Serial social entrepreneur Azim Kidwai on why we need support the next generation and their business ideas. 

The Gulf region is known for its wonderful generosity, and Muslim communities across the globe work tirelessly for community development. It begins in the Quran, where you will find repeated calls reinforced by prophetic tradition for the faithful to solve problems, engage with others, and pursue happiness in the servitude of humanity.

Not only is this commitment to give to - and care for - others driving a positive force for change across the world, but it is also spawning a new generation of social entrepreneurs who are channelling a faith intention into the venture space.

In recent times, I have met more inspirational, more confident, and more successful young entrepreneurs than ever before. And they are all united by a desire to give back and seek the pleasure of the divine.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the types of entries we received for the Spark Award, a new competition initiated by Collective Continuum, a group of impact investors focussed on seeding humanity-centric startups, of which I am a director.

We received more than 500 expressions of interest and over 330 formal applications from 28 different countries from faith-focussed entrepreneurs. Their entries, which ranged from early-stage ideas to fully-fledged enterprises, were all driven by questions such as: ‘What does God want from us?’ and ‘How can we follow a prophetic path to overcome social challenges?’.

The first prize was eventually won by Ruh Care, an online directory of Muslim mental health professionals created for people seeking Islamically-aligned therapy. Runners-up were Deen Developers, a UK-based nonprofit, which brings together Muslim technology-for-good entrepreneurs for hackathons and other solutions-focussed events.


"We need governments, philanthropists, and corporates to support this new generation as they seek to find solutions for social challenges of our time."

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Young social entrepreneurs need support to help scale their ideas. Photo: Shutterstock

Welcome to a new era of what I like to call FaithTech. Despite gloomy global economic outlooks, rising poverty levels, worsening health outcomes reversing decades of progress, and increasing geopolitical tensions, young people are not giving up. Instead, they are combining their faith with technology to create new opportunities.

In the two years since we launched Collective Continuum, we have been inundated with high-potential young entrepreneurs who are seeking what we call ‘good money’, capital that furthers good in the world with help from a network of people supporting good works.  

We have recently invested in Niyyah on the back of the unbelievable passion and conviction of its founder. Shinaz comes from a strong career in VC, and then packed it all in to launch a startup to help Muslims better understand their faith and pursue a life of doing good. 

Similarly, we've got to know Dr Mohammed Mahyoub, who is leading Waqfinity, the world’s first crowdfunding-based endowment platform. This is a great idea, which seeks to democratise access to endowment creation.

With more people under the age of 30 in the world than ever before, we have a youth bubble, and this is especially the case in emerging economies where there are large Muslim populations. Rather than resenting this challenge, let’s leverage these skills, energy, and connectivity, and support young people by giving them access to capital to drive a value creation narrative that empowers and inspires.

Let us see their passion and hunger as assets, not liabilities, and enable them with the technology and digital architecture they need to change our world for the better.

Backing young entrepreneurs to channel their energy into positive outcomes delivers good for all. We all know this, yet historically, impact-first business models have traditionally struggled to attract funding because they are unable to deliver the types of high and fast returns favoured by venture capital.  

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Istanbul's Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Who will be the next generation's Sultan Ahmed?

Collective Continuum was born out of a desire to innovate and build a new movement to fund high-impact social enterprises with patient capital. Driven by a desire to unite people through the light of faith, we are seeking to build an ecosystem of high-performance partners to work with social entrepreneurs and help them turn dreams into reality.  

We are taking a multi-sector approach to building our portfolio of ventures, as we are investing firstly in the entrepreneurs and then their ideas. Our vision really is to inspire and support these changemakers create a world that they wish to see; a safer, more united, and happier planet.

At Collective Continuum, we are proud to create opportunities and provide access to capital for those changemakers who look at the problems of the day, and rather than lower their heads to the pain, raise their minds to the role they can play in making the world a better place.

But we can’t do it alone. We need governments, philanthropists, investors, and corporates to come forward to support this new generation as they seek to find solutions for social challenges of our time.

We launched with just $10m, but the demand for capital and our network has been unprecedented. We are seeing countless applications from trailblazers who wish to be part of the community before even exploring investment opportunities. We feel this spirit needs to be embraced and our efforts to convene the best talent be the first choice for civil society actors to learn and build a better future.

The Gulf region is a hotbed for talent and there is also incredible innovation coming out of Muslim communities across Asia, as well a new generation of faith-based pioneers emerging from the former Soviet nations.  

They are united by the purpose of the Quran, connected by technology across a borderless world, with strong networks to contemporaries from Muslim minority countries.

Recently I attended a leadership development gathering in Istanbul. A city with such history and inspiration, I asked myself, who will be the next Sultan Ahmed? What will the modern-day Mimar Senan choose to build? And what can we all do to support them? -PA