Social entrepreneurship and its potential for addressing social challenges was the focus of the first regional conference of the Tomorrow’s Leaders Scholarship Program, held in Beirut in June. During a period of sweeping change in the region, the topic was timely and appropriate for a gathering of 90 young Arab scholars, selected for the competitive program based on their commitment to community, leadership qualities, and academic achievement.
An initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the Tomorrow’s Leaders Scholarship Program aims to develop young leaders who combine academic and professional achievement with civic-mindedness. Since its inception in 2008, 142 students from Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia, the UAE, and Yemen have received the scholarship, which covers four years of undergraduate study at one of three U.S.-accredited universities in the region: Lebanese American University and the American University of Beirut, both in Lebanon, and the American University in Cairo, Egypt.
The conference provided coaching on skills important to aspiring young professionals, such as networking strategies and pointers on how to write a CV and conduct an interview. The main feature, however, was the focus on social entrepreneurship and its potential for addressing the many challenges facing countries in the region. Participants were given a short course on the concept of social entrepreneurship and how it employs entrepreneurial principles normally associated with business to organize, create, and manage a venture to achieve social change.
Students were then organized into small groups by country and given an opportunity to put theory into practice by identifying a social problem and developing a solution employing the tools of social entrepreneurship. Their concepts included creative ideas for using the web to match students with job opportunities in Lebanon; encouraging tourism that exposes visitors to local traditions and crafts in Jordan; and promoting Yemen’s traditional architecture by locally manufacturing ceramics and mosaics.
“That involved us doing something realistic, something that we can implement to help our own countries,” commented one of the students. “It gave me a better image of how one can make a ‘change’ in his/her society. This is something that many of us lack. Many of us know that we need to make a change, but few know how to make a change,” said another.
The field of social entrepreneurship is coming into its own, as an increasing number of people worldwide embrace it as a vehicle for achieving social change. The challenge for these youth is to determine how it can help them translate their energy and enthusiasm into problem solving and participation that makes a difference in their societies.