Bringing Local To Global: Ashoka Arab World Hosts Arab World Social Innovation Forum 2019
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Social entrepreneurs, business leaders, academics, and policymakers from around the globe are all preparing to head to Cairo this March 15th for Ashoka Arab World’s groundbreaking Arab World Social Innovation Forum (AWSIF), taking place in partnership with The American University in Cairo (AUC), School of Business, Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at AUC’s New Cairo Campus.
Ashoka, the world’s largest platform for social entrepreneurs, is well known for coining the now popularized term "social entrepreneurship" in the 1980s. In 2003, it was Ashoka Arab World, Ashoka’s regional hub, that first pioneered the term in the Middle East and North Africa, and gave a name and platform to the region’s social entrepreneurs, in part through the first two iterations of AWSIF. In 2009 and then again in 2010, Ashoka Arab World convened over 200 attendees for formative discussions on the value of social entrepreneurship, setting the roots for the growth of a regional ecosystem here in the MENA region. A decade since the first AWSIF, the regional innovation hub is tapping into its international network for another large-scale event– this time, with over 300 attendees and a more ambitious theme at its center.
“Our message is local-to-global and global-to-local,” says Iman Bibars, Regional Director of Ashoka Arab World and Vice President of Ashoka Global. “Conversations about the entrepreneurship ecosystem have always pre-dominantly featured voices in innovation from the Global North passing knowledge to the developing world. And more, most international summits and conversations elect to focus on either the Global North or the Global South in the pretext of understanding similar contexts. This just feeds into the isolation of regional silos and prevents us from really exploring how innovators can source ideas from one another and scale their impact across borders and boundaries.”
AWSIF is in this way decidedly unique from most international conferences on social entrepreneurship of its scale in that it is based in the Global South, but features a cohort of speakers and participants representing more than 24 countries. The full-day agenda includes a number of major players in the social entrepreneurship ecosystem, including Katherine Milligan, Former Director and Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, and Ayman Ismail, founding Director of the AUC Venture Lab. The esteemed social entrepreneurs joining derive from all corners of the globe, from Germany to India, the Philippines and the United States.
The event will also gather influential government and business leaders such as H.E. Dr. Rania Al-Mashat, Egypt’s Minister of Tourism; H.E. Dr. Hala El-Said, Egypt’s Minister of Planning, Monitoring and Administrative Reform; H.E. Aurelia Frick, Liechtenstein’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Justice, and Culture; Caroline Faraj, Vice President of Arabic Services at CNN; and Mariam Farag, Head of Corporate Sustainability at MBC Group.
The supporting partners joining Ashoka in its local-to-global and global-to-local movement also reflect its international reach and identity. In addition to the AUC School of Business, Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which is participating as both host and Academic Partner, AWSIF’s strategic partners include MBC AL AMAL, FedEx Express, the BMW Foundation, Deloitte Middle East, EgyptInnovate, Startup Scene, the AUC Venture Lab, StartEgypt powered by Flat6Labs, Ahead of the Curve, Sheraa (Sharjah Center for Entrepreneurship), and Entrepreneur Middle East.
The forum comes just as Ashoka, under Bibar’s leadership, is also setting up to launch another revolutionary movement: the Women’s Initiative for Social Entrepreneurship (WISE). An idea first created by Ashoka Arab World, WISE is a global initiative dedicated to empowering and advancing women social entrepreneurs and redefining success and impact in the field from a gendered perspective. “We need to move away from a definition of success in social impact that only counts the number of beneficiaries reached and only acknowledges scale in organizational growth – in new countries and offices and products or services” adds Bibars. “One of the keys to bridging the global gender divide is enabling more women social entrepreneurs to lead and recognizing the powerful, and under-acknowledged, ways that they successfully impact societies.”
In her recent article in the Social Innovations Journal, "Redefining Success for Women Social Entrepreneurs," Bibars calls for a comprehensive movement to reshape the terms used to define success for entrepreneurs – terms that systematically neglect to rightfully acknowledge women innovators and their impactful solutions.
This new Women’s Initiative for Social Entrepreneurship stands as one of the central pillars at AWSIF 2019, launching with a plenary panel moderated by Bibars and drawing on the critical insights from leading Ashoka Fellows Dr. Edit Schlaffer, Morgan Dixon, Fida Abu Turky, and Hasina Kharbih, as well as the Skoll Foundation’s Senior Program Manager, Brittany Boettcher. The Forum has also dedicated a separate Breakout Session for women Ashoka Fellows to share their stories of impact, and reflect on their gendered experiences in the social entrepreneurship ecosystem. This session is to feature Ashoka Fellows Amina Swanepoel, Maysoun Gangat, Zeinab Al Moumani, and Jennifer Brock.
To learn more about the Forum’s agenda and register to attend, click here.