Today, I had the honor of speaking with Ms. Sabah Al Haidoos, the CEO of Silatech, a leading international NGO that works to create jobs and expand economic opportunities for young people in the Middle East and Africa. The organization promotes large-scale job creation, entrepreneurship, access to capital and markets, and the participation of young people in economic development within their communities.
Silatech recently passed the milestone of having created over 1 million jobs for young people. In this exclusive interview in Richtopia, Sabah Al Haidoos shares her vision for entrepreneurship.
1) Reaching over 1 million jobs for youth in Africa and the Middle East is a big milestone for your organization. Tell us more about it.
We are proud of reaching that figure, while we are celebrating our 10th anniversary, and it is a challenge that drives us to continue our work with youth. Our goal is to reach new heights as steps have been taken to move to other regions. Silatech operations have extended to over 17 countries in Africa and the Middle East, and its country and regional outreach are expanding even more.
2) Can you tell us how your organization is helping empower young entrepreneurs in Africa and the Middle East?
We support the startup and growth of sustainable job-creating youth enterprises across the Middle East and Africa. We help young entrepreneurs establish and sustain successful enterprises by providing them with access to finance, business-development training, and mentorship, and bridging their access to new markets.
To empower the most significant number of young entrepreneurs, we advocate on their behalf to financial institutions to encourage them to assist youth in financing their businesses through combining technical support and various types of innovative financing instruments.
Additionally, we help financial institutions design loan products, market their products and services, provide credit officers with focused training programs, and implement best practices to benefit both youth and the institutions. The result is the creation of thousands of new jobs, enriching the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Africa and the Middle East and reducing the youth unemployment rate.
We also provide non-financial support to youth entrepreneurs in the form of capacity building and technical assistance. We help provision mentorship services and training to young entrepreneurs to aid them in growing their businesses.
3) What are your top 3 tips for young entrepreneurs?
Discover your passion, learn, and become an expert at it, and continue to learn.
Find mentors who have successfully grown businesses in your industry.
Make sure to do market research and survey your target audience before launching your business.
4) What can others learn from Silatech’s success in helping young entrepreneurs?
We believe that entrepreneurship is fundamental to solving the youth unemployment crisis around the world. Well-funded startups can provide thousands of jobs for young people. To fill the positions, we must help to ensure that young people have the skills that small businesses need from their job candidates.
5) How can philanthropists and entrepreneurs work together to empower more young people?
We believe that philanthropy and entrepreneurship go hand in hand to bring forward new ideas and solutions to solve complex social problems that enhance their communities. These partnerships are fundamental to improving the way of life for young people.
At Silatech, we are in cooperation with more than 300 strategic partners worldwide that have helped us contribute to the attainment of sustainable development goals in societies, particularly that of eradicating poverty. Together, we have successfully been able to provide more than 1,000,000 jobs for young people, validating our founder, HH Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser’s vision of providing youth with their fair opportunities for decent work.
6) What does being an entrepreneur in the Arab world mean to you?
Arab entrepreneurs are the emerging leaders within Arab societies who desire to empower themselves and their communities through their innovative spirit. They see entrepreneurship as being essential to growing the economy in their countries, and creating change in life.
7) What kind of culture have you established in your organization? And what advice do you have for other leaders to improve the culture within their organizations?
Our culture at Silatech is based on having a shared passion for empowering young people in their careers. Everything we do is centered around our love for our mission. It is what bonds us together as a group and sustains us as an organization. So naturally, we look for people to work with who share our passion.
To help create this type of culture, leaders must be present and visible to their teams to lead by example each day.
8) How do you envision the future of entrepreneurship in the Arab world in ten years?
Entrepreneurship will continue to grow over the next decade in the Arab world. Small businesses will help them develop the economy by generating new jobs for young people. We envision greater partnerships between governments and the private sector working together to help Arab entrepreneurs and startups gain exposure in the international market and secure innovative funding sources.
9) Which organization do you admire the most (apart from yours)? And why?
I admire the United Nations. The level of impact they have on a global scale is truly extraordinary. We hope to continue to partner with them for many years to come to bring forward sustainable economic opportunities for youth.
As our focus is on countries experiencing conflict, in a post-conflict situation, and/or that are considered fragile states, and in addition to our partnership with many of the UN entities, we have recently signed a cooperation agreement with UNHCR that will allow us to further invest in programs tailored to connect refugees with employment and livelihood opportunities and empower them in their host communities. We believe that achieving peace and stability starts from combating poverty, unemployment, extremism, and marginalization of young men and women, and we are committed to enabling them to work and achieve their aspirations and potential.
10) Why do people need to pay attention to solving global problems?
The world’s most urgent problems require large-scale efforts that must include collaborations in order to solve them. If left ignored, these problems can lead to global catastrophes that affect us all. Working together to solve our biggest global problems magnifies the impact times 100, 1000, or more!
11) What’s your favorite quote?
“Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. If, however, they are left on society’s margins, all of us will be impoverished. Let us ensure that all young people have every opportunity to participate fully in the lives of their societies.”
— Kofi Annan
12) Do the societal implications of technological advances excite or worry you?
We are excited about the future. Added technology will bring more opportunities for young people in their careers. We feel an enormous responsibility to help them learn and harness skills in technology so that they can use it to their advantage in their jobs. And we have developed various technological platforms to reach more youth and to help them develop their skills to match the job market, such as Ta3mal, Tamheed and Narwi, one of Silatech’s latest technological innovations to help increase youth access to finance, which is expected to be launched in early 2019.
13) What is your top business forecast for the year 2030?
The startup scene will continue to evolve and grow, and entrepreneurship will be a substantial driver of economies in the Middle East and Africa. Startups in the region will increase their partnerships with global corporations, will have achieved more success in lobbying their governments, and a path toward securing investment from non-traditional sources will have been established.
14) How have you gone about growing your organization, and how could our readers re-engineer parts of your formula for success?
Silatech would not be where we are today without our strategic partnerships. We have over 300 international, regional, and local partners who help make as significant an impact on the lives of youth as possible.
My advice to other organizations is to never go at it alone. Form partnerships that will help your organization grow well beyond what you can do trying to do it all internally.
15) Which books do you recommend that your team read?
We recommend our employees read books that empower them in their roles here at Silatech and in their lives.
16) What are some of your aims for Silatech in the next ten years?
In the next ten years, we hope to have empowered millions more young people in the Middle East and Africa with sustainable career options so that they may support their families.
17) Do you have any final notes you would like to add?
Youth are not only the future but also the present. They need to be equipped with all possible skills to face today’s challenges. Let us work together to empower young people today, so that they may enrich our communities and contribute to the greater good of society in the future.