Policies For Progress: Enabling The Dynamic Growth Of Social Entrepreneurs In The UAE

As a facilitator of innovation at the nexus of the public, private, and "third" sector-levels, Ma'an remains committed to investing in and enabling the next generation of innovators that will serve a socially aware, community-founded, and sustainable future for all.

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As the global community works to recover from the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic, entrepreneurs and small businesses are leading the way in addressing the challenges that confront societies worldwide.


In this context, there is an increasing focus on the "third sector" -especially non-governmental and not-for-profit organizations- as increasingly essential drivers, along with traditional public and private organizations, of innovation and projects with social impact.

According to Stanford University's Center for Social Innovation's definition, such projects involve "the process of developing and deploying effective solutions to challenging and often systemic social and environmental issues in support of social progress."

Within the nexus of organizations seeking social change, social entrepreneurs are taking an increasingly important role in offering disruptive solutions through dynamic and organic creativity.

In the UAE, the Authority of Social Contribution - Ma'an is supporting sustainable social innovation to achieve the common good by identifying priority social challenges nurturing social enterprises within the community as a source of social innovation.

These social challenges have been identified through the Abu Dhabi's third Quality of Life Survey, which found that while 81% of citizens are satisfied with their lives, a significant number expressed concerns about financial burdens, workload and job responsibilities, job insecurity, family challenges, and workplace relationships.

Related: It Is Time To Celebrate Our True Social Heroes

In response to these findings, Ma'an is working across five strategic pillars -the Ma'an Social Incubator (MSI), Social Contracting, Community Engagement, the Social Investment Fund, and Outreach Management– to empowering tech accelerators and impact enterprises focused on addressing social priorities with the aim of making a real difference.

Within this effort, the emphasis is on the kinds of organic, community-based startups that demonstrated their ability to thrive, even in the face of adversity during the pandemic.

Recent reports have noted how community-focused impact enterprises were able to effectively target low-income and marginalized groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19 through measures such as fintech applications to help those in need.

In addition, social entrepreneurs were often also the driving force behind community development financial institutions in the United States that have been able to provide invaluable support to local social programs and small businesses.

Faced with post-pandemic economic headwinds and increasing inflation, "third sector" enterprises are also continuing to prove themselves adept at streamlining their supply processes, enhancing their cashflow management, growing their networks, and shaping clear visions for future expansion.

In view of such impressive resilience, the challenge is to ensure a business environment conducive to helping small social entrepreneurs maximize their creativity and offer innovative solutions to the many social challenges faced in all countries.

Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) published a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2021/22 report as part of its Davos Agenda that highlighted the challenges faced by smaller entrepreneurs due to the disruption that stemmed from the pandemic.

Based on feedback from over 150,000 survey respondents across the 47 countries, the report suggests that while entrepreneurs and new businesses had adapted well to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increased need for better informed policymaking to create the conditions to support entrepreneurial ideas, and do more to nurture early-stage ventures.

In response to the pandemic's effects in terms of widening inequality and rising energy and food prices, the WEF has also promoted the Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship to help maintain and accelerate disrupted sustainable development worldwide.

With a coalition of 100 committed private, public, and societal organizations working together, and the support of over 100,000 social entrepreneurs worldwide, the initiative has provided access to critical services and emergency relief in response to the pandemic while also promoting projects with a sustainable and inclusive social impact.

In its region, the UAE has led the way in devising the policies needed for the ecosystems within which social enterprises can thrive.

Through its biannual call for new cohorts, the Ma'an Social Incubator offers significant resources and support to up to ten successful applicants to help them to innovate, grow, and thrive.

This enables us to identify and encourage the best early-stage entrepreneurs seeking to develop social impact startups, and assist their scaling up into social enterprises or not-for-profit associations.

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Already, the Ma'an Social Incubator has incubated 53 social enterprises and accelerated 21 existing not-for-profit organizations to address five social priority topics.

The result has been more than 40 startups licensed or in the process of being licensed with nearly 200,000 beneficiaries impacted.

Related: Follow The Leader: Dima Ayad, Founder, Dima Ayad, And DAC Communications

In addition, under the theme "Entrepreneurship for Social Good," this year's sixth and seventh Ma'an Social Incubator cohorts are bringing to fruition imaginative new solutions covering financial literacy, education technologies, green cities and the circular economy, and sustainable transport.

With the invaluable support of a wide range of stakeholders and partners, these enterprising individuals and teams are demonstrating the power of the third sector to enable social entrepreneurs to flourish within the UAE's growing and diversifying economy.

At the same time, the Ma'an Social Incubator is also securing the social impact that is integral to the development of strong, active and connected communities.

Ma'an's active support for such ventures reflects the increasing focus in today's world on creating a supportive and creative environment for local entrepreneurs to grow and sustain startups through a bottom-up, organic process.

As a facilitator of innovation at the nexus of the public, private, and "third" sector-levels, Ma'an remains committed to investing in and enabling the next generation of innovators that will serve a socially aware, community-founded, and sustainable future for all.

Related: Follow The Leader: H.E. Salama Al Ameemi, Director General, Ma'an Authority for Social Contribution