A gripping debate caught our attention at the Rise Up Summit 2014, where a panel discussed the future of social impact in the Arab world. Are social businesses replacing NGOs? Are they falling behind in sustainability practices? The dilemma extended beyond the session and seemed to run across spaces and speeches throughout the summit.
“The idea that donors or investors lack awareness on social businesses is not true,” said Ahead of The Curve co-founder Dina El Sherif, sparking controversy. “If you can’t market yourself to them as a business that comes from an equal value system and have to appeal to them on the same grounds as an NGO, something has gone wrong. Dependency on free money is the problem.”
In a context where more and more focus is placed on financial returns and impact measurement, it is no surprise that social business practices are challenged. What investors seem to overlook is that “social enterprises often work long-term impact, such as changing the behavior of communities”, explained Jacqueline Kameel. Her NGO, Nahdet El Mahrousa incubates early stage social enterprises to address Egypt’s development challenges. “Besides, the idea that NGOs cannot make money is wrong,” she added.
“The problem with NGOs is that they cannot scale; that is where a paradigm shift is needed,” El Sherif said, insisting: “Social business instead can, but they are not approaching investors as tech startups do. They need to go that extra mile to prove they’re financially viable”.
Sherif Hosny, CEO of Shaduf Micro Rooftop Farms, seemed to find common ground: “Selling ideas to investors is key, but investors need to accept that the social return will exceed the financial one”.
For more information: Visit the Rise Up Summit’s website and follow the hashtag #RiseUp14