, the resources and support systems will also need to increase. In 2012 and beyond, we aim to expand and expose the work of our Ashoka Fellows and amplify our media awareness campaign to continue educating Arab societies about the impact of social entrepreneurship. We are committed to the Arab region’s growth and we believe in the power of local solutions for local problems.
Today, social entrepreneurs are the change agents for their communities. They grab opportunities others miss, improve systems, invent new approaches, and create sustainable solutions for the progress of the societies they serve and the global community at large. Ashoka supports them in the cultivation of their ideas and social impact in a way that engages all citizens. This is Ashoka Arab World.
*Based in Cairo, Egypt, Dr. Iman Bibars is the Regional Director at Ashoka Arab World. Dr. Bibars also serves as the Vice President and Global Diaspora Leader of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public.