Can social entrepreneurship save Algeria?

For a few years now, a group of optimistic and resilient Algerian students have worked against all odds to introduce the concept of social entrepreneurship in Algeria. They’re sure that entrepreneurship can change Algeria; they believe it can be economically sustainable, a creator of job and wealth, and attentive to social and environmental considerations. All Algerians need is more faith in themselves.

We met with Yanis Bouda, the computer science student who created the Algerian Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and asked him how Algerians can take control of their country’s future.

A contagious passion

As often happens with ideas in Algeria, the social entrepreneurship concept first gained traction in a university. In 2011, Ismail Chaib, an Algerian graduate who’s now working from Berlin for MakeSense, an international platform connecting social entrepreneurs, travelled back to his hometown to introduce the concept of social entrepreneurship.

Some students who participated in the talk, including Bouda, decided to organize some MakeSense workshops and events in Algeria to help social entrepreneurs grow. 

Their action didn’t go unnoticed. In 2014, Bouda was invited to a university exchange program on social entrepreneurship at Connecticut University, an experience he remembers as very enriching.

To share all that he had learn with all the social entrepreneurship players in Algeria in one central location, he decided to create the Algerian Center for Social Entrepreneurship, strongly influenced by what Tunisians did with the Tunisian Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and what Moroccans did with the Moroccan Center for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship. The young men convinced two other students who’ve also taken part in the exchange program to join him, and asked Tarik Ghezali, cofounder of French organization Social Entrepreneurship Movement (Mouves), and Ismail Chaib to join them as advisors.

The Center, launched in December 2013, has as its missions the following: to raise Algerian youth’s awareness, to prove that social entrepreneurship is possible in Algeria, to work for the creation of a social entrepreneurship status, and to train social entrepreneurs based on the knowledge that the team has garnered on the ground and during their residence at Connecticut University.

Workshop during an ACSE weekend in Biskra 

Social entrepreneurship in Algeria can work

“The concept of social entrepreneurship is not known enough in Algeria,” explains Bouda. After five years on the ground, either with the Center, or with previous associative endeavors, he’s convinced that the environment in Algeria is not mature enough yet to see social entrepreneurship take off. The young man has adapted the Center’s goal based on that belief: “Our objective for the upcoming two to three years is to convince as many people as possible that social entrepreneurship is a solution to the country’s need.”

The main problem he faces is that people don’t believe in social entrepreneurship. “They don’t see the difference between social entrepreneurship and social volunteer actions; they don’t think one can live off of social entrepreneurship,” he laments. In a country where people “think succeeding means having a big bank account,” it’s a real problem, he explains.

“We have to stop looking at problems as problems, and start looking at them as opportunities to do business,” he keeps repeating.

The second challenge is a lack of self-confidence. “Some people already do social entrepreneurship,” Bouda told Wamda, “but they don’t realize it, they underestimate their impact.” These people, who could grow their company if they were properly mentored, and who could inspire more people to join the movement, stay under the radar, he continues.  

Social entrepreneurship also suffers from the same challenge as regular entrepreneurship. “In five years, despite the increase of governmental and student initiatives, but not one startup really kicked off, and most companies died within two years.” He calls all Algerians to ask themselves the right questions: “We don’t question the way we help young people to launch startups. We invest a lot of money, but money is the last challenge, what’s missing is mentoring!”

That’s exactly what ACSE want to offer. During their ACSE weekends, the Center visits different wilayas, the country’s counties, with the financial help of local associations to explain the values of social entrepreneurship in an interactive way, based on different techniques they’ve experimented during MakeSense and Ashoka programs mostly. The Center then train the people who’d like to go further, and put them in touch with experts.

“We try to show them that success is not a Western thing. We ask people from their background who are doing wonderful things to speak. We want to show that it’s not their environment stopping them from doing great things, but their fear of doing.”

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