Follow The Leader: H.E. Salama Al Ameemi, Director General, Ma'an Authority for Social Contribution
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Last summer, H. E. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, announced Ghadan 21 -Ghadan means “tomorrow” in Arabic– an AED50 billion-worth series of 50 initiatives to deliver improvements in four areas of focus for the capital of the UAE- society, knowledge and innovation, business and investment, and lifestyle. And, as is often the case, progressing towards a new goal in Abu Dhabi happens in almost no time- in February 2019, the Department of Community Development in Abu Dhabi had already established the Ma'an Authority for Social Contribution (Ma’an) whose main task was to unite the government, the private sector, and civil society in growing a culture of social contribution and participation.
H.E. Salama Al Ameemi is the Director General of Ma'an Authority for Social Contribution.
“As a responsible government, Abu Dhabi has recognized that the city is expanding rapidly in terms of population, and that there is a growing appetite among citizens to make a meaningful contribution to society,” notes H.E. Salama Al Ameemi, Director General, Ma’an. “Our mission is to create collaborative communities that contribute towards the common good, and although social impact does take many forms, the aims that will guide Ma’an include seeing more social programs established, an increase in volunteers, more funding raised through strategic partnerships to support people in our society, and more job opportunities in the social sector.”
In delivering solutions for social challenges, Ma’an itself has four main pillars of work: a social investment fund (to channel monetary contributions of public and private partners towards community initiatives), a social incubator program (to create and nurture more not-for-profit organizations and social enterprises), a social volunteering program (to create more opportunities for people to offer support to voluntary organizations), and a social impact bonds initiative (to introduce a new type of public contracting). “Through our four pillars of work, Ma’an will lead change in Abu Dhabi’s community sector,” Al Ameemi says. “We will provide the resources to help seed and grow community- based organizations, lead the introduction of outcomes- contracting as a tool to address social challenges, instigate a cultural shift in Abu Dhabi by promoting community engagement and a culture of volunteering, and establish channels to raise and allocate funds towards community-based organizations and social initiatives.” Over the course of a year, Ma’an will run two six-month cycles, incubating 10 social startups per cycle. A different social challenge will be identified as the theme for each cycle, starting with the inaugural edition announced in April, which looks for applications from entrepreneurs whose businesses address the challenges faced by people of determination, be it mobility, access, or employment opportunities. “We are not just looking for people who have qualifications or extensive experience in this field, but, most importantly, we want applications from individuals who are talented, enthusiastic, creative, and determined to make a social impact,” Al Ameemi explains. “When we start our selection process, we will not only just identify the most original and sustainable ideas that will improve the everyday lives of people of determination, but also look at the applicant’s background and personality. The most important qualities for any social entrepreneur are passion, the commitment to be active, and a belief in their higher purpose for social good. Demonstrating those qualities is crucial, because this program is a unique platform that will see individuals from all walks of life and different nationalities put their communication, networking, and team-building skills into daily practice.”
Ameemi explains that Ma’an will invest more than AED4.4 million per cycle- of that, there will be a total of AED2 million of support in each incubator cycle, and AED 2.4 million in milestone stipend, the latter meaning that each team will be eligible to receive a milestone funding of up to AED100,000, released at every successful milestone the participant reaches, as well as support for living expenses and housing costs for participants not based in Abu Dhabi. This is in addition to Ma’an providing mentorship, office space, business expertise, and access to investors. Lastly, Ma’an will organize “pitch days” for the 10 teams to be able to leverage funding from investors- Ameemi adds that Ma’an will partner with the government and private companies to steer funds into key social initiatives, designing fundraising plans, allocation strategies, and enabling processes. “We are lucky to have a very generous and willing society in Abu Dhabi, with a number of charities doing excellent work each year, and numerous companies spending millions of dirhams each year to improve the lives of residents through their CSR budgets,” she says. “Ma’an’s role will be to bring together these efforts and help guide funding towards impactful, sustainable solutions for social challenges. Our longterm model is based on the approach of philanthropy, so as solutions are developed and social challenges addressed, the reliance on charity will decrease, freeing up resources to focus on the next priority.”
What Ameemi and her team at Ma’an will expect from incubated social impact entrepreneurs is them making a real and tangible difference to the day-to-day lives of people in the capital. “Our work will be guided by the Better Life Index, which is the first ever comprehensive social survey of residents in Abu Dhabi carried out by the Department of Community Development to the highest international standards,” she says. “Year-on-year our aim is to see an impact on the priorities identified in this survey, whether that is happier residents, or an improvement in the employment prospects for people of determination, or a reduction in rates of depression among the elderly.”
Ma'an Authority for Social Contribution will be running two six-month cycles, incubating 10 social startups per cycle, every year.
This pioneering effort –promoting a sense of civic duty and championing a philanthropic spirit in the Emirate – will surely face some challenges along the way, Ameemi notes. “We know that with any new business venture, there can be a high risk of failure in the early months, and social enterprises are no different,” she says. “They operate under the same market conditions with the same challenges of trying to attract capital and turn a profit. As with any business, the best advice is to start small, fail early, and equip yourself with the knowledge, tools, and resources to learn from those mistakes. For example, we know that people are becoming increasingly socially conscious, and care more and more about the ethics of the businesses with which they spend their money. For many, they will choose to pay more for products and services they know are locally sourced, and contribute towards the common good. Good marketing and promotion of the social aspect to social enterprises is vital.”
H.E. Salama Al Ameemi, Director General, Ma’an, Shares Tips For Social Entrepreneurs
1. FOCUS ON DEVELOPING A NEW PRODUCT OR SERVICE
“The most successful business ventures are those that introduce innovation into the market and create a product or service that change people’s lives for the better.”
2. MEASURE IMPACT
“To know whether you are making a difference –and to demonstrate this to others- you need to know your starting point, and be able to show how your social enterprise made a change on this baseline.”
3. USE INTELLIGENT BUSINESS TOOLS
“They can help businesses gain valuable insights to affect growth, resolve urgent concerns, collate marketing data more quickly, provide a real-time view of the organization, and allow for the anticipation of future outcome using predictive analytics and forecasting.”
4. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
“Before you begin any venture, conduct a thorough feasibility study to understand if the market is there for your product or service, and how you can reach that audience to continue to grow year-on-year.”
5. GET A MENTOR
“Having the experience and guidance of someone who has started a business before or knows the market you are looking to operate in is vital. It will help ensure you avoid common mistakes.”