Bryan Farris

Aftershocks of Egypt and Social Enterprise’s Role

Haiti shook the world awake in January 2010.

Over a year has passed, and yet the earth’s crust has stubbornly stymied any attempt by the dust to settle: large scale earthquakes continue to rumble with increasing frequency.

However, tectonic plates can hardly take credit for what may be the largest tremor this year: the voice of the Pharaoh’s people.

Throughout the Muslim world, echoes of the Egyptian chant “Leave, Leave, Leave”, shall fall on far-from-deaf ears. The simple fact that pumping fists in Tunisia preceded pitchforks in Egypt is a harbinger of the aftershocks to come–and social enterprise must ready their survival kits.

The mixers of Egypt’s revolution cocktail-an energy crisis, rising inflation, concerns over food security, long-standing impatience with corruption, social unrest and more-are widely available in the region. Inebriated by the prospect of reform, the people of the Middle East are sips away from unpredictable behavior.

Already in Yemen, tens of thousands of protesters have begun calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Regarding Lebanon, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The fall of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government, replaced by a Hezbolllah-dominated coalition, dramatically imperils Beirut’s democratic Cedar Revolution.”

In Saudi Arabia, Politico correspondent Gal Luft writes, “For decades, experts have warned about the fragility of the House of Saud…this social contract could face a challenge at the worst possible time. [Even one million electric cars] will not save Americans from $10-a-gallon gasoline should Saudi Arabia’s oil production go offline in the coming months.”

Reverberations echo throughout the region.

Here in Pakistan, grumblings about electricity and gas load shedding have given way to outright protests. In early January, thousands of Pakistanis took to the streets to protest a five to ten cent increase in the price of petrol. The increase was subsequently redacted, which will only cost Pakistan’s indebted treasury “$58M USD monthly”.

The public has thus far stopped short of demands for a new government but new developments may change that fact.

A recent article in Pakistan Today revealed that the IMF has told the Pakistani government that it will not release the next $1.7B tranche of a multi-year loan unless economic reform is realized. The article quotes a representative of the IMF stating that “The political parties realized the enormity of economic crisis but lacked the will to take difficult decisions…the situation in Pakistan was like a run-away train with no driver nor direction.”

Conductor or not, in a country with a 55% literacy rate, news literally travels word of mouth. As the power of speech becomes more apparent to the general public, the likelihood of an uprising increases. The plight by the Nile may be the grease that sets the revolutionary wheels in motion.

In August last year, I flew into Santiago, Chile’s still-crumbling airport, and was greeted with a stark reminder that while quakes are very brief, their effects last well into the future.

And that is why Social Enterprises become critical in the rehabilitation process. In Haiti, social groups are working together to rebuild the future…quite literally. In places like Egypt, Pakistan and other countries seeking change, social enterprises can anticipate the work that needs to be done and can start laying the foundations now.

In particular, businesses are a powerful antidote to the present economic malaise. Businesses empower people with money and the access to basic goods and services that comes with it.

It’s fitting that Egypt should be at the heart of this movement. The back of your US dollar features a pyramid: a symbol of knowledge, enlightenment and ultimately of freedom. The burden is on enterprise to ensure that when the dust does finally settle, those very US dollars start to flow freely and economic growth is realized.

Social enterprise faces a huge challenge, to be clear, but the more that social businesses can empower the poor, the more likely it is that the aftershocks of Egypt will be peaceful and prosperous.

Education, Social Enterprise
governance, social enterprise