Last updated: 16 june, 2009 - 10:07 GMT

Middle East Opportunities

About this programme by Peter Day

Social entrepreneurship is a cumbersome phrase for a very striking idea. Take the insights of a business person and apply them to the world's great big social and economic problems, notably poverty.

Don't wait for international aid or government intervention: just get on with it, normally as a not for profit.

The movement is not without its critics. It will not of course solve all the world's big problems.

Social entrepreneurism is selective, and depends on driven individuals, who have often made fortunes in the conventional business world before they turn their attention to "doing good".

They may concentrate on fashionable targets; they may ignore conventional solutions already in place; many problems (such as disease and malnutrition are so big they will only respond to a huge mobilisation of aid, though that itself is a contentious subject.

What's so fascinating about social entrepreneurship is the way that concentrating on a particular problem often produces a whole string of new ideas that illuminate the problem and the society it is part of.

This week's programme comes from the annual meeting of social entrepreneurs at the Skoll Forum in Oxford, where the New York based Synergos Institute gathered together a small group of Middle East social entrepreneurs for a discussion.


The conservative Arab world is not one in which you might expect to find many people setting up organisation that deliberately attempt to change the system, which is what social entrepreneurs are almost always trying to do.

But the three innovators in the programme are rocking the boat: opening student's eyes to the poverty around them in Egypt, using farmers markets to turn food into a "living product expressing who we are" in Lebanon, and trying to revitalise conventional education in Palestine.

This last idea is particularly eye catching. When he was 12, Aref Husseini was asked by a schoolteacher about the uses for a tree. "String a rope up to two trees and create a washing line" was his answer, and it made his teacher angry: she wanted conventional answers about products fruit and timber.

This was a formative experience. Aref realised that education in Palestine was largely about rote learning to pass exams. This gnawed away at him, and the result, eventually emerged as a pioneering non profit making organisation called Alnayzak - it means Meteor.


Aref Husseini wants to teach creative thinking in schools. He wants to subvert the conservative school system by sending Almayzak teachers into those same conventional classrooms for three hours a week to work up hands-on science projects involving first-hand discovery which the participants can then teach to their peers.

It is a subversive thing to do: he calls it "infiltration".

In particular, he is trying to engage the awkward squad of students (like him) who teachers think are disruptive because they are bored with the way subjects are normally taught.

There is a strong political edge to what he is doing, of course. Meteor wants to encourage gifted students to stay in Palestine, not seek jobs abroad.

And because many boys in particular drop out of school, Meteor's Made in Palestine project looks for drop outs with ideas and tries to get backing to turn them into practical science, or businesses.

This programme keeps coming back to the idea of teaching thinking at schools, at universities, on the Internet. Out of personal experience, social entrepreneurs such as Aref Husseini at Alnayzak in Palestine are learning how to be disruptive, in what may turn out to be a very creative way.

Previous updates -June


  • Intel is going to appeal against both the judgement that it broke European Union monopoly rules and an eye-watering fine.

  • Men got us into this current economic mess, maybe women can get us out of it.

  • An entrepreneur's thoughts on a way of weaning motorists off their reliance on oil.

  • The industry that changed the world – the US automobile business – is in deep trouble. Peter Day finds out why.


  • A look at the edges of Europe and asking whether joining the EU, or in the case of Iceland wanting to, was worth it?

  • A look at the edges of Europe and asking whether joining the EU, or in the case of Iceland wanting to, was worth it?

  • A look at the edges of Europe and asking whether joining the EU, or in the case of Iceland wanting to, was worth it?


  • Sydney Finkelstein, co-author of Think Again - Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep It From Happening to You.

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