Social Entrepreneurship in the Middle East: Toward Sustainable Development for the Next Generation

Editor’s Note: The Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship was held in Washington, DC on April 26-27, 2010. James D. Wolfensohn, founder of the Wolfensohn Center for Development at Brookings, introduced Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the summit. In her remarks, Secretary Clinton referenced this new Middle East Youth Initiative-Silatech report, noting “apparently this is an issue whose time has come.”

Despite the promise of an increasingly educated population of young people, the Middle East’s “youth bulge” generates pressure on education systems, labor markets, health care, natural resources and infrastructure. In this context, and with constrained public and private resources, traditional development frameworks in the Middle East are proving inadequate and are in need of transformation. Within the complex ecosystem of domestic governments, international donors, private businesses and individual philanthropists, the emerging model of social entrepreneurship offers potential as being one model to address the multi-sectoral challenges young people face in the Middle East.

Several trends in the region point to the important role that social entrepreneurship can play in capitalizing on the youth bulge, including an increased sense of social commitment expressed by a growing youth population, the incremental yet increasing ease of doing business in many of the countries, and the growing strategic orientation that is being adopted by the region’s philanthropic donors. Together, these represent promising trends for social entrepreneurs seeking talent and capital to start their own enterprises. Yet only with a conducive institutional environment can social entrepreneurship grow into a transformative tool in the field of youth economic development. Globally, social entrepreneurship has flourished where key institutions and economic actors are actively engaged in creating a conducive environment that supports and cultivates new, indigenous ideas and innovative practices.

The recommendations in this report are proposed to facilitate the development of institutional alliances that need to take place in order to capitalize on social entrepreneurship, boost economic opportunities for young people in the Middle East, and prepare the region to become more fully integrated into a rapidly changing global economy. The following recommendations are directed toward multiple institutions and stakeholders across regional and local levels. They are drawn from field-based interviews and consultations with practitioners throughout the region.

  • Clearly define social entrepreneurship in the Middle East.
  • Standardize benchmarks for measuring social and environmental returns and impact.
  • Support incubators and seed funds targeting youth-led social enterprise start-ups.
  • Assess the feasibility of national replication funds.
  • Set up a regional social investment forum for scaling up youth initiatives.
  • Improve coordination of multistakeholder efforts.
  • Convene national and regional policy dialogues on legal frameworks.
  • Strengthen the demand for and the culture of social entrepreneurship among youth and communities.