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The Best Investments We Can Make

DUBAI – The desire to make a difference is born of a fundamental belief in something greater than ourselves, and by the concern that we all have for the wellbeing of our fellow humans.

As an Arab woman, I find it impossible to sit back and watch – or worse, turn away – as parts of the Middle East suffer through such a difficult time in the region’s already troubled history. Millions of innocent people have been displaced from their homes, and millions more are being driven across national borders into an uncertain and unstable future. Their need for help is clear.

To be sure, we can only do so much as individuals. But by uniting around common goals, we have the power to create effective initiatives, and improve lives. And I have always believed that education and social entrepreneurship are two areas where we can have the greatest sustainable, long-term impact. Together, these sectors create opportunities at every level of society, from refugees who are unable to complete their studies, to professionals seeking to further their career prospects or pursue an innovative vision.

The ongoing conflict in Syria has driven a vast number of refugees into camps that have evolved from temporary dwellings into makeshift cities. A prime example is the Za’atari Camp in Jordan, which now hosts 80,000 residents; but similar camps can be found in Lebanon and other countries around the region. Mass forced migration is not just a challenge for Syria’s immediate neighbors. As refugee flows have turned a local crisis into a global issue, Europe’s political, economic, and social fabric has been tested, too.

When refugees are torn away from their daily lives, they lose the chance to pursue an education. To address this problem, organizations such as the Unite Lebanon Youth Project (ULYP) are now identifying children from refugee camps who have the potential to complete their formal education and influence those around them. With an education, these young people will be better equipped to effect positive change in their communities, now and in the future.

The ULYP has close ties to prestigious institutions such as the American University of Beirut, which has long been regarded as an incubator for successful entrepreneurs in the region. The ULYP, which I support by funding annual scholarships, acknowledges that education is neither the only solution nor a quick fix. Accordingly, the project takes a long-term approach, and makes investments in individuals who one day could benefit larger communities. After all, it is better to teach people to fish than simply to feed them.

Similarly, after someone has been empowered with the knowledge and financing to start their own company, they can start thinking about the greater good – at which point the true value of entrepreneurship becomes apparent. Entrepreneurship is powered by dreams and aspirations, vision and ideas. And although financial support is important, it is not the only ingredient in the recipe for success. Entrepreneurs also need access to talented mentors and support networks.

It was with this idea in mind that I joined the board of Endeavor UAE, a global nonprofit from the United States that empowers entrepreneurs around the world. Endeavor’s beneficiaries are not run-of-the-mill businesspeople, but rather those with the potential to become role models. We support individuals who can inspire their colleagues and peers, and improve their communities.

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Not every entrepreneur will be successful. But by giving the brightest young business leaders financial support and access to a global network of mentors, we can help them realize their potential to transform the economies of entire countries. Moreover, this creates a virtuous circle, because today’s entrepreneurs can identify the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, and furnish them with the capital they need to change lives in the future.

I have always believed that with success comes a responsibility to think about the wider world. In July 2015, I returned to my alma mater, the London Business School, to launch a scholarship that will support students in the MBA and Executive MBA programs. In the same way that a Palestinian or Syrian refugee might complete their studies through the ULYP, or a young innovator might receive guidance through Endeavor, I hope that LBS students will be empowered to build a better future for us all.

We live in an ever more interconnected global economy, and on an increasingly unequal and unstable planet. Our goal should not be just to make money, but also to make a difference.

Muna Al Gurg, a businesswoman and philanthropist, is the chairwoman of Young Arab Leaders UAE, a member of the board of the Al Gurg Foundation and the Emirates Foundation, and a founding board member of the nonprofit initiatives Hub Dubai and Endeavor UAE.

By Muna Al Gurg

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