Endeavor network member Fadi Ghandour’s next investment: building a future for Arab social entrepreneurship
By Knowledge at Wharton
Fadi Ghandour’s name has been synonymous with Arab entrepreneurship. In 1982 he established Aramex as an express operator for the Middle East and South Asia, and it became the first Arab-based company to trade on NASDAQ in 1997. He is also a founding partner of Maktoob, the Arab/English Internet portal that Yahoo! acquired in the fall of 2009 for US$85 million.
Now, Ghandour is stepping away from the CEO seat to take on a new role, joining a growing group of social entrepreneurs attempting new business models in the region that blend profit with social impact.
Having long promoted entrepreneurship in Arab countries, Ghandour spoke with Arabic Knowledge@Wharton about Ruwwad for Development, his first step in social impact efforts, in addition to a broader discussion about what’s next for social enterprise in the MENA region.
An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: For those who are not familiar with Ruwwad for Development, could you please provide a short description?
Fadi Ghandour: Ruwwad is a private sector led, non-profit community empowerment organization that helps disadvantaged communities through youth activism, civic engagement and education.
We started Ruwwad for Development (which means Entrepreneurs for Development) in Jordan in 2005 by initiating an ongoing dialogue with the community of Jabal Al-Natheef, a severely marginalized urban area of approximately 75,000 residents in the heart of East Amman, Jordan, to identify the needs of the youth, children and the community. We have now expanded to Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon.
Seed funding from Aramex and myself initiated the first project. Then it became an independent organization backed by several private sector entities and entrepreneurs. Ruwwad’s model is based on a network of partnerships between the private sector, civil society organizations, target communities and government.
Ruwwad’s Mousab Khorma Youth Education & Empowerment Fund (MKYEF) provides students with university scholarships in exchange of volunteering hours every week back into their own community. The volunteering hours are recycled into three main programs targeted at youth, children and the community. It uses a community organizing methodology that supports grassroots leadership development.
Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: How successful has Ruwwad been in achieving social impact? How do you measure the impact?
Ghandour: The impact is measured in different ways. Some of the data is available. But it is also measured in the number of companies and volunteers from the private sector we manage to engage, where the private sector decides to take an active approach to development and invest in their communities. Executives run some programs such as the enrichment program from the private sector, volunteering their time to transfer knowledge and business skills to youth.
Impact is also measured by the employment placement of youth and jobs being created by budding entrepreneurs. One of our students started a company and employs 12 people today. So we also created a micro-venture fund to invest in these new businesses to create employment opportunities rather than just try and place them in jobs.
Our “Six Minutes” reading campaign that aimed to encourage reading beyond school textbooks several minutes a day for pleasure also exemplifies impact. The campaign, led by teachers, youth, and librarians, has created 160 organizers and 23 teams, organized 6,620 public readings and has mobilized 4,463 adults and children who pledged to read alone or collectively.