SEF 2020 highlights the power of everyday heroes to create lasting change in their communities

Social entrepreneurs discuss their impactful changemaking efforts on the final day of Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival 2020


Sharjah, December 11, 2020

Powerful voices of change took centre stage on the closing day of the fourth annual edition of the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF) organised by the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa).

Held in a unique virtual format under the theme #BeTheHero, SEF 2020 concluded its five-day run yesterday with six engaging sessions where young global changemakers shared their experiences with powering social and environmental impact by acting as catalysts for change in their respective communities. 

Youth as Changemakers

During the panel discussion, ‘Jumpstart Your Journey as a Changemaker’, moderator Eric Dawson, CEO and Co-founder of Peace First, spoke with three remarkable young leaders to discover how the youth are making the world a better place today.

Beirut-based Amanda Hayder, who founded the podcast series Let’s Talk Peace seven months ago, described the project as “a peace journalism initiative,” aimed at casting light on things that are going right in the world.

“Peace is not just the absence of violence. You need social justice as well to have actual peace,” said Hayder, who has interviewed 13 individuals so far to highlight different social issues across societies. “I learnt that through sharing stories, through dialogue, you open a gateway for empathy because once you understand something, you no longer hate it.”

Tahmid Islam, a community organiser currently working as Fellow-in-Residence: UK and Europe Peace First, narrated his experience of supporting a group of 12 to 13-year-old school children who were concerned about the rising incidence of muggings in their local park, made worse by insufficient lighting. The persistent efforts of students – who even put on a stage show and switched off the lights midway to drive home the difficulty of crossing the park in pitch darkness – eventually bore fruit months later after stumbling through various hurdles.

Describing such barriers as “learning points to a journey of making change,” Islam said that, “ultimately, real change does not happen overnight. Real change happens over years, maybe decades.”

It was while teaching art to a disadvantaged community in Amman, Jordan, that Yousra Mshmsh, Fellow-in-Residence: MENA at Peace First, became aware of the prevalence of social injustices there. The experience prompted her to join a project focused on the economic empowerment of young people. As the youth learnt how to run a business, she soon discovered that, “the ratio of violence decreased in the community.” 

“That experience opened my eyes to the fact that when you tackle socio-economic issues by making people owners of their projects and teach them to be their own bosses, it can actually change their social behaviours,” said Mshmsh, who has since taken to designing incubation and acceleration programmes to drive further transformative societal change through sustainable, social entrepreneurship business ventures.

The power of purpose-driven businesses

“Starting a business with purpose – beyond making profit – is the key to winning these days. It is the key to creating real, long lasting social and environmental change,” said Brianne West, who combined her passion for environmental conservation with her background in cosmetic chemistry to launch Ethique, a New Zealand-based social enterprise specialising in solid beauty bars that is today helping turn the tide on plastic.

Speaking at the session, ‘Scaling without Compromising Profit over Purpose’, West, the CEO and founder of Ethique, elaborated: “I wanted to create a company that was ethical in every single aspect, so everyone who was touched by this company, benefitted in some shape or form.”

“Do not forget the power of purpose,” West appealed to entrepreneurs at SEF 2020, citing the fact that the homegrown brand is now in 20 countries as evidence that ethically-driven businesses are just as capable of scaling and making profit.

Echoing West’s message in his own keynote, Pratik Gauri – India President of 5th Element Group – asserted that “working at the intersection of purpose and profits” is also what is steering the world towards the 5th Industrial Revolution (5IR).

Gauri was driven into the field of entrepreneurship by his dream to “solve social problems like hunger, or poverty, education, gender inequality or clean water and sanitation,” while also creating “sustainable businesses without relying on donor funding or philanthropy.”

“If you focus on purpose and on building a better world,” the social entrepreneur said, “then you end up making profits.”

At the SEF session titled, ‘Leading the 5th Industrial Revolution’, Gauri unveiled the main tenets that are integral to shape the 5IR. Using business as a force for doing good is key, he said, as is an increased focus on UN SDGs and bringing more women into the labour workforce. When a Fortune 500 company, a social enterprise, ultra-high-net-worth individuals, and the government come together to solve social solutions using the power of technology, “it will help the world flower like in the Renaissance Age,” he concluded.

The Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF) 2020, powered by Sahab Smart Solutions, is being held in strategic partnership with Sultan Bin Al Owais Real Estate, with support from Sharjah FDI Office (Invest in Sharjah). Held every year since 2017, the aim of this festival is to cultivate the entrepreneurial mindset and inspire the next generation of changemakers. Over the years, SEF has seen 200+ showcasing startups, 240+ local and international speakers, and 8,000+ attendees. 

ENDS