Q&A: Hult Prize CEO on social enterprise in the Middle East

Ahmad Ashkar, Hult Prize Foundation’s founder and chief executive officer. Photo by: Hult International Business School

If challenges alone created opportunity, the Middle East would be primed for social enterprise. Several countries across the region have youth unemployment rates hovering above 30 percent; job creation is needed far more than job seekers. Meanwhile, governments are struggling to cope with a range of social needs and market failures, exacerbated by humanitarian crises and conflict.

So no wonder social enterprise is a buzzword at the moment in the region, and being seen as a way to solve serious problems while employing growing numbers of youth. Countless governments, philanthropists and NGOs are pushing to foster and promote entrepreneurs. The idea of social enterprise is cropping up everywhere from finance and transport to refugee employment and healthcare.

Yet for now, the sector has not truly taken off. Devex sat down with Ahmad Ashkar, founder and chief executive officer of the Hult Prize Foundation, to discuss what challenges are holding back progress and how governments can better align incentives to promote growth. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

In the Middle East, there often seems to be an intersection between the work of new social enterprises and the traditional role of aid organizations and NGOs. How do you see that breaking down?

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About the author

  • Dickenson beth full

    Elizabeth Dickinson

    Elizabeth Dickinson is associate editor at Devex. Based in the Middle East, she has previously served as Gulf correspondent for The National, assistant managing editor at Foreign Policy, and Nigeria correspondent at The Economist. Her writing also appeared in The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Politico Magazine, and Newsweek, among others.