How a new generation of entrepreneurs is tackling the world’s biggest challenges head on could not be a better story to illustrate the current goings-on amongst all and above all the doers in this world of today. It is by the World Economic Forum. Here it is.
How a new generation of entrepreneurs is tackling the world’s biggest challenges head on
From the climate crisis to the destruction of natural ecosystems, the world faces an unprecedented set of interconnected challenges.
Innovative entrepreneurs are building businesses that protect and restore the planet and everything that lives on it.
UpLink is helping over 260 entrepreneurs find the resources, experts and funding they need to take their promising solutions to the next level.
The impact driven by innovative entrepreneurs
From drones that detect illegal fishing and robots that sort plastic waste, to sustainable solutions for the world’s forests and remote learning tools for students struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic – these are just some ways entrepreneurs are using their creative energy to tackle issues within their communities and beyond.
The World Economic Forum created UpLink, an open innovation platform launched in partnership with Salesforce and Deloitte, to unlock an entrepreneur revolution and support positive systemic change for people and planet. Its mission is to create the necessary bridges to the expert help that entrepreneurs need to take their innovations to the next level.
Since its launch in January 2020, UpLink has identified over 260 individuals with highly promising solutions and is working to support their growth through visibility, access and introductions that allow them to scale their businesses. These entrepreneurs are already achieving tremendous impact and, in 2021-2022, they were able to collectively secure more than $942 million in funding to support their activities.
UpLink’s 2021-2022 Impact Report highlights how Top Innovators are addressing issues spanning the environment, economy and society, including protecting or actively managing some 10 million hectares of natural habitat and restoring over 812,000 hectares. They have provided 16.4 million people with access to essential health services and ensured 1.87 million people have gained access to basic sanitation. Additionally, they have successfully educated or trained 5.5 million people and ensured more than 25 million people benefited from greater market access.
“We must ignite an ecopreneur revolution, which is why I’m so excited about UpLink.”
— Marc Benioff, Co-Chief Executive Officer of Salesforce
Which challenges are entrepreneurs facing today?
The world faces an unprecedented set of global issues. From the climate crisis and the destruction of natural ecosystems to the COVID-19 pandemic and rampant income inequality, there is a critical need to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Yet, there are a number of entrepreneurial solutions that can already accelerate the SDGs. Indeed, as US Climate Envoy John Kerry recently said, almost half of the emissions cuts needed to achieve net-zero will come from early-stage solutions and future technologies.
But for many of these entrepreneurs, finding the mentorship, resources and – crucially – funding they need to scale their operations, expand their teams and widen their impact is often beyond their reach, especially for those operating in developing economies.
Unleashing the creative energy of the world’s brightest entrepreneurs is essential and it is crucial to build a collaborative framework around them that can support their innovations and help them thrive.
“Problems and issues that we face as a global community cannot be solved by individual entities or governments. We have to collectively address these issues.”
— Punit Renjen, Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte
Our approach to collaborating with entrepreneurs.
UpLink Since its launch, UpLink has been dedicated to creating this collaborative environment for the world’s entrepreneurs.
The platform is building a digital space where investors, experts and other organizations can work together to elevate and support innovations.
This innovation ecosystem is enabled by:
An open digital platform, which sources entrepreneurs from all over the world through innovation challenges in a range of critical areas, including nature, the ocean, plastics, climate change, the circular economy, water, health and education – with many more to come. These are designed and run in collaboration with a diverse set of partners across the public and private sectors, including Accenture, HCL, IKEA Foundation, Friends of Ocean Action, Nestlé, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization.
The convening and amplification power of the Forum, which offers increased access to events, initiatives, multi-stakeholder communities and funding opportunities for innovators.
Over the last two years, 46,000 users have joined the UpLink platform and entrepreneurs have submitted 3,500 solutions via 34 innovation challenges. The community has recognized 265 Top Innovators in four categories who are now receiving support to grow their companies.
“Initiatives shouldn’t just come from enlightened business leaders or governments. We have to engage people. They have ideas. We have to give them the means to translate their ideas into action.”
— World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab.
How can you get involved?
We invite visionary leaders, organizations, businesses, governments and philanthropists to join UpLink in driving the entrepreneur revolution. Through UpLink, we are accelerating progress on the SDGs by sourcing and scaling innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing issues, raising awareness for key sustainability issues and unlocking funding opportunities.
The Arabian Business tells us a story about the ongoing trends in high-tech businesses, technological innovation and the use of social media in the Emirate, wondered if Dubai can be the next Silicon Valley technology hub?
The emirate provides those in the Web 3 space with the ‘perfect balance of work and fun,’ making it attractive for talent, said the 26-year-old co-founder of interactive short video platform Vurse
Originally intending to stay in Dubai for only 12 days, Shadman Sakib ended up “falling in love” with the city and choosing it to launch his interactive short video platform Vurse from, set for the second half of 2022.
Vurse will be one of the first deep tech companies to come out of the Middle East and 26-year-old Sakib said Dubai “has so much potential and can become the next Silicon Valley.”
“We just have to fine-tune people’s mentality on a deep tech perspective and once that happens, the sky is the limit. For us people in the Web 3.0 space, we really want a nice balance between fun and work and Dubai really has the capability to provide both,” said Sakib.
“We are in the process of hiring our team members from across the world and it is actually much easier for us to attract them being based here in Dubai versus other cities because of the fine balance between work and life, plus the entertainment aspect. This is why we chose Dubai and we feel like it is going to be our long-term home,” he continued.
Sakib believes Vurse’s growth will translate into the growth of Dubai in the deep tech and Web 3.0 space, giving the example of how the presence of the big tech companies in San Francisco led to the development of the American state’s tech reputation.
“Dubai is one of the smartest cities in the world. You go to the airport and immigration is done in minutes, not many cities in the world can compete with that kind of technology,” explained Sakib.
“It is therefore high time we have a homegrown company that goes beyond the traditional businesses we have in this city. Traditional companies can only grow so far versus the companies in deep tech or Web 3 space – especially the ones with proper resources – where the sky is the limit; you have the whole world to play with,” he continued.
How Sakib got into tech and conceived of Vurse
Sakib grew up in Bangladesh and says he was “pretty much of an underdog,” for most of his life, recounting how he dropped out of his undergraduate studies in the US before moving to the UK where he again pursued his studies while working as a waiter on the side.
Lying on his couch one day and playing with his phone Sakib wondered why he was using someone else’s product instead of developing a product that people could use.
“I was 20 years old at the time and while my peers were focused on enjoying life, I was consumed with finding a purpose for mine,” he recalled.
“My philosophy was all about being determined that I would have a strong footfall by the time my friends finish university so that they would come to me and ask for a job,” added Sakib.
Having no background in technology, Sakib talked to a few of his friends and contacts in the app design space but was frustrated with the ideas they came up with as they were a copy of what already existed.
“I wanted to look at how I can wow the customer or my user not recreate the same thing – I wanted to build something different,” explained Sakib. As such, he taught himself coding before meeting the co-founder of Vurse who is a “coding genius.”
It is within this context that the idea of Vurse came about to take the social media experience into the Web 3 space and give content creators ownership over their content rather than having a platform control that.
“Our target is to make the content creators bigger because once they are a big brand themselves, a similar effect will happen to the company itself,” explained Sakib.
“My co-founder and I have been wanting to work on a consumer-facing product for some time now because that is where we think the main fun is. We want to understand the newer generations that are coming up and their culture. We also want to understand the music industry very well,” he continued.
As such, Sakib has delegated his other businesses to fully focus on Vurse, a business he self-funded. And while he declined disclosing much information about Vurse itself, he said it is built on three verticals: a content creator marketplace where people will be able to trade NFTs, a short video platform and the AI verse, a self-created metaverse within the platform.
“The metaverse will stay but the way we see and think of it will change. Currently, you have to have a specialised device to access the metaverse which restricts access somehow,” said Sakib.
“Once the technology catches up to the extent that it is easily accessible to anyone anywhere, then the real game begins,” he continued.
Start-ups are these days rewriting the big MENA growth. A story that sums up the new trend at this conjecture in business life in the MENA region. Most importantly, it is showing the way of a hydrocarbon-based economy moving into a more diversified one . . .
The above featured image is of World Economic Forum that explored the same topic back in 2019. Here is the story as it stands in 2022:
Saudi start-ups rewriting the big MENA growth story
Start-ups from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) had raised nearly $375 million during the past month, with the Saudi firms taking a sizeable chunk of the pie, netting $219 million across 23 investment deals in February, according to a report.
With 58% of overall funding in the wider region going towards Saudi Arabia, it is no surprise to hear that headcount has grown by 20% within the kingdom’s start-ups over the past 12 months, said the report by leading recruitment consultancy Robert Walters Group, adding that this figure is expected to grow further this year as the government continues to create the ideal environment for start-up growth and international investment.
The competitive recruitment landscape between big corporates and start-ups continues to grow, with approximately 3 times the number of jobs posted vs available talent.
Faisal Saqallah, the Consultant from Robert Walters Saudi Arabia, shares his thoughts on why start-ups are winning the race on talent.
The Career Accelerator
With relatively flat structures and hands-on founders and CEOs – new starters can find themselves lining up into the senior leadership team from day one, explained Saqallah.
By taking on several different responsibilities and working closely with senior members of the team, start-up environments enable you to prove your worth early on, as well providing an opportunity for your work will be recognised if it has had a direct impact on the business, he stated.
Unlike within corporate structures, leaders will be able to clearly see your involvement in a project’s initial stages to completion, and as a result, the rate of advancement at start-ups tends to be much faster.
According to the Robert Walters Report – Act Like a Start-Up and Win the War on Talent – 50% of professionals in Saudi Arabia are interested in working for a start-up for their next career move.
“This is not surprising therefore to see that our survey found that over half of professionals (52%) would be willing to take a pay cut and join a start-up if they saw an opportunity to progress much quicker than they would do within a corporate set-up,” stated Saqallah.
“After any period of economic change, we typically see a wave of entrepreneurial or start-up activity – and so it doesn’t surprise me to hear of the success of this sector, so much so that Saudi Arabia now ranks sixth in global entrepreneurial competitiveness,” he stated.
“But what is most interesting is how these relatively-new 10-30 person companies are managing to draw some of the county’s top talent away from established firms who typically offer much higher levels of job security,” noted Saqallah.
“Post pandemic we have seen a significant shift in what professionals want from their employer – with purpose, culture, and people, rated above competitive pay and the well mapped-out corporate ladder,” he added.
Start-ups are designed to have high growth potential – and so it is not surprising to see that on average decisions are processed 4x quicker in a start-up than within a large firm (250+).
The changing and fast-paced nature of a start-up will keep employees on their toes, encouraging them to develop new skills as they go, and push boundaries beyond the initial job description.
Working for a start-up, you’ll understand how the whole company works and develops commercial acumen not expected of you when lower down in corporate structures. Some start-up leaders argue that these on-the-job business lessons are in fact better than an MBA.
Our survey found that 33% of professionals are leaving their corporate jobs in order to ‘try something new,’ with a further 15% looking to reskill.
Being a start-up team member comes with great responsibilities. No matter what your title is, your work will make an impact on the company’s growth and success – and so in turn this will make you feel like the job you’re doing has an actual purpose and is a huge motivation.
In fact, a third of professionals (34%) state that the reason they move to a start-up is for challenging and interesting work – with many stating that the skills they adopt in self-management and task prioritisation then cross over into their personal life.
According to the Robert Walters, working for a fast-growth start-up can be an intense experience, so you’ll inevitably become more proactive and ambitious outside of work too.
You’ll be constantly thinking about how to improve things, be more aware of problems and how to solve them and become more open to new cultures and ways of thinking. You’ll also learn to love challenges and even look for them!, it stated.
True Team Spirit
Almost half of professionals (42%) state that the most important value when looking for a future workplace is ‘colleagues and culture that inspire them to do their best – that’s why the company culture at start-ups is something to be valued.
Due to their smaller size, start-ups tend to foster a close-knit, collaborative environment, that encourages people to help where they can on tasks outside of their original remit.
“You’ll be surrounded by highly hardworking, talented, and ambitious people willing to do the impossible. There is a huge motivation to learn from others and contribute with your own knowledge and experience,” explained Saqallah.
Start-ups often favour a fluid structure over a rigid corporate-inspired hierarchy, enabling open discussion and co-operation between all team members.
It is not surprising then to hear that 30% of professionals state that the most appealing thing about a start-up is the open & effective management structure.
Talent the only criteria
Start-ups have a core focus of finding the very best talent who can help achieve their ambitious goals, and as a result, remove any sort of socio-economic or geographical barriers in order to find their stars.
As a result within a start-up, it is not surprising to come across all kinds of co-workers, from all kinds of nationalities, backgrounds, and ideologies – and due to the small nature of the teams, there will naturally be ample cross-over working with colleagues with different skill sets or working styles.
This strong multicultural environment can open your mind beyond work and tasks. It also leads employees to have a global vision.
And diversity doesn’t just rest with the people, it is safe to say that almost no two days are the same within a start-up. Typically, most members of the team have to ‘juggle many hats and take on duties outside of their specific role to contribute to the success of the wider business.
The diversity of tasks helps you to develop new skills very quickly, added to that you will often be learning directly from the founder of the company and/or senior employees.
This an invaluable opportunity when you are in the early stages of your career. Not only will this keep you stimulated in your day-to-day role, but it will also give you the opportunity to find out what you are most interested in and discover what you are best at.
Innovation is the key
Start-ups are different from traditional businesses primarily because they are grounded on disruptive innovation, created to address a perceived ‘problem’ in the market.
Joining a start-up means adopting an ‘out of the box’ mindset – an ability to think on your feet and get creative with smaller budgets and fewer resources.
Autonomy is not considered a perk within a start-up but a given – in fact, it is the reason why 28% of professionals leave a corporate job to join a newly established business.
However, it is not all ‘small-time,’ in order to aid your creativity you’ll find yourself learning and using the most modern and innovative tools and platforms on a daily basis – whilst shaky to start off with you’ll soon start to embrace and speak the ‘start-up language’ in no time!
Many start-ups have an ‘exit strategy’ in mind, which means you will be working towards an ambitious deadline right from the get-go, according to Robert Walters Group.
Growth targets will be ambitious, but if achieved by the team then they stand to cash in from significant rounds of funding as shares are often offered as part of job packages as a way of competing with corporate pay, it stated.
At a start-up, your hard work can payback sometimes 10x the amount you’d get in yearly corporate bonuses within 5-7 years of joining a fast-growth start-up. The key here is to join a business whose product and vision you will truly believe in, it added.
Here is Gilgamesh Nabeel in MENA Region Digital Transformation Can Create More Jobs as per a recent report that says so.
Over 230 students attend a workshop held by the Elaf Center and the Earthlink Telecommunications at Diyala University, northeast of Baghdad, to be better prepared for the labour market. (Photo Courtesy: Elaf Center for Media Training, 2021).
Lack of digital infrastructure contributes to high rates of youth unemployment in the MENA region, a new report says.
The report, “COVID-19 and Internet Accessibility in the MENA Region”, was published in mid-December by the U.S.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. It assesses the readiness of the MENA region countries to shift employment online, both in terms of Internet availability and digital literacy among the populace.
Its authors, Alexander Farley and Manuel Langendorf, argue that increasing internet accessibility and investing in digital infrastructure development can help governments’ efforts to form a digitally-enabled economic recovery strategy.
While the MENA region is projected to have 160 million potential digital users by 2025, the paper draws a bleak image of its internet infrastructure and accessibility.
Last year, 34 percent of the population in Arab states was not using the Internet, according to ITU data. In 2019, the GSMA, which represent the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, found that almost half the people in countries such as Egypt and Lebanon, which have a mobile broadband network, are not using the Internet. Around 60 million people in the MENA region were not covered by a mobile network.
“Studies have shown that broadband development leads to increased GDP and has a positive impact on employment in the short term – part of the picture are newly created jobs to build new digital infrastructure,”
Manuel Langendorf A researcher focusing on digital transformation in the MENA region and co-author of the report
Furthermore, with the exception of the UAE and Qatar, which cover about 80 percent of households directly with fiber, only nine out of 100 inhabitants in Arab states used fixed broadband subscriptions, the second-lowest rate of all world regions, after Africa.
The paper says the development of digital infrastructure overall continues to lag behind the rest of the world. This holds back the region’s digital transformation and deprives it of the benefits of investment in improving national core networks.
Digital Infrastructure Development Boosts Jobs
Overall, unemployment in the MENA region stood at 11.6 percent with the “the low-skilled, the young, women, and migrant workers were affected the most” by the pandemic, the report says. In 2019, youth unemployment was over 25 percent, with further decline in youth employment by an additional 10 percent in 2020.
Manuel Langendorf, a researcher focusing on digital transformation in the MENA region and co-author of the report, argued that proper investment in digital infrastructure can help government confront unemployment.
“Digital transformation is not a silver bullet to solve the MENA region’s protracted unemployment problem, but it can create new job opportunities, especially for the large young and relatively tech-savvy population,” Langendorf told Al-Fanar Media.
“Studies have shown that broadband development leads to increased GDP and has a positive impact on employment in the short term – part of the picture are newly created jobs to build new digital infrastructure,” he added.
While the longer term effects seem less clear, Langendorf thinks a country-wide improvement to digital infrastructure can bring new economic opportunities, including for disadvantaged populations and rural areas.
“These include the expansion of remote working, as an employee or freelance worker, and also allows workers to search for employment opportunities more widely,” he added. “An improved digital infrastructure also opens up new job opportunities in online education.”
Citing the installation of ten submarine internet cables between Europe and Africa, he said: “We found a significant and large relative increase in the employment rate in connected areas when fast internet becomes available.”
Do We Need More IT Graduates?
In the Internet era, when many traditional jobs might disappear, students see IT-related courses as a route to secure jobs.
However, the report highlighted that some countries, like Jordan, graduate around 5,000 students in IT-related fields each year, yet less than 2,000 are hired. Still, some see an opportunity for ICT graduates from the region to fill the shortage of skilled IT workers in Western countries.
“University curricula in most MENA countries are slow to update, thus creating a situation where many fresh graduates hold a diploma but are not ready to start working in the IT sector as their knowledge is outdated,” he wrote to Al-Fanar Media.
“Nevertheless, many MENA startups have had great success in the past years. In 2021, MENA-based startups raised close to $3 billion, a new record for the region.”
He called on the education and the private sectors to collaborate to improve the university-job pipeline and close the skills gap. “Both sides should make sure that the latest IT knowledge is integrated into curricula and set up internship opportunities for students and graduates,” he said. “Beyond universities, the private sector and educational institutions can hold more workshops to bring people up to speed.”
The report also identified management skills as one of the biggest challenges to expanding potential of IT in the MENA region. “The lack of management skills affects the scalability of projects and businesses that can make use of the surplus of advanced IT skills,” said Farley.
Moreover, the authors said the MENA region lacks truly innovative IT ventures, and is focused instead on adapting ideas created elsewhere.
“In this context, the region is often described as a consumer rather than a creator of technology,” said Farley. “Nevertheless, many MENA startups have had great success in the past years. In 2021, MENA-based startups raised close to $3 billion, a new record for the region.”
Fruitful Digital Transformation Tips
Governments and other stakeholders need to ensure that the expansion of digital infrastructure focuses not just on connectivity (areas covered by Internet), but accessibility, the authors went on.
“Is using the Internet affordable? Do people have access to devices to use the Internet?” wondered Langendorf. “Mobile industry body GSMA estimated those living in areas with a mobile broadband network but not using mobile internet increased from 41 percent to 48 percent between 2014 and 2020.”
To enable investments in digital infrastructure to tackle unemployment, Langendorf calls on governments to support entrepreneurship. “They need to facilitate starting a business and obtaining loans, and decriminalizing bankruptcy,” he said.
“Besides, they should enable cross-border trade and the movement of skilled people between countries.”
Arab News published article by JARMO T. KOTILAINE is an eye-opener on the currently trendy of the ongoing rush towards another type of gold. Digital this time and not good old solid bars. Does Fintech offer transformative change for financial services? Would the MENA Region be the next Fintech hub? Would it be sustainable? Let us find out.
Transformative change for financial services through Fintech
Fintech has become one of the catchwords of our time, shorthand for creative innovation and potentially transformative change in the way financial services are provided. It has spawned a multitude of start-ups and pushed many incumbent financial institutions to review their operating models.
The restrictions on economic activity during COVID-19 further validated and popularized many of these new ideas, as more and more people resorted to home delivery, touchless payments, and other solutions that reduced physical contact.
Technological change proved effective in driving the growth of disruptive innovators, protecting — or even increasing — the margins of banks, and allowing many companies to generate profits at a time when their survival was threatened.
To what extent, though, have we truly unleashed the transformative potential of fintech? Better payment systems and digitalized transactions are important, but ultimately represent the application of digital technology to something that was happening already.
A very different situation occurred in some developing countries where the rise of fintech has become a potent tool for financial inclusion as new providers have levered widely available mobile telecommunications technology to compensate for the shortcomings of formal financial intermediation in a widely accessible, low-cost manner.
Of course, some of this has been seen in the Gulf, in the form, for instance, of new mechanisms for the remittance payments of unbanked laborers.
How could fintech deliver even more? The true promise of technology stems from its ability to lower costs and boost transparency. Meaningful progress in these areas can deliver substantial benefits in terms of increasing access to finance and of doing so more cheaply.
Many countries have now capitalized on open banking to foster more competition among lenders. Technology can be used to allow customers to compare services and products between banks. This is pushing service providers to compete on price and quality.
Technology can also make it easier to structure complex transactions and products which can not only reduce their prices but also helps broaden the range of available solutions.
Digitalization is reducing the cost and time of on-boarding new bank customers. By decentralizing financial service provision, technology is enabling more business ventures and projects to raise capital through novel mechanisms such as crowdfunding.
Transparency is an issue of particular importance and potential. Perhaps the most profound change delivered by digital technology stems from the ease with which data can be collected and analyzed. This matters because informational asymmetries have been among the main factors restricting access to capital.
Central banks have used sometimes cumbersome regulatory and reporting requirements as a way of addressing the problem. Risk managers at banks are often forced to cite limited or unverifiable information as an argument for restricting access to credit or for pushing up their cost.
In principle, technology could be used to obviate some of the tasks currently pursued through regulation and supervision by making it easier to gain access to all the relevant data more accurately and swiftly. It should also make it easier and faster for customers to build reliable credit profiles which could be used to assess their eligibility for different products.
Again, open banking is being used by more and more lenders to access customer data and evaluate their financial history through hard data rather than assumption or generalization on the basis of potentially inaccurate or misleading applications.
Easy access analytics can help customers make more informed and efficient decisions. For instance, more investment platforms now provide access to a wide-range of investment options on a global scale, along with analytics on their performance and risks. They have reduced the costs of trading and dramatically boosted the speed of execution. Such platforms can also be used to build financial literacy, for instance through tools for financial projections or scenarios.
Of course, technology cannot overcome human myopia and wishful thinking. The way forward must be to build ways that properly account for data privacy and security. Today, though, the technological toolkit is more versatile than ever.
Progress is already helping us reimagine financial service provision, but much more is both needed and possible. Virtually every independent assessment of the financial services sector in the Gulf comments on constraints on access to capital, which in turn limit financial inclusion, economic diversification, and business growth.
Making the most of the opportunities presented by technology is thus not only a business opportunity but a chance to drive the economic paradigm shift, whose success, in large part, hinges on financial services. With governments repositioning themselves, the core task of financial institutions, the pooling and efficient allocation of capital, will matter more than ever. Doing it faster, more accurately, and for more customers will be an important driver of success.
• Jarmo Kotilaine is an economist and strategist focusing on the Gulf region. He writes on issues ranging from economic development to changes within the corporate sector.
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