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The Triple Bottom Line

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  • 1. The Most Influential Arab Women in the MENA Region The Triple Bottom Line The three pillars of business sustainability today are Profits, People, and Planet. Rama Chakaki, CEO of Baraka Ventures, is helping organizations to deliver the maximum positive impact across the board. By Nina Glinski Bill Gates spent the first half of his career building and now the second half giving. Why not do it si- multaneously? Live and give at the same time,” demands Rama Chakaki. As the captivating Chief Executive Officer of Baraka Ventures, an umbrella organiza- tion with a portfolio of businesses and initiatives that focus on social enter- prise, Chakaki is living the legacy cham- pioned by Gates—a prominent business executive turned force of social change. But unlike Gates, she didn’t wait to be fa- mously rich to answer the calling. With Baraka, she is enabling under-supported social enterprises to thrive and is driving the corporate social responsibility (CSR) discourse within the MENA region. For Chakaki, measuring success is not only about turning a profit, though that is a necessary part of sustainability. “We really have to start shifting our units of measurement to match the demands of today’s world,” says the Syrian-born, Saudi-raised executive. “Even if you are making billions, if there are the levels of IMAGE FROM ISSA ALKINDY - WWW.ISSASK.COM poverty and environmental degradation, then we’ve failed as a species. We need to completely reevaluate that,” she asserts. Chakaki has driven this reevalua- tion since 2006, when she relinquished her executive seat running data centers For Rama Chakaki, CEO of Baraka Ventures, for EastNets, a 200-employee financial success is measured by social impact. services company that was turning an annual profit of $40 million. Compelled82 FORBES MIDDLE EAST MARCH 2013
  • 2. by the weak social enterprise support People really don’t three following the spinoff of Zeedna,system she witnessed in the region, a modular social media publishingthe ambitious businesswoman set want handouts, they platform, which took key companyabout creating Baraka, or ‘blessing’. talent with it—a loss that would haveShe had only previously dabbled in want to make their proven debilitating for many smallsocial ventures, but braved the new own decisions; they organizations. But Chakaki is un-territory with a sense of purpose. “I flustered; while the team formerly inreally jumped into it head first,” she want to solve their place was very talented, Baraka hasenthuses. consistently relied on a collaborative Indeed, this inspirational woman own problems work environment alongside NGOs,is not averse to challenge. Despite entrepreneurs and consultants. “Smallrelying on a battery operated heart is beautiful. It’s a different economicsince the age of 25, Chakaki is an avid of the population, “People really don’t framework but it works well becausecyclist and qualified diving instruc- want handouts, they want to make your overheads are so low,” she says,tor—a top-level qualification that their own decisions; they want to adding, “We can draw on resourcesshe earned for the sake of Tawasul, solve their own problems.” internationally. It keeps us agile anda place-based environmental educa- Patient capital requires making a flexible.”tion project that Baraka got involved long-term, low return investment in a By staying small and workingwith. With enviable optimism drawn social enterprise that can solve prob- collaboratively, Baraka has cre-from the fact that she is lucky to still lems rather than just alleviate them, ated fruitful relationships with thebe alive, not to mention the skill set with emphasis on social return as a region’s movers and shakers, andthat she brings to the table, the CEO is measure of impact. The challenge in Chakaki has emerged as an influ-leading this company to a new defini- adopting such a discipline however, encer in the realm of social respon-tion of success. is longevity; having the corporate sibility. “You can be a very healthy Today, the region’s largest NGOs strength to ride out the early stages of corporation and you can give someseek Chakaki’s counsel as an expert in a project in order to fully realize suc- dividends, but you should also adoptbuilding communication strategies. cess in these investments is a touch- causes and do things in a way that“While we haven’t made $1 million stone of patient capital—a process benefit your community,” says thein profit, I’m on the board of a charity of fundamental change that can take CEO, who advises corporates on howthat I’ve helped to achieve a $6 mil- a decade or more depending on the they can do just that.lion endowment in a three-year peri- scale of the problem. When she hears the term CSR,od,” she cites, clarifying how the bot- While she believes that “social Chakaki recoils, a seeming contradic-tom line goes well beyond the balance enterprises must be non-profits,” and tion from the quintessential social re-sheet. The aforementioned endow- that all earnings need to be reinvest- sponsibility advocate. For her, doingment managed to raise $1 million on- ed, Chakaki is also conscious of the good is an inherent duty for individu-line in one year, something unheard fact that any viable business model als and corporates alike; too manyof in the region, and owes thanks to needs its bread and butter to survive. companies use CSR efforts as part ofher team’s digital prowess. “We struggled to see how we could a marketing strategy rather than part Baraka’s business approach is drive revenue in the early years,” she of their corporate makeup. “The aimnecessarily diversified among tech confesses. But Baraka eventually did is for companies not to have to labelventures, social enterprise consult- find a way by leveraging Chakaki’s it, that it just becomes part of theiring, social advocacy and advisory tech experience and straddling the DNA,” she remarks.services. The movement among pio- line between non-profit and for- Chakaki’s view is shared byneering social advocates has been to- profit. Leena Al Olaimy, Co-Founder andwards a paradigm of “patient capital”, On the for-profit side, Baraka’s Managing Director Triple Bottoma long-term market-based approach revenue comes from investments Line (3BL) Associates—Bahrain’s firstto philanthropy, which Chakaki sub- in digital technology and consult- social impact and sustainability con-scribes to wholeheartedly. Jacqueline ing work for social enterprises. The sultancy. “Whatever terms you chooseNovogratz, Founder and CEO of the tech space has proven such a strong to label it…social responsibility is notAcumen Fund championed the con- point for the company that the em- something you do; it is something youcept, which focuses on empowerment ployee base has dwindled from 10 to are. It is not what an organization does MARCH 2013 FORBES MIDDLE EAST 83
  • 3. The Most Influential Arab Women in the MENA Region Rama Chakaki leading a round table discussion in Palestine at the Wel- fare Association’s 30th Anniversary Campaign Planning Event. with its profits, but rather how it Even if you are practice and keeping Baraka local. makes them,” she writes in the orga- “We’ve taken our time in decid- nization’s 2012 Bahrain Responsible making billions, ing which niches we want to focus Business Survey. on,” she says, adding that a local ap- Amongst its critics, the term if there are the proach is necessary in a region with CSR has become synonymous with levels of poverty such a “complicated social fabric.” marketing, an exploitive ploy used As the social venture company by corporations seeking to improve and environmental broadens its reputation among the image or drive profits under the region’s largest NGOs and non- guise of doing good. After the global degradation, then profit institutions, it will prove an financial crisis, multinational com- we’ve failed as a invaluable resource. Sponsoring panies experienced raging pressure thought leadership events like TEDx to offer more transparency and re- species conferences in Dubai, Bahrain, sponsibility for a society whose trust and Ramallah has helped to gener- was broken. Today, corporations ate hype around the company and are coming under fire for basically driven new business; so have its missing the point. According to the are plenty of them in our history,” various partnerships and collabora- Harvard Business Review, “the pre- says the driven executive, who is tions with the World Bank and other vailing approaches to CSR are so no stranger to adversity. Despite renowned organizations. disconnected from business as to her own personal circumstances Baraka Ventures has helped to obscure many of the greatest op- and perhaps even because of them, carve a narrow avenue for social portunities for companies to benefit Chakaki demonstrates that there is enterprises to drive their initia- society.” no excuse for social antipathy. tives forward with the promise of Though Chakaki shares these Moving from the success of the sustainability. With patience, the frustrations, she expresses that her past to the promise of her com- region’s problems will be addressed unifying message for social entre- pany’s future, the CEO expects that with well-advised and increasingly preneurs in the region is still intel- technology investments will gener- better funded entrepreneurial pro- IMAGE FROM ASHRAF DOWANI ligent optimism. “We can’t develop ate progressively stronger revenue, grams in a way that benefits people, if we’re always beating ourselves and that the consultancy will take the planet, and profitability, thanks with a stick...We have to take stock off, but she is intent on maintain- to the infrastructure created by the of all the success stories—and there ing an distinctly non-profit advisory company founder’s vision.84 FORBES MIDDLE EAST MARCH 2013