Can a new wave of ethical entrepreneurs challenge the traditional growth economy?

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19 April 2022

The future of business is social: that was the powerful closing message of last Reflect Festival, demonstrated by Karim Samra, Founder & CEO at Changelabs. Years ago, Karim realized that his passion lies in serving communities and individuals rather than corporations and left his corporate career. Today, Changelabs represent a dedicated platform for the Middle East and from the Middle East to make sure as many young people as possible could receive training, inspiration, and funding.

We're revisiting Karim's talk to echo the important lessons that celebrate the power of responsible consumers and entrepreneurs. 

Who runs the world?

Karim argues that we can't simply attribute the world's leadership to politicians. In fact, it's corporations that influence and define what we eat, how we work, and what our lifestyle is. 

"The most impactful organizations in the world are not governments anymore; they're businesses. And so if we're looking to impact the world, then it's the businesses that we should be looking at." But the corporate world order brought a growth mindset and constant maximization of shareholder value to the forefront of values. As a result, our planet and our mental and physical health suffer. "We have five trillion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans, we have oil and gas pipelines being built over indigenous lands, the air we breathe most of the day when we're sitting in the office comes from air conditioners, our light is artificial, our food supply chain is industrialized," Karim sums up. 

While companies should generate profits, it doesn't acquit them of responsibility. And it looks like they won't be able to escape it either.

The good news

As millennials and later on, Gen Z, start representing a significant portion of consumers, the businesses are taking a note. "60 trillion dollars of wealth, the largest transfer of wealth in modern history, will pass from one generation to the next, and millennials will suddenly control the decisions in the boardroom, not just in the supermarket," Karim explains. These people put health and well-being on top of their priority lists and arguably care more about ethics and sustainability than any generation before them. And it's certainly not just charity for the businesses - doing good is positively influencing shareholder values. After all, who would imagine McDonald's and KFC selling vegan meat ten years ago? 

"Other companies are doing the same, and they're following suit, but large companies are like large ships. It's tough to move them once they're heading in a certain direction," Karim says. He predicts that corporations will continue making progress, but they won't be able to "save" us. So who will?

All hail the entrepreneur

"Entrepreneurship is fast; it's smaller, it's more nimble. It can disrupt existing industries; it can move in a way that a large corporation or a large ship cannot, and it can launch successfully things that you would never have seen from the large corporations."

Karim says it's not something that can be taught in universities or read in a book. It's a "try, fail and try again" kind of effort to disrupt established industries and turn them upside down. One example for all is Tesla, a company that entered a saturated market and created demand for a completely new product. 

Karim Samra's efforts after leaving the corporate world focus on initiatives with an impactful mission - born from what he calls the "millennial mindset". The tagline of Changelabs is "We believe entrepreneurship can change the world", and the company runs entrepreneurship programs in the Middle East and Africa that help young people launch and scale their startups. 

Watch Karim's talk to explore the organizations changing the world under Changelabs' wings and hear his answers to the questions from the audience. 

Watch Karim's closing Keynote speech from Reflect Festival 2021 here:

Karim Samra started his career working for large multinational companies like General Electric, Barclays Capital, and Booz & Co., where he realized that his passion lies in serving communities and individuals rather than corporations.

He left everything and joined his friend and social enterprise visionary Ahmad Ashkar to help grow what is today the Hult Prize, a global movement of youth who are using business as a force for good. With more than 250,000 applicants per year, this is the largest entrepreneurship program of its kind in the world.

A few years into his new role, Karim set his sights on the Middle East, its youth, and its debilitating unemployment rate. He helped launch successful youth entrepreneurship programs in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He built long-term partnerships between public and private sector players, local and International, to finance educational opportunities for thousands of youth, and to fund some of the region’s most exciting impact startups.

Given the challenges the Middle East faces today, and the incredible demand he witnessed, Karim launched Changelabs, a dedicated platform for the Middle East and from the Middle East to make sure as many young people as possible could receive training, inspiration, and funding. The company now runs accelerators, festivals, incubators, and learning programs for young people in multiple countries and provides funding for early-stage startups, a segment largely missing in the MENA region.

Following the COVID crisis and Lebanon’s political instability, Karim launched Beatbox design, a company that aims to provide employment opportunities to Lebanese and Arab creative professionals by offering simple, scalable, and affordable design to startups and established companies around the world.

In addition to being a recognized mentor to startups globally, he also invests in early-stage companies and sits on a number of boards across the healthcare, education, and energy sectors through Changelabs, a MAGNITT-rated top MENA accelerator. He works closely with development organizations, the private sector, and leading governments to help design and deliver cutting-edge impact entrepreneurship programs that help ignite and develop local startup ecosystems

He holds a B.A. in History from Boston College, and an M.B.A from NYU’s Stern School of Business, where he was a merit-based scholarship recipient.


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