Across the Arab world, social enterprise is gaining traction as new entrepreneurs seek to not just innovate or make money, but to do social good and have a lasting impact on their communities. From job and aid matching to sustainability, combating poverty to women's empowerment, these startups are making a social change and empowering people throughout the region.
Below is a list of 15 of the top social enterprises and platforms seeking to empower social entrepreneurs in the Arab world.
The organizations are listed alphabetically.
3BL (“Triple Bottom Line”) Associates is a social impact and sustainability consultancy founded by Leena Al Olaimy in Bahrain. The project is helping Bahraini businesses to have more social impact through multistakeholder development. By demonstrating the financial, social, and environmental benefits of a more sustainable approach to business, 3BL is beginning to make an impact on business in Bahrain.
Alashanek Ya Balady (Egypt)
Alashanek ya Balady (AYB-SD) focuses on the economic empowerment of youth and women residing in poor neighborhoods in Egypt, by offering specialized and vocational training, personal coaching, formal employment opportunities, and loans. AYB-SD strives to promote volunteerism in community development and to foster private and public partnerships, as it works in 11 governorates in Egypt.
AltCity aims to radically expand access to the tools, resources, and spaces that enable innovative, creative, high impact, and socially-relevant media and entrepreneurial initiatives. Located in Hamra, one of Beirut’s cultural and intellectual hubs, AltCity is an open and creative community collaboration space for entrepreneurs, media producers, and social activists, and is launching in stages. They recently hosted the Beirut Social Innovation Camp and are currently assisting entrepreneurs looking to apply to the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC).
Educate-Me is an Egyptian Social Enterprise that aspires to create an educational system that preserves and embraces imagination. Educate-Me provides an environment in which childhood is given back to both volunteers and children alike, as it supports underprivileged children and school dropouts by paying their public school tuition and buying all the needed books and tools. The venture has also established a community development centers across Egypt operate to serve the community as a whole.
Consult & Coach for a Cause (C3) is a non-profit initiative working to unlock the potential of social ventures to maximize their impact on the community. To do this, C3 raises awareness about social business models and creates a network of socially conscious professionals and social entrepreneurs to build the next generation of leaders. They also facilitate idea exchange and knowledge transfer from corporate to social businesses and provide social entrepreneurs with frameworks and personal coaching.
Founded by Khalid AlKhudair, Glowork is the first website dedicated to female recruitment in the Gulf. Formed by young Saudi entrepreneurs, Glowork aims to empower women and increase diversity in the Saudi workforce. They are starting locally in Saudi Arabia ad plan to push women’s empowerment in the workforce to the rest of the Arab world region.
Goodgate is a social enterprise that connects donors to good causes, while promoting transparency, efficiency, and performance in philanthropy across the Muslim world. The goal is to mobilize the goodwill of the Muslim world and harness its philanthropic potential to produce better outcomes for people in need. To further this mission, it intends to build useful products, services, and tools to promote and enable informed, effective giving and social investment.
Hamzet Wasel (Jordan)
Hamzet Wasel is a social venture that works to revive and enrich the social and cultural fabric of urban communities in the Arab world, beginning with Amman. It invests in and incubates innovative ideas that accelerate social change and place active and engaged citizens at the heart of the development process. The initiative works with members of urban communities to create solutions that preserve and build on the “human value” of neighborhoods and cities, while recording their history.
Ma’an Network (Palestine)
The Ma’an Network is an independent non-profit media organization working to strengthen “non-affiliated media” and consolidate freedom of expression and media pluralism to promote democracy and human rights. Through its multiple media channels, including local and satellite television, radio and online news, the Ma’an Network consistently offers viewers information and analyses, reflecting the organization’s reputation for quality, independence and trust. With its headquarters based in Bethlehem, the Ma’an Network has regional offices in Ramallah, Nablus, and Gaza.
The Moroccan Center for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (MCISE) works to create solutions to social challenges in Morocco by empowering social entrepreneurs. MCISE makes ideas, concepts and beliefs about social entrepreneurship, equally accessible to individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments and develops educational materials and information resources for students, researchers, practitioners and professionals. They also host initiatives, projects, and programs to enable individuals and organizations to be social entrepreneurs.
Recyclobekia, started in 2011 by twenty university students in Egypt, recycles unused electronic waste across Egypt and promotes a greener recycling culture across Cairo. By collecting corporate and personal e-waste in Cairo, the company either sells materials to recycling plants abroad or refurbishes the products for the local market. They are quickly gaining traction and often host events at universities.
Schaduf is an innovative social enterprise founder by brothers Sherif and Tarek Hosny, which offers Cairo’s poor an opportunity to turn their rooftops into sustainable farms. By helping to install hydroponic farms on rooftops, Schaduf is teaching practical farming and business skills to the residents of Cairo’s Maadi district. The farmers repay the loan for the installation and sell their crops on the local market, supporting locally grown produce and a more eco-friendly atmosphere for Cairo.
Social Media Exchange (Lebanon)
Founded in May 2008, SMEX is a social enterprise that provides strategic social media training and consulting to NGOs and social businesses in Lebanon and the region. They develop custom social media trainings for teams and provide social media-enabled coverage for special events, as well as host open workshops in both English and Arabic. Their strategy focuses on three main areas: encouraging media literacy and raising awareness about social and participatory media, helping organizations develop collaborative strategies for incorporating social media into their programs, and increasing access to the Internet.
SoukTel is a mobile phone-based service that uses SMS technology to link people with jobs and connect aid agencies with people who need their help. Launched in Palestine in 2006 as the brainchild of Harvard and MIT fellows, SoukTel's JobMatch and AidLink services are changing people's lives around the world by giving people key information over their mobile phones, information that helps them get closer to the job they want, or the humanitarian aid they need.
The Tunisian Center for Social Entrepreneurship brings entrepreneurs and investors together to implement sustainable and market-based solutions to social issues in Tunisia and the Mediterranean. The Center has four major areas of focus: education about social needs and innovations while promoting social entrepreneurship, identifying and incubating social innovation in Tunisia, advocating for a better legislation to encourage such initiatives, and strengthening exposure to international social entrepreneurship networks, funds, and investors.
Editor's Note: Last, but not least, Kamel's own startup, Nakhweh, is making strides in Jordan.
Nakhweh is a platform to connect people working in the development sector in the Arab world. It works to expand opportunities, exchange ideas, share knowledge and to promote and share a culture of civic engagement. Nakhweh supports NGOs volunteer initiatives with a free volunteer matching service, while giving social entrepreneurs exposure and enabling sustainable companies to find funding opportunities. Nakhweh is also making it simpler for everyone to find out more about social entrepreneurship stakeholders and projects through a comprehensive social work directory for the Arab world.
Photo sourced from Alashanek ya Balady.