UAE entrepreneur seeks jobs with a social twist

Founder of Social Tent aims to match skilled talent with impact-led organisations driving change in the Arab world

When Sami Khoury returned to the UAE to seek a job, he knew he wanted to work for a company with social impact embedded into its business model. But finding regional employers that blended profit and purpose proved tricky. 

“There wasn’t anything designed for the Arab world that connected me to jobs in organisations with a social mission,” said Khoury, who later took the role of executive director with the UAE-based nonprofit Young Arab Leaders. “I found it hard to find something regional.”

"We want to help match socially-conscious talent with the organisations really making a difference"

In response, Khoury launched Social Tent, an online platform that aims to pair jobseekers with firms making a positive impact on the Arab world. Employers range from aid agencies, to nonprofits and fellow social enterprises, all hoping to use commercial channels to kickstart social, environmental or cultural change.

“Many of these organisations have limited resources, stretched teams and evolving staff structures,” he said. “We want to help match socially-conscious talent with the organisations really making a difference in the region.”

Around the world, young people increasingly prize social impact over financial gains. Almost nine in 10 believe businesses should be rated on more than just their profits, according to Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey, which polled 7,700 young employees in 29 countries.  Despite this, many nonprofits in the Middle East say they struggle to attract talent, with graduates instead favouring well-paid state or private sector jobs.

This is a matter of concern, particularly in the humanitarian sector, where a shortfall in local aid workers can slow the delivery of aid and squeeze funding.

“When the Syria crisis response began in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, we found the number of [aid workers] able to hit the ground running, speak the language and understand the cultural aspects, were minimal,” said Saba Al-Mubuslat, CEO of Humanitarian Leadership Academy (HLA). “That’s concerning because it translates into costs. If each aid worker needs a translator, for example, to communicate with the affected population, then you are in trouble.”

HLA, the world’s first academy for frontline aid workers, aims to train 100,000 people in more than 50 countries as first responders to local disasters and conflicts. It expects to open a Middle East office this year.

Part of the challenge for Social Tent lies in persuading Arab professionals of the value of a career in the third sector, said Khoury. Instead, it is often derided as a poor and risky substitute for the government or private sector.

“Many view work in the social sector more in terms of volunteering or providing donations, and not as a viable career path,” he said. “We want to show professionals that there are opportunities to apply their skills for the betterment of society – and still get paid for it.”