Can You Marry Profit with Social Impact? Answers from ArabNet Beirut
I recently attended my first ArabNet in Beirut take part in the social impact sessions.
Speaking an entirely different language than C++, Java and Python, my terminology consists of ‘social entrepreneurship’ ‘triple bottom line’ and ‘patient capital’. And my purpose for participating was to share development models that leverage ICTs and mobile technology—also known as ICT4D and m4d with attendees.
The sessions consisted of workshops, a Social Entrepreneurship panel (which I spoke on), and what was described as a “refreshingly interesting” Digital Advocacy panel, which correlated offline social movements to online activism.
The latter was moderated by David Munir Nabti, Co-founder at AltCity, with digital activists Amr Sobhy, CEO at Pushbots, Eba'a El-Tamami, Marketing and Communications Unit Head at Harassmap.org, Nadine Mouwad, Founder at Nasawiya, and Ramzi Jaber, Co-founder at Visualizing Palestine.
My panel’s all-female panelists were Dalia Othman, Senior Community Projects Manager at Souktel, Dina H. Sherif, Senior Advisor for Civic Engagement at Silatech, and Medea Nocentini, Founder and CEO at C3 - Consult and Coach for a Cause and Corporate Development Director at OSN.
Our panel was moderated by Con O'Donnell, Regional Entrepreneurship Advisor at Mercy Corps Egypt— since we mostly shared similar opinions as panelists, he did a great job of challenging us and asking the difficult questions including:
How can tech startups achieve this so-called ‘triple bottom line’ that marries profit with social and/or environmental impact?
Sherif shared findings from a study which, shockingly, shows that the poor actually end up paying premium prices for basic services and products due to exclusion and inaccessibility to conventional market services. To that end, the World Economic Forum published a report highlighting the US $2.3 trillion a year (and growing) market at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP): those making less than $8 a day.
Therefore, a growing number of organizations have been capitalizing on these opportunities to achieve impact, inclusion, and profit. We need look no further than our panel for an example. Here are a few startups having a huge social impact in their communities:
1. Souktel, which matches job-seekers and employers though mobile technology, has impacted the lives of more than 20,000 low-income individuals and has injected almost US $10 million into local communities. Souktel currently nets roughly US $10,000/month and has recently secured a US $1 million investment from Palestinian venture firm Sadara Ventures.
2. M-PESA, a Safaricom mobile banking service that has promoted financial inclusion and micro-trade in Africa, currently represents about 15.8% of Safaricom revenues. Vodafone, which owns a 40% stake in Safaricom is reported to have netted approximately US $40 million from the M-PESA service to date.
3. Thomson Reuters Market Light (RML) service provides farmers in rural India with market intelligence to help them improve their crop yield—in some instances by 60%. Personalized SMS messages provide everything from crop prices from nearby markets, news and crop-related advice for their region or crop, weather forecasts and prices of supplies such as fertilizers. RML has earned more than US $1.3 million in revenues, while Thomson Reuters estimates customers could cumulatively save more than US $5-6 billion.
4. Samasource, an impact sourcing digital services provider, has generated over US $5 million in contracts from leading companies and institutions, including Google, eBay, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Eventbrite and Stanford University, directly employing 3,500 and benefiting over 10,000 marginalized people in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Caribbean, including refugees, youth, and women.
One tech startup I was introduced to at ArabNet—and will be following and rooting for as an Arab success story of social impact through technology—is Nafham.
This online educational platform is linked to the mandated public curriculum in Egypt and has already aggregated more than 3,500 5-20 minute crowdsourced videos—allowing anyone, including teachers and students, to compete over who can deliver lessons the most effectively. Nafham won the Mercy Corps Egypt Social Impact Award, and also came in third at the Startup Demo awards.
Social Entrepreneurship is on the rise in the region because, as ArabNet Beirut highlighted, new entrepreneurs are seeking to do good while building a self-sustainable model, truly reaching that triple bottom line.
Note: Picture sourced from Nafham's Facebook page.