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Living in a UAE-like new economy…


Written by Alexandre Lemille, Founder of WizeImpact

Like every evening, Mohammad comes back home exhausted but fulfilled. He has interacted with
several entities interested to engage with him from one of his many skills, be it work related or hobby related.
People are now networking with organisations according to what they like doing the most, based on their

When he sits on his couch, switching on his television, he still cannot believe how lucky he is to be able
to access all these hi-tech devices at home given his low income. He signed up for a VIP service contract with the local retailer and was able to choose high-end equipment for his kitchen, living room and computer room. He no longer needs to buy these items, but just has to pay when he switches them on! And guess what, he now makes sure that the 5 kilogram washing machine is full since he will be billed accordingly, reducing his need for water and electricity by a quarter of what he used to consume! Quite an advantage when we know the constraints of providing electricity and water in the Middle East!

Talking about electricity, the local provider also realised that by considering each UAE houses as a micro-energy factory, Mohammad would not only produce energy for his own needs, but he can now resell the extra energy back to the grid, while the electricity provider is making more money by just managing the grid instead of having to heavily invest in large infrastructures!

And there is so much renewable energy available out there for us now that we have the technologies to enjoy
them fully! House roofs are now semi-transparent so that Mohammad could enjoy the sun light during day time. And, oh, by the way, his living and dining rooms are now upstairs while his bedrooms are situated in the shaded floors of the building. Clever! He has access to roof-tiles-as-a-service producing energy from the sun, on top of capturing the wind power and collecting water by promoting the condensation of moisture from hot air, feeding his close loop water tank enough for his daily house needs and those of his direct neighbours. He also has a beautiful vertical garden with vegetables and fruits that he grows for his own food security needs. Thanks to his garden, most of what we used to call food waste such as coffee, is now being reused – for instance to grow beautiful mushrooms. When the production is at the highest, he barters fruits and vegetables in exchange of neighbour’s other services.

For his electronics, shops are now in charge! No longer the burden of having a machine breaking down on a
Friday afternoon. The service economy is set-up in such a way that someone will come before any mechanical
breakdowns occur. His life has become a dream come true since he does have to keep on buying the latest
technology to look good with his family! His VIP agreement allows him to get the best technology of the chosen brands at all times! They either upgrade his devices over-the-air or come and change some modules when available! He saw his 2D television changed to 3D nearly overnight without making one single phone call! The brand representative company made an appointment and changed one block at the back of the TV, et voila! The 3D experience right in his living room! He still remembers his friends’ faces when they enjoyed that movie with so much action going on over their heads… The same goes for his furniture! He accesses them as a service in such a way that his house looks amazing every six months when the decoration changes.

Now he switches off his television. He knows he will be billed at the end of the month for the hour he watched his favourite movie, nothing compared to the price and financial credit burdens he would have had to pay should he had to buy the TV!

He now decides to go out at a friend’s party using one of the available mobility service outside in the street.There are so many of them available since mobility is now considered a function of the economy moving him from point A to point B. He could either choose the zero-emission mobility service vehicle offered free-of-charge by the municipality, since his house food waste helps to feed the car with biofuel, or go for a branded service to impress his friends, or even a car with a chauffeur. Yet the number of cars in the street has diminished by two third since we all understood that shared mobility is a win-win approach for all of us. And guess what, there are few choices of cars with chauffeurs. Why not be tempted to be driven off to town?

Mohammad takes this opportunity to check his smartphone, a smartphone redesigned in the UAE! Indeed, since
the economy is being re-localised, the smartphone might have been developed overseas but once it reaches the UAE, and once it has been accessed by several customers according to their standard of living, it will be dismantled at the end of its useful life in a local remanufacture based in the UAE. New smartphones will be made from old ones, and customised to the UAE market needs since it now makes economic sense: local languages, local workers, and at a price that no longer includes transport costs, or even possibly CO2 emission costs!

The UAE too moved away from the forced obsolescence era. We now manage our market as a stock of flowing
materials, i.e. the value of the economy is in the amount of devices and their components that can now be easily extracted to make new products, in the UAE for the needs of its citizens. Needless to say that we now have a much better understanding of our market value. Everything is part of our stock: for instance houses are classified according to the number of bricks, tiles, wood and metal that could be reused at the end of their useful lifespan. We are no longer dependent upon market fluctuations and external changes that we were not be in control of

Such an economy is not so far out. From Japan, China to Europe, leading companies are now looking at building a restorative economy where waste no longer exist. In nature, there is no such thing as waste, thus the unused resource of one entity should be feeding others as a prime resource. Such approaches to a new economy not only increases production efficiency making more with less, grants access to many new goods that one could not afford before, allows us to grow with the resources that have already been extracted, and regenerates our biosphere so that we have enough food and water for all. And on top of that it reduces our CO2 emissions and creates jobs. The potential for the UAE in net material savings could be huge and could help decrease our dependency from the outside world. In Europe, its potential is evaluated at a minimum of $630 billion of net material savings per year.

This is called a Circular Economy. This is happening now.

Alex Lemille

Follow us! @AlexLemille ; @Wizeimpact

One’s Company, Two’s a Crowd and Three’s a Party


Written by Aya Sadder

Adopting the principle that nine out of ten startups fail after three years of operations, it is essential to have an advisory arm in place that minimises risk and maximises the potential to succeed; for credibility to investors and as a benefit to entrepreneurs. If the business is going to fail, an advisory arm can help pivot to avoid that, and learn quickly from the mistakes that doom 90% of startups. Team dynamics, board-building, planning operations, marketing the business and finding more talent can be a huge burden on startups and are crucial to be resolved early on as the company is trying to grow. As we enter an era that is progressively entrepreneurial, with alternative funding mechanisms being in high demand, crowd-investing with an advisory arm will be one of the best solutions. The Economist released a report earlier this year stating a “320% increase in funding in Asia, with $3.4 billion raised, propelling the continent past Europe to become the second-largest crowd funding region.” (The Economist, April 4, 2015) ref 1 With that growth in mind, do social businesses stand a chance? Mohamed Yunus popularly defines social businesses as “a cause-driven business” with expectations that the investors/owners can gradually recoup the money invested, but cannot take any dividend beyond that point.” In the context of yield, how can social businesses then become investable, and how many investors out there are willing to participate without any financial gain? This type of social enterprise does exist. Let’s have a look at companies like Aspirefg, who continue to scale their business, re-invest their profits and continue to operate with by constantly innovating their product and accessing new markets. Their mission is to “provide economically challenged, malnourished populations with high protein and micronutrient-rich food solutions derived from the supply and development of insects and insect-based products”. As a company operating with a brand philosophy to make a change, they are still able to operate as a profitable social business by diversifying their value proposition. With the advisory of the 2013 Hult Prize, this winning team not only became successful, but integrated their activities and business plan into the local communities. Potentially, the next step for these winners is to crowd-invest to genuinely validate the community’s support. In this social business’ scenario, stakeholders who are end-users have a great opportunity to become shareholders as well, ensuring everyone benefits in the end. We validated this further by interviewing the winner of the Middle East Dubai Acumen Social Business Plan 2013 Competition and founder of Green truck, Mr. Diya Khalil, mentioned that “after winning he never considered crowd-investing because he wanted there to be a marriage in the vision of his company with the investor who chose to be a part of his impact… but heard time and time again feedback from his customers that the whole community should be pitching in to his business to make sure it thrives.” (August 30, 2015) Crowd investing is the way forward for social businesses that want to grow and impact communities at large in a sustainable way with the help and support of advisors to direct and nurture the building blocks that will turn that dream into a reality. Thus, to Yunus’ definition of social business, if we add scalability and revenue generation foundations into their business models early on, adopting a profitable status for these companies will make them more investable and will ensure a high return, both socially and financially; for it is the community who benefits in the end. The most important aspects for a social business to be profitable is scale and replicability under different cultural, economic and demographic settings. The best way to reach that scale is getting large communities across the globe to be stakeholders in the truest form. References:

Three Types of Social Enterprise Employees and What to do With Them

In almost every social enterprise that has made it to the hiring stage you will find three basic types of employees: the non for profit sector veteran, the recent college graduate and the “I just want to something meaningful for once” for profit employee. These three types of people do not have a lot in common, except the fact that they truly believe in your cause and are eager to put their skills at your disposal. However, what they want to get out of their social enterprise experience is completely different.

The first kind of social enterprise employee, the non for profit sector veteran, has been in the game for a long time. They have most likely worked for at least one NGO you have heard of and a couple you haven’t. They know their stuff inside and out and they know what is wrong with the system. The good news is they believe social enterprise is the way of fixing the system. The bad news is you have a lot of proving yourself to do. It does not matter how long you as a social entrepreneur have been around, chances are the veteran has been around for a lot longer. They bring invaluable experience to the table combined with the energy and eagerness that only people who have dedicated their lives to creating social change can posses. However, they do not take shortcuts and they will most certainly not work for a company that does. If you are planning on cutting corners, paying yourself more than the market rate, partnering with corrupt companies and governments, do yourself a favor and do not hire a veteran. Even if you, like most social entrepreneurs, do not plan on doing any of the things mentioned above, you still might find the veteran to be the most difficult of your employees. But you know they are worth it.

The recent college graduate is becoming more and more interested in social entrepreneurship as a viable career option. The new breed of MBAs thinks beyond investment banking and trading, at least in the short run. All of the social enterprises I work with report a rise in the number of applications from recent graduates from top business schools. The rule seems to be get them while they’re young. Social enterprises love working with college graduates because of their energy and will to learn. What they lack in on ground experience they make up for in enthusiasm and willingness to work long hours. You might need to invest extra time and money into training but you can be sure you will have an employee that fits your company perfectly. The risk of them leaving after a few years is worth taking- you will have left a mark on their way of thinking they will take with them wherever their career takes them.

Many big consultancies report on an influx of staff that have taken a break from their careers in the for profit sector and went to work for a social enterprise at one point of their career. They report those staff usually have much better communications skills and other soft skills as opposed to those that have never worked in the social enterprise sector. The question is, why did they leave the social enterprise sector and went back into the traditional for profit sector? And why is social enterprise still seen as a career break rather than a career change for some business professionals? I believe the answer lies in the hands of the social entrepreneurs. Social enterprise is a business and needs to be positioned as such. While a lot of social entrepreneurs might lack the business knowledge and skills, hiring recent for profit dropouts can help them polish their business model and manage their businesses more efficiently. The trick is in making them stay long enough and that can only be achieved with a balanced approach to both the social mission and the business side of your enterprise. It is time to move away from the hippy image of social enterprises and establish ourselves as a force to be reckoned with. That is the only way to make people who are willing to accept a lower paycheque in return for making a difference stay.

By Tena Pick


The Vendedy Pilot, Haiti, September 2014


September is always a busy time in the life of The Sustainability Platform, with the Hult Prize finals and Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting (more on that in the next post), but this September takes the cake. We were invited by our very dear friend and colleague Christine Souffrant to join her in Haiti for a ten-day pilot for her new venture, Vendedy. Vendedy is a global on-line platform that aims provide street artisans from around the world with a marketplace for their products, cutting out the middleman and allowing the street artisans to see the true value of their product. A daughter of street vendors herself, Christine knows the importance of empowering them and we could not pass on the opportunity to be a part of it all.

The pilot took place in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital still recovering from the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in 2010. The five-member team had a seemingly simple task: to gather as much data as possible on the street vendors and record their stories, giving them an opportunity to present themselves and their art to the world. Everyone who has ever worked in the development sector knows that things that look simple enough on the paper often turn into a logistical nightmare once on ground, and we were not the exception from that rule.

Haiti is in a complete state of NGO fatigue, which is completely understandable given what the last five years looked like. People are tired of foreigners coming in and promising change, only to leave when the funding runs out or a new disaster happens. Gaining the trust of the local community is the most important thing any new social enterprise has to do, and also the most rewarding. The single most important thing we did during the pilot was finding a way to engage with the local community and getting not only their support, but also their commitment to the project so that we can integrate them into the business model. After that, everything went a lot more smoothly; artisans opened up, the data we gathered was very high level and the stories we recorded are invaluable.

The Sustainability Platform went in as the social impact measurement partner and as such we focused on developing a set of metrics that Vendedy can use not only in Haiti but in other geographies as well. They include the increase in disposable income and quality of life, but also “soft” criteria, like the increase in self worth and levels of happiness. We believe that social enterprises need to see the bigger picture and look for answers to the most difficult questions, not shy away from them because they are hard to measure. This reinforces the purpose behind the business and allows for a high level of credibility when scaling up to different regions.

Our Haiti experience taught us so much about the resilience of human spirit and the beauty that can be found around us, but even more about our own work. Learning by doing is the only way to grow, especially in challenging environments such as this one, and we can honestly say that is one of our finest works up to date.

For more information about Vendedy and the pilot team please visit:

Social Impact Measurement: Why does it Matter


Originally written for Social Enterprise Hive, The Magazine and published at

Social entrepreneurs around the globe are united by their desire to do good. We are motivated by the desire to create a dent in this world, challenge the status quo and make a difference. But at one point, sooner or later, we all ask our selves one question: Am I really making a difference and if yes, how much of it?

Social enterprises are usually started by people with great ideas and even better intentions, but not necessarily by people with business skills and business mindsets. The purpose of social enterprises is to bridge the gap between the efficiency of the corporate sector and the intentions of the non-profit sector, but we as social entrepreneurs often times fail to deliver the “efficiency” part. Every business, big or small, will be able to tell you exactly how much they are selling, how may costumers they have and what their outreach it. While the challenges we face in the social enterprise field are a bit different, the principle remains the same: measuring matters and just because it is hard (and it is, trust me), does not mean you can or should avoid it.

The first step in conducting a social impact measurement is deciding the why. Why are you doing it? What is the purpose of the final report? Are you trying to attract investors or are you doing it to ensure you as an entrepreneur know what you are doing right and what could use some improvement. The difference between an internal and an external use of the social impact measurement report determines the level of rigor necessary to conduct the research and the analysis.

Once you have determined the why, you need to decide on the who. Who are your main stakeholders, what is their importance and what are the inputs they have in your project? Are they giving their time, money or something else to you? What are the outputs and the outcomes that follow?

Now comes the fun part. You might believe you have a great effect on the self-esteem of people you are working with. You might be empowering the women in the community or reducing the level of loneliness of senior citizens. But how do you put a numeric value on those things?
Your potential investors might care about those things on a personal level, but chances are they will need more to give you money. There are various tools and frameworks out there that can help you do the analysis and find the most appropriate way for your case to quantify your impact.

There is a lot of truth in the statement “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” and it is time that we as social entrepreneurs take on the challenge of measuring our social impact. It will give us the legitimacy and advance the efforts in making this world a better place.