WEF: a think and do tank

Generating profits and social good are the two guiding values of the World Entrepreneurship Forum, a powerful community of successful entrepreneurs from five continents that was held in the Middle East for the first time

The global success of television show The Apprentice has meant the profile of the budding entrepreneur has surely never been higher. It’s unlikely, though, that Donald Trump or Alan Sugar have ever cited the betterment of society as a vital skill for their contestants. And yet, when the World Entrepreneurship Forum was created in 2008 by leading business schools, universities, accounting firms and enterprise initiatives from across the globe, the driving force was the belief that “entrepreneurship, creating both wealth and social justice, is key for shaping the world of 2050.” 

A laudable aim, but the world of 2014 is just as pressing, which is why, in November, Dubai hosted the first UAE chapter of the Forum to promote the exchange of entrepreneurial ideas and networking in the region. The intention was for up-and-coming businesses, leaders and researchers to meet up, network and hopefully return to their workplaces refreshed and enthused about the opportunities for entrepreneurship in the Middle East. 
All of which is encouraging, of course, but there are plenty of think-tanks and conferences which talk of best practice - and they’re all the kinds of talking shops the likes of Trump and Sugar despise. What makes the World Entrepreneurship Forum different is that alongside delegate discussions on the art of pitching and reducing the costs of setting up business, there are also, in their own words, “do-tanks”. 

In Dubai’s case, that meant Wamda (an online platform for entrepreneurs in the MENA region) brought their road-tested “Mix’n’mentor” session, where promising entrepreneurs sit down with industry experts and investors and chat about their start-up ideas in three one-hour sessions. Meanwhile, “early-stage” MENA investment company Oasis500 also held an event in which start-ups pitched their plans in front of a live audience and a panel of venture capitalists. 

The Dubai chapter of the World Entrepreneurship Forum wasn’t about passively learning, then, but a valuable, interactive networking event. Dubai SME - which is supported by the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for Young Business Leaders and aims to “nuture through entrepreneurial spirit” - hosted the event, and as its CEO Abdul Baset Al Janahi, noted, the forum acted as a hub to discuss the sharing of ideas to make the entrepreneurial landscape in the region a better one. 

Certainly, the chance to discuss crowd-funding (the internet-based financing of start-up companies or ideas, made famous by the likes of Kickstarter) is welcome, no matter where your business might be in the world. Yet, time and again, in both Dubai and at the annual meeting of WEF in Singapore last month, talk returned to more than simply money. 

And when a company owner made rich by videogames, Bruno Bonelli, can tell a rapt audience that entrepreneurship is also about giving hope - to yourself, the people working with you and society - then one has to conclude that WEF’s laudable aims are not just worth encouraging. They’re working.