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Hult Prize Aims At Entrepreneurship To Help Refugees

25 October, 2016
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"We know that the region has more potential than the news suggests," says Karim Samra, the COO of Hult Prize Foundation, in his speech to participants from the American University in Cairo (AUC) gathered for the opening session in celebration of this year's challenge: "Reawakening Human Potential - Opportunity Refugee".

Thousands of college students around the world are teaming up to compete for the Hult Prize this year which challenges them to develop a business idea to make life easier for refugees. The first runner up will win a USD 1,000,000 prize.

"What we're asking students is to come up with good businesses for good profit that both improve and restore the dignity of the individuals that we consider to be refugees and generate a sustainable return over time, so these businesses could be services or products," Samra tells BECAUSE.

Hult Prize redefines the universally acknowledged term 'refugees' to not only describe people fleeing conflict and war, but also people resettling for natural disasters and also seeking economic opportunities; which make up a population of 1 billion people.

"This year we're targeting refugees along a four-stages process; people at home first, on the move, temporary accommodation and settling – whether in a new city or back at home," Samra explains.

BECAUSE had a talk with directors of Hult Prize in the AUC and German University in Cairo (GUC) about what they like to provide in each campus.

"We want Hult Prize participants to adapt the entrepreneurial way of thinking, which is not taking things for granted and not accepting the status quo. We basically want people to change what they don't like and actually make a decent living doing it. We want them to understand that the power of change is in their hand and they should not wait for the so-called "superior authorities" to solve their very own problems, but, rather, we should take it upon ourselves to improve our lives and the people around us. And more importantly have a sustainable business in the process," GUC campus director, Mohammad Dorgham, told BECAUSE in an e-mail.

Meanwhile at AUC, a few minutes before the opening in Moataz El-Alfy Hall, Hassan Hamdy, Hult Prize AUC's campus director told BECAUSE that they like to focus on the pitching techniques because it's the most substantial element that influences the jury and adds to their chance of winning.

"We also want to plant the idea of social entrepreneurship in general, that it’s for profit to develop their business plan, but at the same time keeping in mind the social consequences and how they will improve the society with it. And we like to make them feel the importance of what they’re actually doing; their ideas can actually change the world," Hamdy added.

Last year, GUC's Hult Prize team won second place in the Hult Prize regionals in San Francisco, and they were also selected among the top 10 Hult Prize campuses in the world. On the other hand, last year AUC took the best campus worldwide, competing with Harvard, Yale and all the top universities.

Hult Prize in Egypt reaches out to around 45 universities, public and private, all over the country. It aims to bring around 50 teams for the semifinals and work with them on their 6-minute pitches, provide them with the needed training and mentorship. Then they get filtered to end up with 10 qualified teams who spend 10 weeks in incubators to develop their business models with prototyping and all that. 

"One out of the 10 teams will win a seed fund to implement the idea in Egypt, we’re still figuring out the prize but it will be huge – bigger than any prize ever given social entrepreneurship in the Middle East," Yasmine Helmy, the director of Hult Prize Egypt, told BECAUSE. "We will also help in the creation of social start-ups and profitable businesses that have both value and sustainability. Our overall aim is to bring up Egyptian students who have ideas to start contributing to the Egyptian economy," she added. 

However they still meet challenges and difficulties regarding to raising funds reaching students, which are challenges Helmy believes they can overcome. "Because there are a lot of associations and corporations in the private sector that could be eager to invest, so we want to get to the right people," she explained.

"The biggest problem is not capital, the biggest problem is the talent, the ideas, they’re not there," Samra said. According to a report he cited from JPMorgan Chase & Co, there is a capital of around US $46 billion every year looking for entrepreneurs to invest in, and that’s where Hult Prize comes in handy.

"We build a pipeline of high quality investable startups," Samra said. "There's a big difference between going and searching the market for existing entrepreneurs, ideas, teams and sometimes even revenues, and try to incubate them. That’s not what we do. We go out and start with a large market opportunity - like in this year it’s refugees - and we help students to come up with an idea, so if you don’t have an idea, you’re welcome to join the Hult Prize. We help students to come up with teams as well, and we help them generate ideas and then over a 12-month-cycle we help them develop refine their business plan, their pricing model and test it. And so [Hult Prize Foundation] is really the only program in the world that creates entrepreneurship," the COO explained to BECAUSE. 

Hult Prize Foundation's success has driven a Harvard professor to write a case study called “The Hult Prize Effect,” about the Foundation’s unique methodology, which will be taught to business students this fall in Harvard and other business schools around the world.

Moreover, just a few weeks ago Forbes Magazine issued a 'Top 30 Entrepreneurships Changing the World' ranking; out of the 30, 12 came from Hult Prize – eight from the US and four from Europe.

One day, Samra recalls, his friend, Ahmed Ashkar, once telling him in college that he wants to change the world using business as the tool. Samra wished him the best of luck knowing for a fact that his dream was farfetched. Several years later, Samra is working for Ashkar in his Hult Prize Foundation.

Ashkar, Palestinian-Jordanian living in the US, established Hult Prize Foundation by convincing his university's president in 2009 to host an intermural tournament to solve the global education crisis, in partnership with One Laptop Per Child. He then invited teams in business schools to take up the challenge. The first annual Hult Prize – that was originally called the Hult Global Case Challenge - took place in the spring of 2010. The foundation is named after Ashkar’s university, Hult International Business School, and is a partnership between it and Global Clinton Initiative.

Photo: Global Panorama // CC BY-SA 2.0

Tags MENA Hult Prize AUC GUC entrepreneurship refugees innovations for Social Good