Following the former US president Bill Clinton and preceding Barack Obama on the same stage is no easy task. But the Emirati brothers Mohammed and Peyman Al Awadhi managed to hold their own at the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting last week.
The pair of entrepreneurs, who developed the Wild Peeta Gourmet Shawarma restaurant and co-host the travel show Peeta Planet, moderated a panel in New York about how cities can become labs of innovation for economic activity and, sometimes, equality.
Their session was part of a larger theme this year at CGI, which looked at how to reimagine the effect social projects make and was attended by business leaders, foundation executives and heads of state.
"The lines between governments and civil responsibilities are becoming blurred,” said Mohammed before panellists joined him on stage. "The question is: How should we address it? Do we redraw these lines or embrace this movement of private/civic collaboration?” he asked.
Panellists generally argued that strategic partnerships have been the key to their success but that the most effective tie-ups tend to be those where community members help to implement projects and improve economic conditions in their own cities.
The speakers included Gary White and the actor Matt Damon, who together created Water.org. Their non-profit is dedicated to giving people in developing countries access to clean water and sanitation, which billions of people currently lack.
"There'll never be enough charity to make these problems go away,” said Mr White. "We have to look at innovative, market-based solutions.”
One of the organisation's more recent initiatives has attracted more than US$70 million in commercial finance to provide microloans primarily for women who want to build toilets, and almost all of the individuals have repaid the money.
More than 1.6 million people have already been helped due, in part, to a grant from the PepsiCo Foundation to develop the programme in India.
"It's scaling quickly,” Damon said.
Another organisation, Gastromotiva, launched in Sao Paulo in 2006 before it expanded to Rio de Janeiro. It trains hundreds of underprivileged individuals and former inmates to work in the food services sector, which accounts for more than 9 per cent of Brazil's GDP and is the largest employer in some Brazilian cities. Gastromotiva now plans to expand to El Salvador.
"We have increasing demands from restaurant owners and foundations who want to replicate our model,” said David Hertz, the founder and chief executive of Gastromotiva.
Gastromotiva's goal is to find work for 80 per cent of its students and to do so, the organisation has forged partnerships with local restaurant operators.
"These partnerships are so important – non-profit, universities, private sector and public sector – to reach more people and help,” said Mr Hertz.
"I'm one person with one dream in one country, but I want to reach 1 million people,” added Mr Hertz.
The Al Awadhi brothers also introduced a social project based in Nigeria, where only 3 per cent of one state's population lives in the community of Anam. While the area produces upwards of 70 per cent of the state's food, it lacks a proper healthcare system and schools.
To prevent locals from migrating to much more urban areas, the Dr Aloy & Gesare Chife Foundation has tried to transform Anam into an "agri-politan” city that "keeps agriculture as the way of life but keeps people where they are”, said Gesare Chife, the foundation's co-founder.
The organisation has helped to open a number of sustainable economic development projects there, including a brick factory, an ecological fish farm and affordable homes.
This month, after severe flooding caused delays, the city's first health clinic and school are also set to open, Mohammed noted.
"Now they don't have to leave,” Ms Chife added. "They can stay and serve their own communities.”
While community members have long come together to work on local economic and infrastructure issues in different parts of the world, more of them are using technology today to expedite the process.
"Social media users want to participate in everything from your product development to your supply chains,” said Peyman. "One particularly important area they want to influence is human development.”
"To overcome adversity, collaboration has to be embraced,” Peyman added, who along with his brother also works as an executive producer on Peeta Planet.
The Al Awadhis' panel was part of a session that also included a speech from Mr Obama about the importance of citizen inclusion and engagement. He also discussed the crucial role entrepreneurs are playing as they revitalise cities throughout the world, including parts of Mena.
"When entrepreneurs are free to create and develop new ideas then economies are more innovative and attract more trade and investments and, ultimately, become more prosperous,” Mr Obama said.
Source: The National