How Middle East social enterprises proved their mettle amid the pandemic

How Middle East social enterprises proved their mettle amid the pandemic
1 / 2
C3 runs accelerator programs on sustainability in 11 countries across the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey. (Supplied)
How Middle East social enterprises proved their mettle amid the pandemic
2 / 2
C3 runs accelerator programs on sustainability in 11 countries across the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 11 December 2020

How Middle East social enterprises proved their mettle amid the pandemic

How Middle East social enterprises proved their mettle amid the pandemic
  • Impact investment has become more attractive to venture capital firms in MENA since the pandemic began
  • Social enterprises have delivered emergency relief to areas underserved by governments and the market

DUBAI: Throughout the Middle East and the world, social enterprises have been among the first to respond to the significant challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

In Tunisia, the Banque Alimentaire Durable dispensed food aid to needy families during the month of Ramadan and beyond, while in Lebanon, the non-governmental organization Abaad fielded nearly twice as many calls on its domestic abuse helpline in the first four months of the year than it did over the whole of 2019.

This ability to deliver emergency relief to areas underserved by governments and the market could see investment in social enterprises remain relatively steady and perhaps even grow, a June survey by New York-based Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) revealed.

Impact investment, valued at $715 billion worldwide, is defined as the funding of projects that generate a positive social or environmental outcome.




C3 runs accelerator programs on sustainability in 11 countries across the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey. (Supplied)

The GIIN survey, which polled 294 leading investors with $404 billion of impact investment assets, saw the majority (73 percent) say they would maintain or increase their planned outlay for 2020.

“COVID-19 has increased the need for impact investment and augmented investors’ interest in impact-driven firms,” said Medea Nocentini, co-founder and CEO of C3 (Companies Creating Change).

“Most social enterprises not only survived during the COVID-19 pandemic but also thrived. This proves that companies creating change are the future.”

C3 runs accelerator programs on sustainability in 11 countries throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT). It aims to help entrepreneurs working toward realizing at least one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to maximize their social impact and ensure their financial stability.




Medea Nocentini, co-founder and CEO of C3

Nocentini noted that there had been an increased interest in regional companies creating a positive impact and a better understanding of their business models.

“Investors used to view these companies as small initiatives or non-profit organizations. However, the pandemic made them realize that companies who are seeking to create a positive impact are scalable, sustainable, resilient, and indeed investable,” she added.

Startups that sit at the intersection of technology, development, and social impact could benefit from this increased interest, particularly healthtech, edutech, and agritech within the MENAT region.

IN NUMBER

10,000 - Saudis for whom there is one non-profit social organization.

As the co-founder and CEO of Nabta Health — a hybrid healthcare company focused on diagnosing underlying health conditions in women — Sophie Smith has noted an increased interest since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Until COVID-19, there was little or no interest among Middle Eastern venture capital firms to invest in life sciences and healthcare. Today, we see several of the big venture capitalists (VCs) pivoting away from e-commerce, marketplaces, logistics, and fintech (financial technology) to focus almost exclusively on healthtech,” she said.

“VCs are recognizing the need to invest in accessible and affordable healthcare for people across the region, to enhance overall population health and protect against future pandemics.”

The general consensus among social impact companies, she added, was that the COVID-19 pandemic had made it easier to attract investment, not the other way round.




Sophie Smith, co-founder and CEO of Nabta Health

“The closing of borders and suspension of trade has made governments realize the importance of building local, sustainable businesses, with a particular focus on food and population health security. This is good news for social impact companies that nearly always have a sustainability mandate and a desire to uplift the local community,” Smith said.

Beyond their micro-level impact, social enterprises could also play a larger, national role. For example, financially sustainable social enterprises in Saudi Arabia could contribute an additional 2.5 percent to gross domestic product (GDP) per year and create more than 250,000 jobs by 2030, according to September estimates from PwC. By contrast, in the UK, the sector accounts for 3 percent of GDP.

At present, there is just one non-profit social organization for every 10,000 people in Saudi Arabia, compared to about 50 in Canada and the US, and 200 in France, PwC said. The consultancy sees social enterprises as a promising way to help the Kingdom achieve the ambitious economic transformation outlined in its Vision 2030 development plan.

Whether in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, impact investing can lead to a more equitable distribution of resources, while generating social, environmental, and economic returns.

 

• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.

 


Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 2 min 55 sec ago

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.