Engaging the Community Through Innovation

Lara El Kalamawy 

Impact Entrepreneurship Team

Cultivating a culture of innovation within a company is no easy task. In a world where innovation is everywhere, it would be myopic for a company to close its doors to the potential innovation, creativity, and dynamic change that can manifest itself within a community. In this age of globalization and connectivity, open innovation has become common, ideas are shared and deliberated, and if successful, even implemented. Companies like IDEO through their platform, OpenIDEO, regularly have a call to action on various projects where members of the community can innovate and contribute their ideas. If selected, they get to work with IDEO and use its expertise and tools to implement their idea.

Last January, Tatweer Misr, a real estate development company in Egypt, approached Ahead of the Curve (ATC) to form a partnership in launching a competition built on the principles of open innovation. As part of Tatweer Misr’s social responsibility goals and stemming from their belief in youth and creativity, Tatweer Misr launched a competition to collectively gather marketing, finance, and architecture ideas that blend ingenuity, innovation, and creativity. The competition attracted innovative ideas and was an initiative that invested in the Egyptian community.

The timeline of the competition involved pre-launch preparations between Tatweer Misr and ATC; outreach events to reach applicants with innovative solutions and ideas; filtering applications; an initial training that involved design thinking principles and problem solving skills; a second training that prepared participants for pitching their idea; and finally, the pitch night event.


One of the core components of the competition was ATC’s training of the top participants, offering young people the chance to build on their skills and enhance their personal development. Even candidates who did not win received an invaluable opportunity to train, develop, and learn. Moreover, elements of the training included peer-to-peer feedback, which further added to the collaborative approach. This exposed a certain vulnerability on everyone’s part as their idea was openly shared, but also meant that they received a lot of constructive feedback.

The competition ended with the final pitch night event, where invitees included a variety of stakeholders from the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem, CSR, sustainability managers at corporations, as well as family and friends of the participants. The pitch night ended with Tatweer Misr announcing a winner from every category. However, this competition was never made with the focus on just ‘winners’. Tatweer Misr’s Managing Director announced that numerous other ideas had potential and could be further developed in collaboration with the company and through possible internships. Part of the prize was mentorship hours with experts in the field, as we believed that this would further highlight the knowledge sharing aspect of the competition where mentees would greatly benefit from a mentor in a field they are passionate about.


Open innovation is a win-win situation for all parties engaged in the process. The private sector in Egypt must tap into the hidden potential behind open innovation to attract the brightest minds to help them innovate and disrupt their own value and supply chains. Benefits include innovating old products and services, getting in touch with different stakeholders, and becoming an expert in your ecosystem.

For the contributor, open innovation tests, validates and consequently implements his/her ideas, giving a sense of purpose to anyone who collaborates with the company. It provides the participant with the tools, the capacity and the team to turn their ideas into a reality. For a company to limit itself solely to the talent within itself is unsustainable, particularly when economies today are constantly collaborating. Merely looking to the outside community can make a significant difference. ATC calls upon companies in Egypt to open their doors to their local communities, to find mutually beneficial solutions to common issues, and encourage innovative ways to address those issues.                                                            


It’s not Casual Dating, It’s a Marriage: Building Human-Centric Businesses for the Future

Nureen Khadr

Content & Strategy Development Intern

For relationships to be sustainable and on a continuous growth path, it is important for both partners in the relationship to feel that for as much as they are investing, they are benefiting. It is no different for companies.

As a business, the talent you hire are your partners of choice; you need to give them a reason to stay and to care about where this relationship (or company) is going. To establish this kind of secure relationship, we look to human-centric business models that have proven that the only way a business can thrive is by making it about its building blocks, or employees.

Source: Kreatives Leipzig

Source: Kreatives Leipzig

To better understand the strengths of a human-centric approach to business, we picked the brain of Fadi Ghandour, founder and former CEO of Aramex, a man who implemented its philosophy and practices long before the model had a name. When asked about the importance of focusing on your employees, he said:

“In today’s world, business is all about the development of the human beings inside the organization. It is all about their growth and their ability to understand the intricate connection between their future and the future of the company that they work with.”

Fadi Ghandour, Founder and former CEO of Aramex / Photo: WikiCommons

Fadi Ghandour, Founder and Vice Chairman of Aramex; Chairman and Managing Partner of Wamda / Photo: WikiCommons

Ghandour attributes the success of his first business, Aramex, to the cultivation of a unique community from the get-go. Ahead of the Curve (ATC), having worked with Aramex, can attest to the loyalty that employees have towards the company. ATC CEO, Dina Sherif, has often heard employees at Aramex refer to the company as their family.

While we live and operate in a region with a large amount of human capital with huge potential, corporate culture and values are still not well-articulated to to those who work at those companies. Companies are yet to fully realize their role in society, and the human side of business: mentorship, teamwork, all-around respect, and more. The talent pool in MENA is murky and lacks an adequate incentive to stay in a region that does not value investment in employees and corporate culture.

Ghandour’s road to actualizing Aramex’s international success began with a basic question: “Can you imagine something like this ever working in the Middle East?” Now we beg to ask the question, can the human-centric approach implemented within Aramex, from the very beginning, succeed on a larger scale across the MENA region, thus serving to keep our top talent here in the region? The answer is: 100 percent.

But where does an already established business start? It is all about motivating leadership on all levels to redefine the corporation’s work culture. If the company’s leadership does not live and breathe the philosophy, then it does not foster the environment of accountability, communication, and development that they seek. Ghandour’s suggestion is that companies should begin “…by bringing everyone who is of leadership and influence inside the organization into a room to spend hours, if not days, together to articulate and decide what it is that they want the organization to look like, what their values are, how they are like today, how they will change in the future.”

Once the company’s outlook is settled, not only must there be a process of implementing the new corporate culture to employees and including them in the discussion, but also a bottom-up response where employees embrace it and drive it.

It is not an easy process. Yet once corporate leaders decide that that this is important to them, crucial to the company’s success, and necessary for the nurturing of their employees, then the rest is simply living the mantra.

Mohed Altrad, Founder of Altrad Scaffolding / Source: WikiCommons

Mohed Altrad, Founder of Altrad Scaffolding / Source: WikiCommons

Fadi Ghandour may have been a pioneer of this practice, but entrepreneurs like Mohed Altrad have also sought to build human-centric ventures. Mohed Altrad established a scaffolding company in France named after himself. This move to create his own enterprise was driven by his desire to dictate his own destiny and make his employees happy. In his eyes, as long as those working for Altrad are satisfied, they perform better, are more efficient, and are genuinely living content lives. According to Altrad, employee satisfaction is what companies should strive for and it is clearly what enables corporate growth to move at a much faster pace.

Then there is Ricardo Semler, CEO of the Brazilian company, Semco Partners, who treats hiring like marriage, and applying candidates as potential spouses. Through an unconventional interview process, Semco not only look to check the qualification boxes, but to also make sure that future employees would be happy to work with their supervisors, that they would mesh with their colleagues, and that intuition would tell them if this was someone that aligned with the values of the company. To Semler, recruitment is all about compatibility, because from the start, Semco has been a company that threw all tradition and rules out the window.

Sadly, these large companies are the exception. According to an Endeavor Insight report on “How to Capitalize on Human Capital in MENA” published in 2013: “Companies [that] do not have a strong and clear culture and vision, [find difficulty] in generating loyalty among employees”; companies in MENA fail to consider the perks of building a strong team dynamic through transparency, empowerment, and strong management. But for start-ups in MENA, our data has shown that a focus on culture and employees has always been a priority, despite the limited resources they have when building a business from the ground up.

Start-ups are quite “in tune” with the strategy of attracting and retaining talent by providing a growing, learning experience. They understand that their employees are not simply there to do their bidding and feed into the machine. Therein lies their competitive edge over already existing, more traditional companies: empowerment and egalitarian management.

In an ideal world where all businesses operate on human-centric models, the private sector would not only be driven by profit, but also by competitively solving humankind’s most pressing issues. The World Bank projects that by 2050, the labor force in MENA will include an additional 44 million people. Imagine a region where such an exponential talent number is working in companies that value their employees by creating vibrant work environments and incentivizing reward systems. It is a fascinating snowball effect when caring about your employees and their success inspires them to care about the company’s success through its development, societal contributions, and impact.

Because in the end, why are businesses established? To provide solutions and alternatives to outdated processes, institutions, and ways of life. For that, we need businesses that are obsessed with building flourishing and creative teams with a sense of ownership.

Listen to your employees. Prioritize their well-being. They are your partners; they are vital to the your growth and success.

Make sure you let them know you recognize their work.

Win their hearts and minds. Without securing the two, multiple divorces are bound to be filed with their two weeks notice and your company will cease to exist.

Nureen Khadr

Nureen Khadr is currently ATC’s Content and Strategy Development Intern for the summer of 2015. She is pursuing a B.A. in International Studies (Peace & Conflict Studies) and a double minor in Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco (USF) and expects to graduate in 2016. She is also the Editor in Chief of the San Francisco Foghorn, USF’s only student newspaper. Nureen is a proud, intersectional feminist and is extremely passionate about transparency, inclusive economies, and cultural and civic dialogue. 

Drilling Entrepreneurs in Dubai

Nureen Khadr

Social entrepreneurs are not only their idea, but their network. A network is not only the people you know, but the people you build relationships with. Nurture those relationships and you end up with a support system as you navigate the ups and downs of executing that idea into a sustainable business.

We began THE IMPACT, our 5-day Social Entrepreneurship boot camp, with this support system in mind. And if we may say so ourselves, our Dubai boot camp was a huge success. Over the course of the week, we had the likes of Carla Hassan, PepsiCo’s CMO, to Caroline Faraj, VP Arabic Services at CNN and Mazen Hayek, Official Spokesman & Group Director of PR at MBC, speaking to our eighteen participants. The diversity of the group, coming from all walks of life and 8 different countries, only added value to the purpose of the week.

Below is a wonderful video put together by Jineesh Illath, Senior Designer, Silatech. Join us in celebrating the bright minds that came together in these five days!

After an unforgettable week, we asked some of our participants and facilitators about what they thought of the workshops and here is what they said:

Mohamed Farid, The Youth Company in Qatar: “ATC was a life changing experience, and the training was a really enriching experience… We were one family that came together. We were a group of entrepreneurs and now we are one family. This is what social entrepreneurship is all about: the social element.”

Salma El Hady, Nawaya: “I’m very happy to see people that actually care about social impact, because I’ve been with many incubators that only say cliches…and are risk-averse people. Thank you for doing this [bootcamp].”

Adam Molyneux-Barry, icecairo: “This is honestly one of the best workshops that I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of. The level of comfort and safety of the participants really allowed them to explore the uncomfortable parts of entrepreneurship… This was a massive learning experience, which is not something I say often. I myself will revisit aspects of my own business…”

dubai group photo

Dubai bootcamp participants ahead of “the curve”.

Thank you to all who participated in the boot camp and pitch night and made it what it was: memorable! Hopefully we will see some of our readers at the future boot camps we are planning in Lebanon, Jordan, and KSA.

Nureen Khadr

Nureen Khadr is currently ATC’s Content and Strategy Development Intern for the summer of 2015. She is pursuing a B.A. in International Studies (Peace & Conflict Studies) and a double minor in Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco (USF) and expects to graduate in 2016. She is also the Editor in Chief of the San Francisco Foghorn, USF’s only student newspaper. Nureen is a proud, intersectional feminist and is extremely passionate about transparency, inclusive economies, and cultural and civic dialogue.