Anna-Liisa Goggs met Medea Nocentini, the CEO of Consult and Coach for a Cause, at a social enterprise conference in Dubai. Having just finished her MBA, she has been advising the social enterprise sector on business planning and structuring, corporate governance, decision-making processes and impact measurement. The two met by sheer chance and discussed what they do, agreeing then to work on building C3 together, and have since never looked back. We sit down with Anna-Liisa and talk to her about her career and experiences with the social enterprise incubator C3.
1) What do you believe are the benefits of such organizations in the region?
Any platform that raises awareness about a new solution to old problems is beneficial because it can reach different stakeholders and creating long lasting impact. In a region where a high percentage of the population is under 30 and governments are only partially addressing basic social needs such as health care, education and jobs, there needs to be an alternative being offered. More specifically, for its own beneficiaries C3 has learnt through feedback that its social entrepreneurs have grown in confidence and honed their leadership skills as a result of its programs and workshops, that its volunteers have experienced professional growth as a result of transferring knowledge to entrepreneurs and that all beneficiaries have been part of a community of like-minded people and feel less isolated as a result.
3) What are some of the challenges that face entrepreneurs in the Middle East? How do you think they can be overcome?
Of course there are all the usual problems that entrepreneurs face such as access to finance and talent retention, but if I look specifically at social entrepreneurs I would say that designing their business structure to balance the interests of their financiers with their social mission and commitment to all stakeholder groups is a big challenge.
I see that social entrepreneurs worry about their structure (C3 included): profit, non-profit, impact on access to capital, what governance structure they need to protect stakeholders and social mission etc. So I would advise them to look at function of their business first and foremost and then align their choice of business structure according to the group that the business will most easily resonate with, be it consumers, foundations or governments.
There is no specific legal regime for social enterprises in the region so there may not be an immediate answer to the question of form. Nevertheless, lack of regulation sometimes encourages businesses to be more inventive about the way they organize themselves and so long as they explain clearly what their business does (and does not do) the effort they put into structure and governance may create more value for all stakeholders.
My biggest take away for social entrepreneurs in this region is that the challenges they face are great, but the opportunities to create real and lasting change in the region are greater.
5) Any words of wisdom or advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Whatever your social business idea is, make sure that it solves a social problem by creating systemic change (i.e. creating a new structure or system to solve a problem rather than reconfiguring existing systems). The world doesn’t have time for piecemeal solutions or good/green wash. Try to create an emotional reaction in those you want to engage with your initiative. If people feel empathetic to what you are doing, they will support it more readily and you may well inspire others to follow in your footsteps.
For an informative read on the rising world of start-ups in the Middle East, check this book out: