Entrepreneurs work towards healthier communities at SOCENT Dubai 2014

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Last week Dubai’s social entrepreneurship week SOCENT 2014 held discussion panels and workshops focused on all issues related to “doing good,” from social responsibility to design.

This year’s topics were follow-ups to those tackled during last year's event. According to Fereshteh Amarsy, one of the five founders, the topics were the “result of community interests and trends.” According to her, the event’s mission is to build a social entrepreneurship community to be “lean and empowered to make lasting change.” They want to be “the platform that gathers the community to communicate and discover opportunities,” she added.

As part of the Healthy Communities discussion panel, Amarsy encouraged social entrepreneurs to become active agents for change in key areas like healthcare and the environment. Speakers agreed that “we indeed live in a society that can be described as healthy, but it’s not the best and there’s still room for change and development.”

According to Tatiana Antonelli-Abella, the founder of the green news website Goumbouk and moderator of the panel, there is no doubt that this topic is very important in a country where people are “interested in the best burger and the best pizza and not in the best recycling and nutritional habits.” Pamela Wilson, founder of the practitioners’ website Silla, Stuart Fleming, co-founder of the e-waste recycling company Enviroserve, Nikhil Idnani from Booz & Co, and the architect Emanuele Mattutini, founder of the green architecture company, Leap, were the other members of her panel.

In a hall full of people enjoying the debate with healthy oil-free ‘French fries’and organic juices, speakers also discussed the issue of educating younger generations. They agreed on the importance of developing school curricula to promote social responsibility awareness among children. Each speaker had their own priorities: Fleming considered it wrong to fulfill children’s every demand when it comes to regularly updating their electronic devices. Mattutini encouraged outdoor activities like walking or riding bicycles while Idnani stressed the importance of changing school infrastructure.

The panelists encouraged attendees to focus on one cause, as it’s so easy to be distracted with the many issues to be addressed in the environment and healthcare sectors.

Big companies’ responsibility in building healthy communities is important. Fleming talked about the “waste” and “overproduction” of those companies. “For instance, I have lot of TVs and cameras in good condition. But I can’t sell them or donate them.” He said: “This is unacceptable. Instead of making mega profits, those companies can make reasonable profits and be socially responsible at the same time.”

SOCENT week not only engaged with ideas, but also tried to give tangible and realistic solutions in workshops partnering with the Dubai-based company C3 (for social enterprise). Medea Nocentini, the founder of C3 and co-founder of SOCENT, told me that these workshops attract mainly volunteers, students, and entrepreneurs interested in the social field. They aim to “raise awareness and emphasize the fact that social enterprises are viable products.”

The event will also award the Hult Prize 2014 for the team that provides the best solution in healthcare. The winner will head to New York to participate in the international competition and a chance to win $1 million USD in start-up funding and mentorship from the international business community.

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