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Meet the 20 Middle Eastern Social Entrepreneurs Championing the Changemakers X Change Summit

Ashoka Changemakers joined forces with SAP to host the MENA's first Changemakers X Change Summit, where 20 of the region's boldest social entrepreneurs gathered to network, join forces and spark change.

Startup investment in the Middle East and North Africa is nearing $1 billion in 2017, according to the World Economic Forum, an unprecedented figure for the region. Following the globe’s growing interest in this corner of the world, social entrepreneurship platform Ashoka and software giant SAP joined forces to sponsor MENA’s first ChangemakerXchange Summit, held in Dubai in late August.

Twenty MENA-based entrepreneurs were selected to attend the summit, which included access to mentorship, training, fundraising and professional networking. Of the selection, 18 young Changemakers from around the region made their way to Dubai; an additional two were chosen, but were unable to make the trip from Syria.

Many of the summit’s participants hail from Egypt, and their projects focused on healthy food and sustainability. One of their programmes, Baladini, is the product of Egyptian Dahlia Elorabi’s efforts to support rural women to produce healthy local food. Also present were Abdulrahman Nasser, founder of sustainable travel agency Eco Travel Egypt and Alyaa Nour, one of Startup Scene’s 2016 25 Under 25 and co-founder of Jereed, a furniture company with products created from discarded palm waste.

“Egyptian youth are eager to make a positive social difference, and SAP and Ashoka are dedicated to supporting innovative projects that foster local job creation and economic development. By enhancing their business networking and skills development, Egyptian youth can better scale up their startups,” said Gergi Abboud, Managing Director for SAP Gulf, North Africa, Levant, and Pakistan.

Some of the summit’s other initiatives were more focused directly on people and social issues. The UAE’s Noha Mahdi, founder of the Mawada Project, spoke about her community service learning program and how attending the ChangemakerXchange Summit has furthered her reach across the region. “Becoming an Ashoka alumna is helping my coordination with fellow Changemakers in using education to support youth development across the Middle East, and build empathy and goodwill,” she noted.  

Mohammed Alaqil’s Saudi Antibiotics Integrated Regulatory Program (SAIR) medical research program is partnering with leading universities to research anti-microbial resistance.“By joining Ashoka ChangemakerXchange, I’ll be able to bring together the global healthcare community to fight anti-microbial resistance, optimize healthcare budgets, and enhance citizen health,” he said.

Additional Changemakers at the Summit included two Bahrainis, Ahmed Alaali, founder of a robotics hackerspace called The Hive and sustainable development thinktank 3BL Associates’ founder, Tariq Al Olaimy. Palestine’s attendees included Shyrine Ziadeh, who founded the empowerment-focused Ramallah Ballet Center, and Tariq Assidi, who created the Jalees project to provide books to low-income families. Jordan’s Nour Al Alajouni created the Matar Project for the Blind, and Afnan Ali’s Eureka Tech Academy is an entrepreneur-focused initiative. Iraq’s Zanyar Salih created the Gift a Life project, which teaches Iraqis about organ donation. Three Lebanese Changemakers attended: Nour El Assaad, who founded the No Label anti-bullying project, Hadi Fathallah, founder of the digital recycling program Recyclo, and Layal Jebran, who created the Moubarmij Arabic technology education platform.  

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