The Sustainability Platform

Climate Change and Global Crisis: The Syrian Example

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Written by Dana Dadoush

In light of a recurring theme that has been driving a lot my recent experiences, as a Syrian native, I will highlight an idea that I believe, should be a very important part of our discourse on the Syrian issue.  One of the forgotten stories that took place, which can be identified as one of the root causes to uprising of the Syrian Revolution in 2011, was the water crisis. For many years, Syria was suffering from water scarcity; even before the severe drought which reached a new high in 2009-2011. I am sure some will relate when I describe how I spent my summer days in Syria filling up buckets of water in preparation for the water cut that was going to happen in the afternoon. Although for me, that meant just spending an hour or two a day without water at home, but to the many lower-income families, especially in the rural areas, it meant spending several hours a day without water. Anyhow, in 2011, tensions from the Syrian people reached a new high because of the poor living conditions, lack of basic human amenities and the many injustices carried out by the Syrian government (Wendle, 2016). In response, the people went onto the streets to ask for their rights. Five and half years later, over 400 000 people have been killed, and over 10 million displaced. (Mercy Corps, 2016). And it’s nowhere close to being the end.

One of the many devastating implications of Climate Change on our earth is water depletion, in many dry areas of the world. And, one of the most affected areas, to our luck, is the Middle Eastern Region. In discussing one of the triggers of the Syrian Revolution, the topic on water cannot be ignored. For many researchers, it became evident that the war in Syria can be used as an example of the types of conflicts and calamities that can occur, due to Climate Change-related events. It points to the destruction, deaths and instabilities that it can lead to, along with other global problems that it can trigger. The association between Climate Change and the Syrian Crisis has not been communicated enough or clearly to the public, especially to those Climate skeptics, who deny the scientific evidence. Hence, emphasis should be put on making this reality part of the discourse on the Syrian Crisis. Such global and catastrophic events like Syria’s water crisis, are one of the prime global factors that need to drive more sustainable practices.

The Global Reach of Enterprise


Written by Alam Zia

Globalisation is an underlying trend that has been taking the world by storm for the past fifty years. This trend refers to the ever-growing connectedness between people across the world wether it be socially, politically or economically. As I am a nineteen year old undergraduate one could assume my attention centers social and political concerns. Such as, my dissipating nationalism or the conceivable election of a reality television host. On the contrary, as a hopeful entrepreneur, I dwell on the economic factors of globalisation.

Modern technology has given ease to the conduct of trade and through that has given rise to Multinational Corporations (MNCs). In 1996 the top hundred MNCs were responsible for a third of trade in the entire worlds market[1]. The same hundred corporations also owned a quarter of all stock of foreign direct investment (FDI)[2]. These numbers are undoubtedly increasing and prove that large corporations are no longer concerned with domestic domination but are pursing to encompass the global market.

These companies have great power and with that they must have a great sense of responsibility as well, right? Most do, and thereby display programs of corporate social responsibility on their illustrious websites. But that has been shown, in the past and present, to be a veil for some select MNC’s such as Volkswagen. CSR programs encounter the dilemma of implementing characteristics like sustainable operations but lack to create initiatives for real positive change.

This is where social enterprise comes in, for me, for substantial causes and for the future. Social enterprises bridge the gap between businesses and societal issues by using non-traditional models. Doing good and being profitable is the ultimate goal. The aforementioned economic globalisation will also have an effect on this ever-growing sector. Expert in MENA, Soushiant Zanganehpour, believes that:

“The fundamental values of social entrepreneurship [will] become incorporated into  mainstream business practice. The implications of this for large businesses and brands will  vary; some may see it as a threat while others will see this as an opportunity to reinvent themselves to redefine purpose, responsibility and expectations in order to build loyalty with a new emerging consumer demographic.”

The emerging populace he refers to is the millennials and inferably the upcoming workforce of Generation Z (those born in 1995-2000’s). Social enterprise challenges the norms instilled by major corporations and forwards fluidity that is paralleled to the factors of economic globalisation. My opinion, based on the content above, is that corporations have a duty to not only preserve our fragile world but to also enhance it. Wether it’s targeting environmental or societal issues on a global or a local scale there is a need for action. Of course this is easier said than done but hundreds of attempts to do good and falling short are better than not trying at all.


[1]  G. Shangquan, ‘Economic Globalization: Trends, Risks and Risk Prevention’, (2000), (, Date Accessed: Jun 28 2016

[2]  J. Stopford, ‘Multinational Corporations’, (1998), pp. 1-3 (, Date accessed: Jun 29 2016

Coming Up: Making Every Business a Social Business


Join us on May 3rd at AstroLabs for a free session on how to make every business a social business!

Sign up here:


josh astrolabs

The Introduction to Social Business: Making every Business a Social Business is designed for non-social entrepreneurs looking to create impact through their businesses.

Over the course of 90 minutes the facilitators will cover the teachings and basic principles of social businesses, using real world examples of highly impactful businesses.

This workshop is aimed at startups in all fields, entrepreneurs at all stages and anyone curious about the best practices in the social impact world.

Supporting Startups In Gaza: A Mentor’s Experience In Palestine

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Written by Tena Pick

Originally published at Entrepreneur Magazine Middle East on March 2nd 2016

If one were to create a list of startup epicenters in the Middle East, chances are Gaza would be overlooked. That would be a grave mistake though- one that many players in the ecosystem have been making. Since the day I found out I was to join Gaza Sky Geeks as a mentor, I was met with confusion and the same question: “But why? Why are you going to Gaza, when there can’t be any entrepreneurs there? Why are you going to Gaza, when the situation there makes it impossible for startups to thrive?” And now I can reply to these queries with first-hand experience: while the situation in Gaza is difficult (to say the least) after the ten-year embargo, people were wrong about almost everything else.

Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG), Gaza’s first and only startup accelerator, is run by the international humanitarian organization Mercy Corps. It focuses not only on the startups in the program, but also on building an ecosystem in Gaza. In its current intake, there are ten businesses, ranging from educational services to wearable technology. GSG supports female entrepreneurs as well, through a series of specially designed events and workshops that answer the specific needs of female startup owners.

I have been following the work of GSG with great interest and had filled out their online application out of curiosity. After a Skype interview and a bit of logistical emails, we agreed on my dates and on the scope of work I was expected to do in the three days on the ground with the GSG team. My focus was on scaling to MENA, crowdfunding and female leadership, as well as offering ad hoc support for the teams in GSG.

The biggest challenges faced by entrepreneurs in Gaza are not so different from entrepreneurs all over the world: how to penetrate new market segments, how to raise funds and allocate them efficiently, how to structure the business so it can grow and take on additional pressures. What is different is the drive that the entrepreneurs have: for them, it really does come down to do or die. The energy, the passion and the dedication I have witnessed in the offices of GSG cannot be compared to anything outside of Silicon Valley.

Some of the businesses have already received their first round of funding, such as Maktabi, the Airbnb for office spaces, which is doing their pilot soon in Beirut. Other notable businesses are Walk’n’Charge, a wireless device that generates energy through simple movement and can charge your device anytime, anywhere, Baskalet, a mobile game developer, and Mockapp, the InvisionApp for the Arab world.

The team behind GSG, led by Iliana Montauk, reflects the ethos of GSG: hard work plus relentless passion equals success. Everyone I worked with had been nothing but welcoming and supportive, pushing both the entrepreneurs and the mentors to do their absolute best. They are driven by a vision of a tomorrow, in which Gaza’s youth are using their skills and expertise to advance not just their own lives, but also the entire region. On top of that, they were deeply engaged throughout all mentoring sessions and had an infinite appetite for new ideas.

One of the greatest pleasures of my line of work is being able to go and explore the startup scene in different parts of the world, supporting them in their growth. Working with Gaza Sky Geeks has been nothing short of inspiring and eye opening. I encourage more and more mentors to look beyond the preconceived ideas of what Gaza is and isn’t, and go be part of the next big wave of MENA entrepreneurship.


World Coaching Congress Recognises The Sustainability Platform’s CEO

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This year marked the 4th edition of World Coaching Congress, held at Taj Lands End in Mumbai on February 16th 2016. The one day event covered a range of topics related to coaching and development of human resources within organisations, from the relationship of the physical body and work performance to igniting your spark and reaching your full potential. Tena Pick, The Sustainability Platform CEO, has been invited to present her signature talk on Gender, Coaching and Entering the C Suite, which explores how gender effects not only ones likeliness to reach C Suite, but also how coaching can help break “glass ceilings” and clean “sticky floors”. She has also been awarded the Best in Class Coaching Leadership award. “It was a great honour just to be in the same room as some of the world’s leading business coaches and learn so much from there, not to mention the award” said Tena. The Sustainability Platform would like to thank the organisers of the World Coaching Congress for having us and we are looking forward to next year’s edition!

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To book the TSP team for speaking sessions please contact 


The Sustainability Platform Projects: Rowad al Seyaha

Rowad al Seyaha, an initiative by Khalifa Fund and Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority targeted Emirati nationals in an effort to crowd source the new tourist attraction in the Corniche area in Abu Dhabi. The participants, ranging in age and in different places in their careers, went through a six-week program designed to get them to the level where they are confident in their idea and ready to pitch to a panel of high-profile judges.

sultan       996706_792877307483855_3030332658247442596_nThe Sustainability Platform team has developed the content specifically for the Rowad al Seyaha, based on global best practices. The program covered topics such as Marketing and Branding, Sustainable Tourism and Pitching, culminating in a pitching session in front of judges that included Ms. Medea Nocentini, CEO of C3-Consult and Coach for a Cause, Ms. Sallyann della Casa, Founder of Growing Leader Foundation, Mr. Ramzy Ismail, Program Manager at Flat6Labs and SHK Ahmed Al Qassimi, the CIO of VentureFin. The final presentations will take place on February 28th in front of Khalifa Fund and TCA judges and the winning idea will be implemented on the Corniche.

Managing People in Intercultural Teams


This post was originally published in Training Magazine Middle East on December 8th 2015

Written by Tena Pick

One of the biggest challenges faced by many businesses, social and commercial alike, is how to successfully manage employees from different cultural backgrounds. Management studies have focused mostly on managing people from similar age groups and the same ethnic and cultural backgrounds, but with the growing number of international companies and longer work lives, those studies seem outdated. Managers are increasingly faced with three or four generations working together; even the smallest social businesses often boast employees from different countries. That is especially true for the United Arab Emirates, home to over 200 nationalities and almost as many different languages.

Social enterprises are usually started by entrepreneurs who are passionate about a certain cause or a certain area, but that does not necessarily mean they themselves are from that area or that they understand the cultural implications of doing business in that certain way. Many managers go about that problem by hiring people from the local communities, an approach that has its merits, but does not solve the main issue: how do you work with people who are inherently different from you? We have worked with an enterprise that provides Indian women with access to sanitary pads – started by an American white male – and early childhood education providers in East Africa ran by European management. These companies are extremely successful, not in spite of the differences among their staff, but because of them. They have managed to leverage the different points of view and even different sets of values to enrich the work culture of the organization. A lot of times that means one simple thing (and yet, so many managers seem incapable of that particular thing): listening instead of imposing, learning instead of directing.

Good managers know where their own shortcomings are and great managers know how to build teams that fill those gaps. That means hiring people that understand your target market and creating a business that is culturally sensitive and relevant. The internal culture of a social business is directly reflected on the brand image and, ultimately, on the business results themselves. In practical terms, that means creating a safe space in which employees can freely express their personal values and bring different ideas to the table, as well as having clear guidelines on what happens when an employee is disrespectful to fellow employees based on their culture, religion, race, age or gender.

The cultural abundance that comes from working in international teams should be seen as a competitive advantage for the company and an added value for the employees; an opportunity to learn and grow, both on a professional and on a personal level. The business world is becoming more and more integrated in every sense, so instead of focusing on what makes us different and seeing it as an impediment to growth, managers need to focus on what makes us similar and bridge the gaps through dialogue and an atmosphere of respect and openness.

Arab Sustainability Leaders Honored with TAKREEM Awards

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Written by: Elias Jabbe

The 2015 TAKREEM Awards, held in Dubai on November 14, was notable because it shared the inspirational stories of laureates from throughout the Arab world who have led causes involving sustainability. The award ceremony, founded by veteran Lebanese news reporter Ricardo Karam, was held for the sixth time and made its debut in Dubai after being held in Marrakech last year.

Twitter recap:

During a special event that took place as part of the United Arab Emirates Innovation Week, sustainability was described by a CSR specialist as needs such as energy, education as well as clean water and food being provided to all people.

The individuals and organizations honored at TAKREEM Awards have made many contributions to society in order to make the aforementioned ideal situation a reality. The group of winners (which can be found in this article) included exceptional individuals who have created a ripple of change starting in their cities and extending to the wider MENA region.

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One of those winners was Beirut’s Paul Abi Rached. Stepping on stage to receive the TAKREEM award for Environmental Development and Sustainability on behalf of the Lebanon Eco Movement, Abi Rached exemplified how solidarity created change in his country. Though he has been dedicated to furthering the cause of an environmental NGO he created two decades ago (T.E.R.R.E. Liban), he accepted the award while wearing the hat of President of the Lebanon Eco Movement.

The latter exemplifies how there is power in numbers: it is a collective of over 60 environmental associations in Lebanon that have teamed to create and implement successful initiatives like the “Close Naameh Landfill” and “Trash to Cash” campaigns. It has also been engaged in efforts to preserve Lebanon’s spectacular Mediterranean coast so that more generations to come can enjoy it as it is.

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Abi Rached said that the award is an honor and vindication not only for those who want sustainability to be the status quo in his native Lebanon, but also throughout the Arab world. “I think the TAKREEM award offers huge support to the Lebanon Eco Movement, especially as we continue to face dilemmas revolving around the construction of big dams that hurt our environment and waste management issues,” said Abi Rached. “The government prefers means like landfilling and dumping but the Lebanon Eco Movement believes the best solutions are sorting, recycling and composting as well as clean technologies for solid waste management.” He added that going forward the award will help his team “convince decision makers and stakeholders” to go green and “encourage other environmentalists in the Arab world to continue with their mission to create change in their countries.”

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Awarding Activists
The TAKREEM Awards ceremony also served as a platform to recognize individuals in the nonprofit sector who have been steadfast activists for social justice and CSR over the course of decades. Among the three Lifetime Achievement award winners was the late Mamdouha El-Sayed Bobst, a native of Lebanon who passed away in September 2015 and was represented on stage by her husband and children. She made an impact as a longtime philanthropist and advocate for causes like education in the MENA region and in the United States of America.

More information about her life and charitable efforts around the world are available on the American University of Beirut website.

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Another inspiring award-winner who was recognized for her positive impact on society was Dr. Jumana Odeh, who founded the Ramallah-based Palestinian Happy Child Centre. She was recognized for her initiative which provides affordable high quality healthcare for handicapped Palestinian children the Humanitarian and Civic Services award.

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TV interview with Dr. Jumana Odeh on Dubai One

Rounding out honors in this category was the International Contribution to Arab Society award which shows appreciation for impactful initiatives launched by individuals and organizations not originally from the MENA region.

This year’s winner was Save The Children, which was recognized for its efforts to provide education, support and other resources for children who have been impacted by recent conflicts in countries like Yemen and Syria.

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The award was accepted by Save The Children Programme Policy and Quality Director Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, who has been a leader in the international development sector in the Middle East and Africa over the course of two decades.
She reminded everyone of the importance of every single young person needing the opportunity to lead a life with dignity with a timely quote from a legendary humanitarian.

“In the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’”

Videos of the winners are available on the TAKREEM Awards YouTube page.
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More info on the author: 

Elias Kamal Jabbe (@Elias213) is a Dubai-based marketer, writer and translator. His portfolio of stories about sustainability and entrepreneurship in the MENA region and other regions of the world can be found here.


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