In this age of revolutionary change, when overnight nothing is the same, when humble role models in remote areas of the world become more powerful in their symbolism than the most feared of systems, citizens all over the world feel a sudden empowerment, the urge to do, the urge to conquer the world.
Gradualism does not work anymore; evolutionary change needs to be a bit more revolutionary, a bit more insistent… Society as a whole must be involved. Individuals are voting with their feet every day, people with an agenda and people without food on their table and people who just feel the need for change are coming together and forming a global tribe of change makers. Twitter, Facebook and other virtual connectors are bringing the long tail of the Internet into every home and awakening something that one thought was in deep sleep.
Not one of those people voting with their surfing connectivity and their feet knows what will come. But they all feel that whatever it is, it is better than what they have. Their sudden feeling of ownership and belonging is more powerful than anything they have felt before; and when something is yours, you protect it and shape it.
Entrepreneurs, the private sector and enterprising individuals have to understand this because it has serious implications for them more than they think. This is not about governments or democracy alone; it is about governance and dignity. It is about society rebelling and wanting a better life. It is about society saying we are not asleep and our wellbeing matters. It is about society saying this status quo cannot go on and we need to do something about it. It is about society saying we are citizens, and we want to be able to shape our future.
Entrepreneurs, more than anyone else, should be able to understand this. As it is that same sense of ownership and that same refusal of the status quo that lead them to venture into their own endeavors. It is that same reason that inspires a business man like Maher Kaddoura to work relentlessly for safer roads in Jordan rather than wait for the government to do so. In 3 years, the results are astounding: 32% drop in fatalities in traffic accidents and a massive 46% drop in serious injuries from car accidents in Jordan.
The same is true for Yasmina Abu Youssef, a young lady who runs her family business in Egypt. When she visited a slum in Ezbet Kheirallah in the heart of Cairo, where illiteracy, poverty and malnutrition are a fact of life, she decided that change is needed and that this area is as much her home as the rest of Cairo. So she opened a school: “Khatawat”. Her school has more than 150 children, and it is quickly transforming into a community center, where children and parents learn not only to read and write but skills that will allow them to make a living.
Upon her graduation from the American University in Cairo, Raghda al Ebrashi felt that it was up to her to find a creative way to help marginalized communities in Egypt. She established Alashanek Ya Baladi, an NGO whose activities range from nurturing skills among disadvantaged youth, linking training with employment opportunities and providing microfinance to small businesses run mostly by women.
While some entrepreneurs and corporations have rebelled against the Milton Friedmans of this world (those who only believe in profit maximization as sole goals for businesses) by investing in their communities and aligning their corporations’ values with that of their societies, many others have not.
There is still much for us in the private sector to learn from this. We have to understand that this is also about us; about how we manage our businesses, how we treat our people, how we care about our environment, how we invest in our employees, how we treat them and empower them. It is not about corporate social responsibility and its PR shallowness; rather it is about corporate values and their total integration into the needs of the society these companies operate in.
Companies living in societies that are not well will not last. These companies are not sustainable and will perish sooner rather than later. The private sector has to wake up and reflect hard on its missions, its vision and its responsibilities. It has to finally grasp that profits will only last as long as they live in a society– their small society of employees and the larger society of citizens- that is happy, affluent and empowered… and that its wellbeing has a direct and powerful effect on the wellbeing of shareholders and quarterly results.
So to all my friends in the private sector, wake up and smell the Jasmine. Stop sitting back and thinking that development is someone else’s responsibility, that education is something to complain about and that pollution is a theory.
Embrace the citizens that have decided to make a difference on the ground.
Put your skills, expertise, resources and networks at the service of citizens and partner with them.
Look at the partnership opportunities that are creating shared values for both your business and society.
Use your creative mindset to develop innovative solutions and inclusive models of development.
Opportunities across the region are ample, and citizens across the region are reaching out… I hope that you are listening to them.