We talked to Shamsina, an Egyptian team competing in the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition about some of the the reasons they chose to participate, and ways they believe their ideas could prove beneficial for the region.
1) Who inspires you in the Arab World?
We are inspired by the cadre of pioneering social entrepreneurs who have emerged in the region, particularly over the past four years. This set of entrepreneurs uses business as a means of challenging both government and society to re-conceptualize approaches to tackling social problems and creating change. In a short span of time, this network has pushed to circumvent institutional failures and shortcomings, and demonstrate rather than request change. It is to the credit of the Arab entrepreneurial ecosystem that Shamsina exists and develops.
2) Why did you apply for this competition?
We applied to the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition because it allows us to learn from and contribute to the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem. It provides us with access to top resources in terms of training, knowledge gained from successful methodologies applied in similar sectors and communities, potential partnerships and collaborations, and funding. The regional focus of the competition amplifies opportunities to learn from the diverse challenges and target communities that entrepreneurs engage with, and their range of innovative approaches to formulating systematic, sustainable solutions.
3) What impact does participating have?
It is impossible for a social enterprise to operate in isolation. Shamsina exists and thrives because of a wide range of contributors: fellow social entrepreneurs, sectorial experts, community activists, skilled workers and residents, volunteers carrying diverse skillsets, and funders. The dynamic contributions of such interactions constantly form and re-form Shamsina’s strategies and enable it to move forward. Participating in competitions like the MIT EF potentially expands our support base and enriches our work.
4) In your opinion, what are some of the benefits of such competitions in the region?
Synergies are crucial to the field of social entrepreneurship and shape the effectiveness of the entire network in achieving the larger, collective goal of impacting social change. More than a competition, regional programs such as the MIT EF are a chance for collaboration that enhances the effectiveness of social impact efforts on the regional scale.
5) How did you prepare for the competition?
The preparation phase for the MIT EF Arab Startup Competition has been very helpful for Shamsina because it has allowed us to pause and evaluate our momentary strategy, accomplishments, obstacles, future plans and needs. The most important part of preparation, for us, is being able to accurately assess and communicate these aspects of our endeavor in order to benefit most from the experiences and skills of the coaches, fellow social entrepreneurs and investors.
6) In what sectors would you like to see improvement in the Middle East?
We don’t believe that improvement is needed in any individual sector per se, but in the enhancement of public goods and services in general. While social enterprises play an important role in offering creative alternatives that effectively address social needs, the large-scale projects needed to address countrywide issues often require institutional backing. In the Arab world, we need to re-think the way that government and society collaborate in order to enhance socio-economic development.
7) Any tips for those who may want to participate in similar competitions in the future?
Persistence. We have had to plan, fail, and start all over many times. We have applied, been rejected, and re-applied for competitions and grants, struggled with our shop location, lost and re-hired workers, tweaked the water heater design, and ended and made new partnerships. Right now our major issue is ensuring self-sustainability. The process has been a struggle but is an invaluable learning experience and every small success towards reaching an ultimate goal of providing families who need it with hot water makes it worth it.
To keep up with the competition, follow MIT’s official Twitter page.