Leila Ben Gacem unlocks untapped talent. She is the founder of Blue Fish, set in Tunis and Abu Dhabi. Blue Fish designs sustainable social impact initiatives in the fields of women empowerment, artisan business development, socio-economic inclusion and youth self-employment opportunity creation.
Check Dar Ben Gacem, the social boutique hotel she created, and Sougha, an initiative lauched by the Khalifa Fund, that creates market opportunities for artisan-entrepreneurs, especially women, all over the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Servane Mouazan: Who are you, Leila, in one tweet?
LBG: I love people and heritage, and I am passionate about creating the magic that links the two for sustainable development!
SM: What life story/event triggered you to embrace social entrepreneurship?
LBG: I worked in the corporate world as business development for a multinational corporation. As responsibilities grew, a deeper question also grew inside me “why can’t I apply same techniques to impact micro businesses rather than multinationals, the impact will be so much greater… not just financial impact on to people, but something much more worthwhile such as people’s self-esteem, their pride in who they are, where they come from and what they can accomplish in life…”
I think business thinking is much more ecxiting if it is used to improve people’s livelihood.
SM: What would you encourage social entrepreneurs to think about, in order to find the balance between passion and discipline?
LBG: A social enterprise needs the business thinking to keep growing its target social, environmental or civil impact; I believe it is a much more sustainable business model when the social entrepreneur embraces a business model, while ensuring that :
1) the social profit is always met,
2) and communicated as much as possible and
3) the entrepreneur builds a network of supporters, partners, friends… that makes the enterprise grow through a community of believers!
SM: You run Dar Ben Gacem, a boutique hotel that is ran as a social enterprise, promoting the local heritage and supporting local artisans. Can you share top 3 tips to make your social business more inclusive?
LBG: I believe in the power of the shared economy; Dar Ben Gacem is creating impact by advocating for artisan entrepreneurs whose products are decorating the space, working with micro-businesses in the community, such as coffee shops, restaurants, taxi drivers and tourist guides, but also sponsoring events for young starting artisans and working closely with associations that improve economic opportunities in the community.
I think for a business to be inclusive through shared economy, you need to
1) believe in the importance of involving the community to grow the impact,
2) delegate and create new opportunities and
3) always create a positive environment that encourages positive business growth and hence more impact.
LBG: How far can you marry business and social activism?
In the Middle East and North Africa, this question comes up a lot, because we always tend to think of business as a concept related to ‘greed’ and social impact is associated to ‘generosity’, hence it is hard sometimes to explain the concept of social entrepreneurship. However we have several positive examples that can demonstrate how business thinking could be used for greater social, environmental or civil good.
Business thinking creates opportunities, opportunities could be created for the share holders or for the community, and this is probably the difference,
SM: Talking about opportunities, how could a mentor or a coach help you develop?
LBG: I desperately need coaching in time management; my “To-Do” list seems to grow instead of decrease…
SM: Which women social entrepreneurs really impress you?
Essma Ben Hamida, Tunisian, the founder of Enda Inter-Arabe, the first and most successful micro-finance institution in Tunisi. She is also President of the Sanabel Microfinance network of Arab countries.
Azza Kamel, Egyptian, founder of Alwan wa Awtar an association that educates street children in Egypt
I know how hard it is to start such projects in our region, so those ladies are my heroes!
Connect with Leila on Twitter @bengacem