What I know about social entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia: Muhammad Al-Bakri

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Entrepreneurship is now a top destination for youth and governments.

It can provide jobs, diversify the economy and encourage its growth. However, the best entrepreneurial solution to enhance society and economy at the same time might be social entrepreneurship.

Muhammad Al-Bakri. (Image via Muhammad Al-Bakri)

Saudi Arabia is not far from this idea. It’s trying to lower its oil dependency by restructuring the economy and focusing on digital economy with its Vision 2030. As a result, entrepreneurship is expected to rise in this country especially with the rise of internet and mobile penetration rates. In 2016 they were at 152 percent.

But social entrepreneurship is not simply building a website, it needs efficient steps and hard work to address deeply entrenched social practices.

For this reason, Muhammad Al-Bakri, along with Dania Al-Masri, started YIG in 2014, to design and organize scalable and sustainable social initiatives. In addition to that, he took part in many volunteer initiatives, and recently joined the fellowship program of the international network for social entrepreneurship Ashoka.

Wamda interviewed Al-Bakri to know more about what he learned during his career that started with volunteering and ended up in social entrepreneurship.

Social entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia is still in its beginnings. We have lots of dreamers but little ideas and execution. People should know that entrepreneurship requires a real product that gives a good impression, patience and self-funding at the beginning. A great example is what Khalid AlKhudair did with Glowork to enable more women to join the Saudi workforce.

Investors are still hesitant when it comes to local ideas. However, governmental institutions and many programs in Saudi Arabia support these ideas. Regarding social entrepreneurship, people are now realizing it can profitable and that it is separate from the commerce sector. For example, King Khalid Foundation is now supporting social entrepreneurship by providing media support.

The internet has good influence on projects, but… The internet helped us in accessing information, but we were faced with the difficulty that not all people understand English to fully understand what they are reading. That is why it is important to translate everything while localizing the information. We are now working on a platform called Theory of Change نظرية التغيير where you can create your social project in Arabic.

The mindset must change. There are people that want to do work for the social good, who are our target audience, but they are few. People still concentrate on the salary and the job in itself, more than they do on the impact. A few people work remotely with startups, and this line of work will soon spread as governments admit the ability of these companies in enhancing the economy.

Last year, it was hard to find people willing to work with social startups. Mainly because talent would not accept low salaries and parents who know nothing about social entrepreneurship would oppose, but things are changing especially now that they are noticing that you are making an impact and making money out of your social work.  

The bureaucracy is easing up. Until now the law didn’t differentiate between a startup and a regular company. They were expecting you to register the company, hire people full time, provide insurance, get a city license and pay taxes like a commercial company. So, launch your initiative online first, then register the company in the field you are working in and inform your staff that they will be paid less.

Social entrepreneurship contributes to economy. It can also help the government in finding solutions for citizens. For example, helping the Ministry of Labor and Social Development in creating jobs and lowering unemployment rates, helping the Ministry of Commerce and Investment in promoting local products, and lowering the costs for healthcare with people contributing to the cost of patients’ healthcare via crowdfunding and so on.  

Ashoka is making things professional. Their fellowship helps you to avoid repeating the same mistakes and have got you to think more critically about projects. Being a fellow helps you widen your network and understand what you do. You’re not only an entrepreneur, you changing the society.

The fellowship is a shortcut to many things abroad, but in Saudi Arabia, people don’t consider it enough. It is only popular in the social field, not in the commercial field.   

Feature image is one of the initiatives designed by YIG.

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