“I was impressed by Young Arab Leaders’ strong focus on helping the community, while simultaneously operating as a nonprofit business,” says Sami Khoury, discussing his motivation to accept the appointment of Executive Director for UAE-based growth organization Young Arab Leaders (YAL). “I’m a firm believer in social entrepreneurship, which gave me the opportunity to integrate essential business practices by ensuring we provide a value-added service, [and] at the same time making sure we commit to our social mission of supporting the growth aspirations of our local youth.”
YAL’s mission, that of empowering Arab youth and creating the next generation of Arab leadership, involves leveraging their influential membership base to share knowledge, shed light on individuals and enterprises with potential, and also create business development opportunities and a collaborative cross-sector environment. “We want to support the ambitions of our members while using the strength of our network to support the aspirations of entrepreneurs, young business delegates and university students. The message we convey to prospective members is the opportunity to enhance their professional profile while giving back to their local community at the same time.”
Khoury’s own professional background includes three years of marketing in the FMCG space, and two years in advertising. “I then decided to complete my degree of Master's in marketing abroad, where I caught the entrepreneurship bug and knew that I wanted get involved in running a business. I had a brief spell in a tech startup before working with Young Arab Leaders, which I’m now loving because I get to build and manage an organization in a way that adds value for both our members and local community.”
Excerpts from an interview:
What can YAL can do for professionals?
We support our members' professional ambitions through networking, educational activities and media exposure. We create opportunities for members to connect, share ideas and access business prospects within a network of Arab industry leaders. Our network comprises of highly accomplished CEOs, directors, and entrepreneurs belonging to regional and international organizations, all of whom are unified in their passion for solving the Arab world's socioeconomic challenges. We also give our members the chance to give back to society through our community initiatives that focus on mentorship, internships, and business workshops.
What is the membership profile requirement?
We are selective in determining as to who is eligible to sign up as a YAL member. We assess applicants based on the following criteria: roots to the Arab world, level of seniority in their organization, track record of establishing successful businesses and/or giving back to social causes, a good standing in the local community, and the applicant must be under the age of 49.
What do you feel is a challenge in MENA’s entrepreneurial ecosystem?
While we still have the primary challenges of access to finance, red tape, lack of skills and scarcity of talented individuals, many young entrepreneurs I meet have great ideas but simply don’t know how to properly execute those ideas. They don’t know where to start nor the best way to put their plan to action in a cost efficient yet business savvy manner. On the other hand, you have individuals who are working on multiple entrepreneurial initiatives simultaneously and they end up stretching themselves thin, resulting in unreliable prototypes or weak offerings. This is where mentorship plays an important role; these entrepreneurs need the guidance and expertise of accomplished individuals to help them in their journey and avoid serious pitfalls, saving them time and money.
What do you feel people stand to gain from attending a YAL event?
We have a monthly workshop called Entrepreneurship Journey at In5 that is open to our entrepreneurial community. These workshops are facilitated by our members and business leaders who share their experiences in launching and running a startup. Every month our workshops revolve around a specific topic, such as e-commerce, finance, social media, law, etc. Our attendees get to understand the essential basics of starting a business and learn from those who have had firsthand experience of setting up successful businesses. The feedback we receive from these workshops is excellent and participants are always looking to learn and connect with others in the community.
Additionally, we are extremely excited to hear about Carpool Arabia’s seed funding of US$350,000. Their idea for the business was conceived at the startup weekend we organized back in 2013. The purpose of this bootcamp was to inspire people to launch their own businesses. To see Carpool Arabia get seed funding and customers meant that we accomplished our mission. There are two additional participants who have gone off to start their own businesses as a result of our Startup Weekend who you will be hearing of very soon.
Who are some of YAL’s mentors and collaborators?
From our membership network, we have individuals who come from various fields such as tech entrepreneurship, investment, consulting and a variety of other fields as well. We leverage the skills and unique resources of our members to make sure that they give back through mentorship initiatives of our partners such as Khalifa Fund, Impact Hub, Dubai SME and In5.
What can we expect from YAL in the next year?
A stronger focus on mentorship whereby we will give local mentoring initiatives access to high net worth mentors through our network. We’ll have a stronger focus on providing university students with internships from our members’ organizations, and continue to offer a variety of open business workshops to the community. We’re using the power of our membership network to support the aspirations of entrepreneurs, young business delegates, and university students. All of our members are required to give back to the community in one way or another.
As Executive Director of YAL, what changes have you made in terms of the communication strategy, the onboarding of members, and why?
Coming from a marketing background, I felt it was important to communicate YAL’s “give and gain” platform, where we clearly communicated the value that members receive in exchange for their membership fee, while simultaneously giving our members a channel to give back by sharing their expertise and resources to develop the aspirations of young people.