Social entrepreneurship might sound like another ‘buzz’ word, but it’s not. Simply put, it’s when people start companies with the goal of not only creating a successful business, but also positively impacting on social, cultural, or environmental issues through their products and services – or even directly through investment in others.
With consumers wanting increasingly greater transparency around a company’s social credentials, and the world needing a greater helping hand too, social entrepreneurship – particularly in the UAE – offers a way for entrepreneurs to create businesses and do good at the same time.
How is social entrepreneurship developing?
Social responsibility and sustainability are more important now than they ever have been before. Governments everywhere are taking steps to prioritise Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) as scientists warn us all about our impact on the natural world, and inventors, businesspeople, and anyone with a positive vision look to help the people of this planet.
The UAE, as a global centre of financial excellence, has made significant investments in developing sustainable finance across all sectors. With initiatives in the past few years from The Dubai Declaration on Sustainable Finance to the UAE Green Agenda 2015-30, as well as the UAE Climate Change Plan 2017-2050, and the newly announced Net Zero 2050 Strategic Initiative, the UAE government clearly believes in the importance of social entrepreneurship and the value found in supporting it.
What are the business opportunities?
However, putting that aside for a moment, there are genuine business opportunities available to both people wanting to build businesses, as well as those looking to invest in the area of social responsibility. The UAE in particular has become a hotbed of investment and interest in the sector in large part stems from how well it has been supported by the government.
For instance, in 2020, Abu Dhabi opened a centre to help revolutionise philanthropic activity in the UAE. The Exchange is a social enterprise hub in Yas Mall that aims to host workshops and speakers that help support growing charities.
The Exchange was started by Ma’an, which is part of Abu Dhabi’s development initiative and forms part of their overall social development framework. Ma’an aims to bring together the government, the private sector, and civil society to create meaningful opportunities for not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises.
Low-carbon indexes, green bonds, and sustainable funds are broader techniques that are increasingly being used to promote social entrepreneurship and investment. Even more widely, organisations everywhere are being required to provide their social responsibility credentials when competing for work. This means that those who want to support socially responsible practices are seeing their customer bases rapidly expand.
Who’s doing it already?
There are some fantastic social entrepreneurs already out there in the UAE. This is by no means an exhaustive list but it does highlight some particularly great businesses with some truly impactful ideas. Some have only just begun making a positive impact and some have been making a difference for a decade.
U-Light was started by young African entrepreneurs in the UAE as part of their entry to the 2018 Hult Prize challenge, popularly known as ‘The Nobel Prize for Students’. They managed to beat out over 20,000 other teams to reach the Global Finals at the UN. They have created a beautiful, crank-based, light and battery pack that gives people who are off-grid access to electricity.
U-Light now continues to work to revolutionise the energy industry and eradicate energy poverty. Already supplying people in Nigeria, Kenya, and Lebanon, their success has only just begun. With a vision of becoming the global leader in human-powered energy solutions, U-Light wants to enable millions of people who don’t have access to the grid to create their own electricity in a simple, dependable, and inexpensive way.
A dedicated social enterprise based in the UAE, C3 helps entrepreneurs who are committed to creating positive social impact unlock the growth potential of their business so that they can have the most positive impact possible.
C3 helps to make companies in emerging markets become financially self-sufficient so they can expand the reach of their social enterprise. It wants people with brilliant ideas to be backed up by experienced professional advice. Its programs have been supported by the likes of HSBC, DMCC, and Accenture which goes to show that great ideas will build a following.
The firm provides a broad variety of energy options, including gas, solar, wind, and hydropower plants, to fulfil the demands of the expanding markets it serves.
AMEA Power is managed by a world-class management team with vast and diverse project development, finance, and operations expertise, as well as a proven track record in project execution. Now it is supporting economic growth and rising living standards in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia by offering the best long-term energy solutions to its customers. That is a perfect example of a successful company that has a positive impact.
EcoBuild is a sustainable construction consultancy organisation. Partnering with clients across the world, it is committed to creating and developing a more sustainable future. Its mission is to deliver high-performance, sustainable communities, buildings, and surroundings that surpass client expectations and contribute to a better, healthier world.
They’ve been operating for over 10 years which goes to show just how viable social entrepreneurship can be. In that time it has helped save over 68 million kWh of electricity, 40 million kg of Co2, as well as 68 million km3 of water. That is an amazing achievement and it’s also helped it to build a very successful business.
What does the future hold for social entrepreneurship?
Social entrepreneurship is now flourishing, not just as an idea, but as a reality we can all be a part of. Universities such as NYU Abu Dhabi have begun to offer courses in Social Entrepreneurship and alongside lots of investment in the sector and governmental support, the industry as a whole is likely to gain massive momentum in the coming years.
For people with a vision, and a will to make the world a better place, now is a better time than ever to make the leap and become a social entrepreneur.