Leveraging innovative ecosystems and collaboration to foster inclusion and development in MENA region

Every generation has a group of eccentric people set to “make a difference and have a positive impact”. What these creative entrepreneurs, young innovators, change-makers (they have many names) all have in common is that they want a different vision for our economies and businesses that are more sustainable, more social, more inclusive and more collaborative.

You will find these people in networks such as OuiShare, Make Sense, Global Shapers, Thousand Network, Tedx, Impact Hub, Ashoka and many more. They are attending conferences about innovation, entrepreneurship, future of work and of economy, like the OuiShare Fest, Re:publica, Rise Up Summit, etc.

Interestingly enough, these people are very similar in their values, in the way they structure their businesses and projects, and organize themselves to address their local issues.

Being Moroccan by birth, French by adoption and nomadic by way of life made me realize how important it is to build bridges between these local networks, communities, and creative people, especially between regions that aren’t well connected to each other.

What better playground than my birth region, MENA, and my adoptive one, Europe?

Exploring the collaborative economy these 3 past years, and the different forms and shapes it has taken throughout the world has been fascinating. In countries such as France, Spain and the US, we’re already « After the Gold Rush » and the discussions have moved away from collaborative consumption to governance structure and value repartition. In MENA we’re still waiting for the gold rush, but a promising shift is happening.

In territories facing multiple changes, collaborative economy, open source and zero-waste initiatives appear fundamental in providing innovative answers to social and economic development needs.

The sharing economy has emerged in a slightly different form in MENA countries than in Europe as the practices and principles of sharing and collaborating are part of the local culture there. Sharing of household and consumer goods or rides and cars have been a very common way of life.

In rural areas or within families, where the sense of tribe is dominant, sharing is still deeply present. But with economic development and fast cities’ growth, the individualistic way of living driven by the only -queen- value of money – has gained strength, and the sharing behavior has lessened in urban life.

Digital social innovation and collaborative economy are transforming economic and social interactions in MENA

Because there is so much to build in these countries, creative entrepreneurs are innovating in what is lacking in political stability, sustainability and zero waste awareness, women empowerment, and more, by creating flourishing businesses that address their local challenges and reshape the economy.

Noticing the impact of the collaborative projects that are using both their local traditional heritage and innovation with the aim of creating social and environmental impact led me to partner with the UNEP Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP/RAC) who manage the Green Entrepreneurship and Civil Society Programme within the SwitchMed Initiative.

Most of these projects have a major impact on three sectors in the region: Urban Space Design, Mobility and Tourism and Crafts. The first two sectors are already common topics to all urban areas internationally. Their development in MENA countries is the result of a global trend affecting most cities and metropoles in the world. But tourism and crafts are areas of particular interest in terms of business model diversity and originality, and they represent a real market differentiation for MENA countries in the global context.

We therefore selected twelve diverse projects transforming these three sectors to analyse their business models and identify how we can support, replicate and scale them in the Mediterranean region.

Urban Space Design

Urban space design is a key issue for growing cities in the MENA region. The coworking and alternative spaces are reinventing the way we consider and develop space in our cities. By allowing collaboration between populations usually left aside, they foster new dynamics in neighborhoods that are deeply missing it.

Projects: HBR Creative Platform in Lebanon; Debbo52 and Tilil Tanit in Tunisia; Orange Bleue Maghreb in Morocco.


Mobility and traffic are becoming an increasingly endemic problem in MENA. With global fuel price rises, and an ever-increasing number of cars on streets in big cities coupled with often unsustainable, inaccessible and unsafe public transportation (bus or collective taxis) many people are forced to either spend significant amounts of money on private cars or commute in taxis.

It is not a surprise to see emerging carpooling and carsharing platform in big cities like Cairo, Tunis or Casablanca, trying to offer innovative solutions for the daily commuters.

Projects: Sheaply and Carmine in Morocco; Karhebtna in Tunisia and Kartag in Egypt.

Tourism and Crafts

Tourism and crafts are the most dynamic and creative sectors currently. Sustainable and collaborative tourism and crafts are an area of particular social innovation, as they are strongly attached to roots and traditions of the region.

Projects: Anou and Craft Draft in Morocco, Waste in Lebanon and El Mensej in Tunisia.

By interviewing the projects and analyzing their data and business models, we identified four challenges and four success factors. We rate the projects on a scale from one to five depending on how strong they consider the challenges in their strategy and how much they leverage on the success tools to address them.


Analysis of the projects business models through the sharing economy framework

Source:  the study “Scaling-up Collaborative Business Models in the Mediterranean Region

If trust and sustainability are challenges well taken into account, access to financing remains the major issue to address

To little surprise, the major difficulty faced by the projects is access to financing. Most of them rely on fundraising and love money to self-sustain. All of them shared with us the strong need to access loans, funding, as well as incubation and acceleration.

 The projects scored on more than 4 on addressing the following challenges:

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The projects are using similar tools to address their local problems. But what is really interesting is that while all the projects leverage on social networks and digital platforms for their communication and internal organization, they don’t all use a disruptive technology. The combination for success relies on an equivalent focus on all four areas identified.

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Our study confirmed that these alternative models generate strong opportunities through common and collaborative practices, and that they need help grow and replicate in the MENA region.

All these young entrepreneurs are building a path towards greater economic and social development, by being creative and full of innovative approaches. By initiating new networks and setting up collaborative environments, these entrepreneurs are creating opportunities both for themselves and others.

Article edited by Bianca Pick

  • You got it just so right in the first 2 sentences! Great article 🙂