An insightful interview with one of KSA’s leading social entrepreneurship advocates.
They say that the only constant thing in the world is change, whether that change is for the better, all depends on the choices we make.
Born and raised in Riyadh, Lujain Al Ubaid is one such Saudi whose choice was to be a vessel of change in the area of social development.
As early as her days in Najdi High School, Al Ubaid was positively influenced by memories of her mother bringing her along for charity missions. During one of these trips, she had a chance encounter with an elderly named Bushra, whose warm smile and dream of building a mosque lit up her passion to make a difference. At only 16 years old, Al Ubaid led her class in raising funds for a mosque in memory of Bushra—in fact, at the end of her high school, they managed to build two.
What began as a decision to help one person achieve their dream turned into a vocation for Al Ubaid. A decade later, she is now the CEO of Tasamy for Social Entrepreneurship, a non profit organization dedicated to establishing an ecosystem and a safe haven for social entrepreneurs in the region.
Her hard work has not gone unnoticed. She had previously been honored by King Salman for the various volunteering activities she led during her tenure at AlGhad forum, an esteemed national youth development focused organization, in which she was a founding member of the strategic planning team. She was also an associate for SADIG, a group working on creating new industrial ventures and added value in turnaround services, innovation, and sustainability consultancy.
Al Ubaid, an Al Yamama University alumnus with a degree in business administration, concentrating in finance, diversified her knowledge by participating in the Harvard Business School Women Executive Leadership Program, as well as Columbia Business School’s Executive Education Program for Non-Profit Organizations.
The busy body Al Ubaid is about to take on a new challenge in her journey. She has been selected as one of the of Acumen global fellows and will be heading to India where she will spend most of 2016, working for an education institution that helps community members gain the skills they need for the job market.
1- What got you interested in social entrepreneurship?
As a Muslim, I know that cultivating the world is a worshipping practice we often underestimate and reflect less about. I believe that social entrepreneurship can bridge many gaps in society by innovating solutions that would invest in problems rather than dealing with it traditionally. Adding to that, Saudi youth have great energy, motivation and ideas that need to be invested as national capital and infinite resources.
2- People equate anything related to social as charity work. Can you clarify the definition of a social enterprise?
Social entrepreneurship is a sector that comes in the middle between for profit business models, which focuses on measuring the financial values, and the non-profit charity model, that focuses on measuring social impact. Social enterprises focus on measuring the two values through an innovative solution provided for a societal problem that assures sustainable impact through the designed model.
3- Can you tell us about the projects of Tasamy?
One of Tasamy’s programs is Kun, which is a competition that encourage initiators to look for innovative and sustainable solutions for certain societal problems. We provide them with both financial and legal support as well as mentorship. Also Tasamy provide workshops about the Human Centered Design, which is a tool that helps in designing societal solutions based on human needs. Moreover, Tasamy designs corporate social responsibility programs that focus on maximizing the impact of their social programs.
4- What is the most inspirational moment you’ve had so far that convinced you even further to pursue what you’re doing?
It is not a moment, but moments. It’s inspiring but also feels like a weight of responsibility whenever a person, who is eager to create positive change and impact approaches me or Tasamy, seeking mentorship or support.
I thought at the beginning that I would only be serving the Saudi community but we have been approached by enthusiastic youth from all over the world including Algeria, Palestine, Syria, Korea, UK, USA, UAE and other countries. Knowing this makes me eager to wake up – dream, work and hustle for my life’s purpose: enabling those who want to create positive change and impact around the world.
5- Why did you decide to apply for the Global Acumen Fellowship?
As Tasamy grows and as I’ve been mentoring the youth, I discovered that I never had the tools that would invest what I know and what I can do in a much more impactful way. I felt that there was a growing gap I needed to fill, I felt it would be necessary to find the program that would invest in me as a leader more than focusing on skills training. The Acumen Global Fellowship program focuses on digging deep into my vision, my purpose, and my self-knowledge. They also bring together like-minded individuals who are as hungry as I am to change the way the world tackles poverty. Also knowing the previous Saudi fellows, Yousef Alguwaifli, Shahd AlShehail and Baheirah Khusheim, was very influential on my life and my career.
6- What are you looking forward to in your new Acumen adventure? How will this experience help you become a better advocate and leader in the field of social entrepreneurship?
When I first started the fellowship program, I felt that this opportunity was a big responsibility, since I knew I was among the 11 fellows picked out of 700 applicants. Now that the two months training in New York is over, I feel that I am carrying an even bigger responsibility in applying what I know and making sure I listen, assist and empower as a leader and as a pioneer in the social entrepreneurship field in the region.
The past two months were a window to explore who I am, understand systems and reflect on what is happening around me. It required willingness to understand my values and beliefs and apply them, changing my behavior, before I can impact and create positive change in the world.
And the next nine months will be equally challenging as I will be working for Ignis Careers in Hyderabad, India that provides training for teachers in schools that serves low income communities to equip students with life skills that would assist them to have better careers down the road.
Lujain Ubaid is a role model for her contemporaries not just because of the path she has chosen to take. Rather, what others can learn from her is that the mark of a true leader is the willingness to be a follower and learner in order to serve your purpose better.