Reflections Post #StayingHome: Looking Back On Building A Conscious Investing Movement In The MENA Region
The VentureSouq team looks back on their journey of launching a new movement of conscious investing in the MENA region.
Around this time last year, we embarked on the due diligence of our very first investment for the VentureSouq Conscious Collective (VSQ CC). After a year of brainstorming and soundboarding with investors and founders from around the world, we decided the time was right to bring a conscious investment thesis to the region, wherein investors would be provided with the opportunity to give their money more purpose- and more impact.
Conscious investing was picking up steam in markets such as the US and Europe, but there was no comparable offering in the GCC. Much of our energy was expended in talking to skeptics of conscious investing and explaining that there is more to it than the traditional two-pocket driven approach: profit and purpose can be complementary. Like a sherpa, we climbed on as we led the way for other conscious leaders -founders, investors, and fellow venture capitalists in the region- out to prove that it was high time for a conscious movement to shine through in the region.
And then things abruptly changed. We organized our first UAE conscious investor education session at the Youth Hub in Abu Dhabi in early March 2020, with little idea of what lay ahead of us. The next week, the eerie silence of the lockdown descended upon our lives. The initial shock at the economic collapse was soon overtaken by the mind-numbing visuals of the pandemic, red skies in Australia and the West Coast, and the harrowing image of an empty Sheikh Zayed Road. We found ourselves in a new world - the once in a generation crisis transformed the economy, our markets, and long-held investor beliefs over a span of weeks.
Suddenly, our burden of proof in convincing people to care and invest in sectors like healthcare, climate change, and education became more pressing. All postulations about technological disruptions and social change that had been thought of came to realize themselves organically in a matter of months, instead of decades. As the crisis forced a reset on all of us, our conversations waned away from “What’s the right thing to do?” towards “How to do it the right way now?” Our conscious tribe gathered from the comforts of their homes to seek inspiration and brainstorm solutions on how to best solve the most pressing challenges of our time with phenomenal speakers including well-recognized authors, academics, corporates, and investors such as Deepak Chopra, Mona Hamdy, Von Wong, Caio Malufe, and Beau Seil.
Later in the year, we had the opportunity to actualize our vision for a conscious investing landscape across the GCC by organizing the region’s first Conscious Investor Fellowship Program. Cutting across institutional and national lines, we joined hands with the region’s top institutions including New York University Abu Dhabi’s StartAD, Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa), King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), and Hub71 to put together a fellowship focused on nurturing the next generation of regional leaders -investors, corporates, and government stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds- who would contribute to extraordinary change personally, and within the organizations they lead, equipped with the right strategic tools they needed.
Alongside our educational pillar, we also invested in a remarkable cohort of global founders who were using their tech prowess to deliver exceptional impact- from supporting SMEs in Indonesia, to addressing industrial-scale reforestation in Australia; from providing basic medical emergency cover to thousands in Africa to helping the working poor in the United States deal with financial stress through innovations in financial technology. We’re proud of them, and of all the great things they will do.
Our journey over the last 12 months has highlighted the intertwining of the launch of a new movement of conscious investing in the MENA region, with a great reset in investor mission triggered by an unequaled spiral of crises. Our tribe of mission-driven investors, entrepreneurs, advisors and friends has grown- all bound by the mission of improving the world around them by harnessing the power of markets for good. We believe in the power of a more empathetic capitalism, one that combines path-breaking technological innovation with the spirit of conscientious entrepreneurialism- 2020 taught us that this is possible.
Sonia Weymuller is a Founding Partner of VentureSouq. Previously, she headed Advertising Sales for Turner Broadcasting’s portfolio of children’s platforms across MENA. Prior to Turner, Sonia worked with Viacom’s Emerging Markets’ Strategy Group and Microsoft’s Strategy and M&A team in London. She is a Charter Member and Board Director for TiE's Dubai chapter, serves as the UAE Director for the Yale Alumni Schools Committee, and is a Board Member and Mentor for e7 Daughters of the Emirates. Sonia holds a B.A. from Yale University, a MSc from the London School of Economics, and is a Kauffman Fellow.