Since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud is calling the shots in Saudi Arabia, the sky is the limit. A high paste of far-going social and cultural reforms, improvement of women’s rights, open borders, spectacular shows and events, and not to miss international conferences. Like the Social Innovation Forum this week in the capital Riyadh.
By Arthur Blok
The Social Innovation Forum, launched in 2022 in Madinah, invites experts and specialists in the field of social innovation. The Forum provides a unique opportunity for leaders of social entities, projects and practitioners worldwide to network and exchange ideas about social entrepreneurship and investment.
The organisers intend to be a hub and platform to stimulate the global movement of social entrepreneurship for learning and exchanging sound practices and ideas.
Dutch entrepreneur Stefanie Schachtschabel, founder and CEO of the travel platform Welcome to the World with its headquarters in Dubai, was proud to be invited and share her experience with conference participants.
Schachtschabel was meant to participate in the Social Innovation Youth panel, where the importance of sustainability to the new generation is central; due to unforeseen health issues, she was unable to attend the conference, but her message stands strong.
“Companies nowadays need to have a purpose that is positively influencing society, having none almost means you have no reason for existence”, she said.
Dr Thabet Nabulsi, CEO of Challenger International, agreed with Schachtschabel and emphasised the importance of innovation for younger generations. The social entrepreneur is the former Secretary-General of the Jordanian Ministry of Youth based in Amman.
“Our mission is to inspire, enrich and enable youth and adults to realise their full potential as productive leaders and caring citizens within their societies through interactive, practical and academic training. We encourage confidence and enthusiasm in participants to communicate effectively, resolve conflict, creative thinking and team building”, he said.
Dr Nabulsi will participate in Challenges of Social Innovation and Sustainability on the conference’s second - and final - day. “Our goal is to invest in human capital. Hence we assure that social innovation is the spirit of knowledge and working, and we believe that everyone, everywhere, can do something great.”
That is music to the ears of Dutch entrepreneur Schachtschabel who strongly believes in a more transparent world in the travel and tourism industry. “It is not only about the price but also about each other. We believe in making people happy by booking a destination that sustainably benefits local parties, the planet and, of course, the traveller itself.”
She believes there is more than a commission-driven travel landscape dominated by prominent players like Booking.com and Expedia. “We guide a traveller by inspiration, sustainability and transparency. In that way, travelling becomes more honest, meaningful and fun.”
Socially Innovative Approach
This sustainable and socially innovative approach is what drives Dr Nabulsi as well. “In our cooperation with different organisations in both private and public sectors worldwide, we face difficult conditions. At this moment, social innovation is the only key to decoding our challenges.”
Donnie Lygonis, Innovation Strategist and founder of Entrepreneurs Without Borders, also recognised these challenges. Lygonis flew in from Sweden to participate in the conference.
“It is crucial that all innovation and all entrepreneurship sees itself in a larger context and is socially responsible. He said that it is more about the application areas, such as technical and business model innovation, than other innovations that are more solution-driven”.
The Swedish entrepreneur will give acte de presence in the session Redefining entrepreneurship, creating a new model for a sustainable future. He will explore the concept and need for all entrepreneurship and all innovation to be sustainable.
“Social innovation always starts with a "why" to fix a social problem, whereas other innovation starts with an idea, tech or business model, and then tries to find a socially good problem to fix,” he added.
The “why” also plays a central role for Challenger International, explained CEO Dr Nabulsi. In addition, one of the most significant challenges remains to change and develop how people think.
“We always try to teach our participants to deal smoothly with the challenges they struggle with. We provide experiential training to encourage children, youth, and adults to be more self-confident and inspired to innovate to ensure a better life for all”, he said.
World Toilet Organization
A social entrepreneur par excellence is professor Dr Jack Sim from Singapore, founder of the World Toilet Organization. He describes himself as a social storyteller. “The subject of sanitation was twenty-two years ago was a taboo. People found it very difficult to talk about this subject without being embarrassed, while millions of people annually die in the developing world because of bad sanitation.”
He broke this taboo by using humour as a critical element. “We call ourselves the taboo people and found a name that resembles the World Health Organization. By doing so, we break the ice; people start laughing and listening.”
His approach worked in countries like India, China, and Brazil, and politicians embraced it. “It is a vote-winning subject. Improving sanitation gives people more dignity and makes politicians more popular. In India, politicians even started to compete with each other. Current prime minister Narendra Modi eventually won; he built over 110 million toilets. That is a win-win for the country and its people as a whole.”
After years of pioneering work by professor Sim the United Nations embraced 19 November as World Toilet Day in 2013, 12 years after Sim’s NGO first organised it. With his initiative, the Singaporese national took social innovation to the next level. He will give a special lecture at the Conference on creating a massive transformative movement.
The Social Innovation Forum will be held in Riyadh on 15 and 16 February. Keep visiting The Liberum for more information on this unique global event.