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Harnessing Social Entrepreneurship to Bridge Peace and Prosperity for Syrian Refugees living in Egypt

Synergos will use social entrepreneurship to improve livelihoods, peace and prosperity for Syrian refugees and natives in Egypt.

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Please see our User Experience Map added as an attachment, below.

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

The Synergos Institute’s “Pioneers Program” creates entrepreneurship and internship opportunities for Syrian refugees living and integrated within Egyptian society to prosper.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

Synergos brings people together to solve complex problems of poverty.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

Our idea has been tested and refined in Egypt for over five years. Our proposed innovation for OpenIDEO will expand the scope of our existing program to benefit the Syrians refugee community living in Egypt.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

Our idea addresses urgent issues of employment and social networking building for the Syrian Refugee community in Egypt. Within this community, both problems are greatly magnified, as many Syrians are underemployed or entirely disconnected from the local labor markets.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

The timeline for our project is 18-24 months. We have recruitment materials available immediately for implementation. Synergos also has a network of +250 social entrepreneurs, many of whom are working directly with refugees throughout the Middle East. Our program can be deployed in a short timeframe.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

Our program will be led by the Synergos Arab World Regional Director, Mr. Hisham El Rouby. Mr. El Rouby brings +20 years of experience working with social entrepreneurs. He is also the Founder of the Elijah Youth Development Institute, a Synergos Senior Fellow and an Ashoka Fellow.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Business Development/Partnerships

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Get feedback from experts

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

Please see the attached M&E framework, listed as Annex 2. This details how we will monitor the impact of our program, over two years.

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

The impacts discussed by our beneficiaries have been integrated into our plan for the refugee community. Our model is one of continuous feedback and we solicit feedback after every convening and through interim and final surveys. As a result, we have created opportunities for learning exchanges among participants and peer learning sessions to enhance cohesion and integration among the network.

(Optional) What are some of your still unanswered questions or concerns about this idea?

We expect that the adaptation of our “Pioneers Program” model, to serve the Syrian refugee community, will involve learnings and course corrections in the implementation phase. We will need to test our assumptions regarding priority services for Syrian refugees and focus on issues related to the integration of Syrian refugees within their host communities.

Goal and proposed model  

The Synergos Institute will enhance peace and prosperity by improving the livelihoods of Syrian refugees living in Egypt. An investment of $250,000 per year will result in a positive impact of the lives of over +12,000 Syrian refugees.

Synergos selected Egypt as the implementation country for this project, precisely because of its recent response to Syrian refugees. For decades, Egypt has been home to many expatriated Syrians. From 2011-2017, Syrian immigration to Egypt reached a high as tens of thousands of refugees fled their home during the Syrian War. Egypt’s response to this immigration crisis was one of the most accommodating in the Arab World. In Egypt, Syrians do not live in segregated camps; they reside within the major cities of Cairo and Alexandria. Additionally, Syrian refugees living in Egypt can operate independent businesses and face low barriers to employment by local businesses. Despite these favorable conditions, efforts to increase opportunities for prosperity through employment and peace through integration have remained critically low.

Our project will directly increase opportunities Syrians living in Egypt to prosper and lead more peaceful lives. We will take a two-pronged approach to ensure this outcome. First, through an extensive search process, we will identify established and emerging social entrepreneurs that serve the Syrian refugee community in Egypt. We will work directly with these entrepreneurs to increase the scope and scale of their enterprises, creating new opportunities for Syrians to prosper. Second, we will work directly with the Syrian refugee youth to improve their job seeking skills. We will ensure that they are personally and professionally connected with Egyptian peers and mentors who will support them in achieving a more peaceful, integrated life.

Our approach to ensure Syrians prosper is adapted from our “Pioneers Program,” – a social entrepreneurship project we have been refining in Egypt for the past five years. Our program model will identify emerging social entrepreneurs with strong innovation and business skills. Through a rigorous selection process, we will select individuals that are providing ways for Syrian refugee communities to prosper, with an emphasis on projects in education, employment and health sectors. Our proposed program will support social entrepreneurs at three different stages of career development:

  • Established Social Entrepreneurs (“Pioneers”): Men and women whose initiatives have demonstrated results in improving the lives and prosperity of Syrian refugees. We will strategically select those organizations that have the highest potential to scale up and create sustainable, peacebuilding solutions for the Syrian communities they serve.
  • Start-up Social Entrepreneurs: Men and women who possess strong business ideas and motivation, and can benefit from our program services to launch and expand their initiatives, which will benefit Syrian refugees and allow them to prosper.
  • Recent Youth Graduates: Youth that are transitioning from education to employment and can benefit from volunteer opportunities, employment training, life skills, and mentorship opportunities with local Egyptians that will contribute to a prosperous future.

Project Participants

Our project will directly support 10 established social entrepreneurs or “Pioneers,” 30 start-ups entrepreneurs and 1,000 recent youth graduates living in Egypt. A high proportion of these participants will be refugees from Syria, and the remaining proportion will be Egyptians. By engaging participants from both populations, we will assist the Syrian youth in integrating effectively within Egyptian society, and building more peaceful lives. In terms impact, all the initiatives selected to become Pioneers and start-up social entrepreneurs will serve the needs of the Syrian refugee community living in Egypt. Collectively, the enterprises managed by Pioneers and start-ups will improve the peace and prosperity for more than 100,000 Syrian refugees.

Established entrepreneurs or “Pioneers” selection process 

Synergos will identify and recruit potential established social entrepreneurs through several outreach channels including: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), local Egyptian partners, radio announcements, website listing and via social media. Eligible applicants will include leaders of nonprofit and for-profit entities with a social mission. Applications will be encouraged from any sector, with an emphasis on education, employment and health sectors.

The key selection criteria for established social entrepreneurs are: 1) “The Idea:” must possess a creative idea, solution or approach to an economic or social problem that will positively impact the alleviation of poverty and inequity; 2) “The Entrepreneur:” must be driven by a vision to promote social progress and break old patterns of action and perception. 3) “The Proven Impact:” must lead an initiative that has demonstrated significant social impact at a local level and has the potential to expand and serves the Syrian refugee community in Egypt. 4) “The Potential:” must demonstrate potential for scaling up the initiative by securing needed talent, capital, technology and other resources. 5) “The Values:” must have a high standard of personal and professional conduct and a genuine commitment to helping the Syrian refugee community in Egypt.

The selection process for established entrepreneurs will occur in three stages:

  •  Stage 1: Applications will be reviewed against a criteria scorecard. In the first phase, two internal evaluators will conduct an initial screening of the applications per the set of selection criteria listed above. Upon satisfaction of the above criteria, qualified applicants will advance to the second stage. In the second phase, the applications will be screened by external judges who have expertise within the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in Egypt.
  • Stage 2: The judges on the selection team will then conduct a comprehensive assessment, including one-on-one interviews, and site visits to candidates' projects in the communities in which they operate. The strongest candidates reviewed in this process will advance to the third and final stage.
  • Stage 3:  The selection team will check applicants' references and perform due diligence by seeking inputs from a network of advisors and nominators. Members of the selection team will include: leaders in business, civil society and academia. Feedback on the qualifications of candidates will also be provided by the references. Each applicant will be required to list three professional and personal references (excluding relatives). References may include individuals who are prominent professionals in civil society, academia, banking, the private sector, and the arts in Egypt and internationally – illustrative examples include the American University in Cairo, UNESCO, IREX, the Better World Foundation. Synergos will also leverages our existing networks of +250 social entrepreneurs in Egypt to disseminate the announcement widely. Follow-up interviews will then be conducted to clarify any outstanding questions. The final Pioneers will then be selected. This will occur over a period of three months.

Project support to Established Entrepreneurs or “Pioneers”

Synergos will create opportunities for prosperity by providing the comprehensive set of services below to grow the enterprises of the established entrepreneurs. The goal of these services is to compliment the professional development plans, relationship management, peer learning, capacity building, and networking opportunities with leaders in civil society, business, and philanthropy in Egypt that Synergos will provide to the selected entrepreneurs

Needs assessment and relationship management:  Following the orientation session, each Pioneer will be assigned to a Relationship Manager (RM) who will support the Pioneer's development over the life of the project and will meet regularly with him/her. The Pioneer will attend a needs assessment session to discuss goals with the RM. This needs assessment will guide the level and type of support provided to each entrepreneur.

Project Support Services for Pioneers: 

  • Technical assistance/capacity building: Each pioneer will receive ongoing customized services to advance their organizational development, enhance their leadership skills and address specific challenges or needs.
  • Financial awards: Each Pioneer will receive a financial award of $15,000 in Year 1 and up to $7,500 in Year 2. These awards are intended to be unrestricted grants to enable Pioneers to focus on their innovation and its growth. Financial awards have proved instrumental in enabling Pioneers to hire new staff, expand program offerings, and increase outreach. All applicants selected for this program are screened through appropriate database searches, such as the US Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN).
  • Annual convening of Pioneers: The annual convenings will provide the opportunity to build a peer learning network, share ideas, and deliver technical assistance and leadership training to Pioneers.
  • Thematic workshops: We will organize sector-specific networking events on employment, health and education.
  • Access to Collaboration Awards: Collaboration awards will be established to provide an incentive for Pioneers and start-up social entrepreneurs to collaborate on their initiatives. Five awards of $1,000 will be granted to the best collaboration ideas in Year 1 and five additional awards in Year 2.
  • Networking and mentorship opportunities: Pioneers and start-up social entrepreneurs will receive networking opportunities with past Pioneers of Egypt, to expand their network. The project will also facilitate strategic connections with leaders in business, government and philanthropy.


Selection of start-up social entrepreneurs

Synergos will create opportunities for prosperity by providing the comprehensive set of services below to start-up social entrepreneurs. To be eligible for this project, start-ups entrepreneurs must have ideas in the “prototype” stage. Their prototype must have a positive social impact, in any sector. Additionally, the start-up must show the following characteristics:

  • Social impact - The prototype must have the potential to solve a social issue in the Egypt, for the Syrian refugee community and must have a clear impact on the Syrian refugee community.
  • Feasibility/potential success - The applicant must have a clear plan, demonstrating they have thought through their prototype. Synergos will be reviewing the extent to which the applicant is proactive and has a track record of executing their plans.
  • Innovation -  The prototype may be completely new, implemented in a new way, or implemented in a new location to maximize the benefit to the Syrian refugee community.

Support Services for Start-up Social Entrepreneurs

  • Technical assistance will be provided through a 5-day training module “boot-camp” covering business planning, marketing, financial planning, legal assistance, volunteers' management training and HR. This training is provided in conjunction with networking opportunities.
  • Networking opportunities will be provided with more advanced social entrepreneurs. Synergos will also host an “ideation day,” or a day dedicated to sharing information and ideas and building relationships with peers.
  • Opportunity to apply for seed funding will be provided through small grants of $700 each to help launch their initiatives.
  • Thematic workshops, will be provided, as well as Collaboration Awards and networking and mentorship opportunities.
  • Opportunity to “graduate” to the Pioneer category in Year 2 of the project.

Recent Youth Graduates Selection 

The selection process begins with an announcement that will be widely disseminated by the Synergos Institute and its partners through radio, websites, word of mouth, social media and other channels. Recent youth graduates will complete the Volunteer Application form, which will include information about their skills and areas of interest. Those who are considered a good match will be selected for our program. Based on experience, we expect many of the recent youth graduates to be between the ages of 20-30, with a smaller proportion between the ages of 16-20.

Support Services for Recent Youth Graduates

Synergos will create opportunities for prosperity by investing in recent youth graduates and providing them with the set of services below.

1) Volunteer training.  All recent youth graduates will receive training from the program before they begin their volunteer or internship placements. Trainings will include: interviewing skills, professional behavioral skills, presentation skills and potential opportunities for freelancing and self-employment.

2) Volunteer management training. Pioneers and start-ups will receive training on how to manage volunteers to ensure effective placement and how to develop volunteer job descriptions.

3) Volunteer and internship placement. Students and unemployed youth will be placed with volunteer and internship opportunities that will help to ready them for full-time employment.

Explain your idea

For decades, Syrian and Egyptian communities have co-existed due to economic and family ties. Syrians were not required to have entry visas or residency papers to stay in Egypt and were treated like Egyptian nationals when it came to free access to public education and healthcare. Following the 2011 War in Syria, the Egyptian rules have tightened and Syrians are required to have visas and residence papers, though they continue to have access to public education and health services.

While Syrian nationals have the same access to public schools as Egyptian nationals, several challenges have arisen around required documentation, overcrowding and safety concerns. Public schools have room for improvement in terms of the quality of education provided and the capacity of teachers. Private education is expensive. UNHCR and the UNICEF have been supporting rehabilitation and improvement of schools most impacted by the Syrian refugee crisis. This results in insecure conditions for wage and self-employment and related protection risks.

Today, the unemployment rate in Egypt is 13.2% with youth employment at 34.3%. Refugees’ access to employment is hampered by poverty and by limited service delivery and livelihood opportunities. Lacking appropriate levels of education, technical skills, and networking opportunities, refugees are caught in a vicious cycle that perpetuates their marginalization, and often resort to any available informal labor.

Our program will fill gaps in current assistance programs addressing the needs of Syrian refugees in Egypt through a two-pronged approach. First, we will identify and strengthen initiatives that promote social and economic development for Syrian refugees, led by individuals with deep ties to the communities they serve. These social entrepreneurs will be mostly Syrian – businesspeople and innovators – and may include Egyptians who work in the refugee community. Their initiatives may fill gaps in current assistance programs - or they may provide the next layer of services and opportunities to refugees whose basic needs are being met. By providing direct support to these social enterprise initiatives and their leaders, we will stimulate local initiatives that have the potential to scale up and complement other NGOs.

The second aspect of our approach is to enhance the employability of young Syrian refugees and improve their integration into Egyptian society. To this end, we will work directly with a group of Syrian and Egyptian youth through skills building, volunteer opportunities, and exposure to social entrepreneurship as a viable path to employment or business creation. Further, by including Egyptian youth into this work, the project will promote networking and shared experiences to facilitate Syrian refugees’ integration into the social fabric of Egypt.

Who Benefits?

This project has both direct and indirect beneficiaries.

Direct beneficiaries will include: 10 established social entrepreneurs or “Pioneers,” 30 start-up entrepreneurs and 1,000 recent youth graduates living in Egypt. Many of the Pioneers and start-ups will originate from Syria and may include recent refugees. At least half of the youth volunteers will be Syrian refugees. Direct beneficiaries will be selected through an extensive outreach effort, application review, interviews and site visits. We anticipate many participants will be in large cities, such as Alexandria and Cairo, due to the high concentration of Syrian refugees in these areas.

Indirect beneficiaries will include the people served by the initiatives led by Pioneers and start-ups. All indirect beneficiaries will be Syrian refugees. We anticipate that indirect beneficiaries will include high numbers of vulnerable people. The goal is to positively impact 12,000 people with the Syrian refugee community in Egypt.

How is your idea unique?

Our approach addresses gaps in the efforts to support refugees. Egypt is selected as the location, as a successful rollout of the program here, with a stable refugee population, gives us the opportunity to scale our approach to other countries. To ensure the program’s success, we will employ the four unique pillars of our program:

1) Needs assessment with Pioneers. We work with individuals to develop future goals and discuss professional and personal development.

2) Training and knowledge exchange for start-up social entrepreneurs. We use our training to cover key topics such as business planning, marketing and financial management.

3) Peer mentorship for Pioneers and start-up social entrepreneurs. We facilitate peer exchanges in which entrepreneurs benefit from professional support and practical advice.

4) Training and networking for youth volunteers. We use our training modules which have been designed with local academics and training professionals

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Tell us more about you

The Synergos Institute is a global non-profit that works collaboratively with leaders, institutions and partnerships to create more just and lasting solutions to global poverty. Synergos aims to create a more equitable global society in which all individuals, families and communities have meaningful opportunities to improve the quality of their lives, for themselves and future generations.

The name ‘Synergos’ comes from the Greek root meaning ‘working together.’ We believe that systemic change can occur when diverse stakeholders and sectors – government, civil society, business and communities – work together for common purpose.

The values of the OpenIDEO Challenge are well aligned with Synergos' approach. We promote leadership that focuses on sustaining effective working relationships among key partners and stakeholders. We believe that personal reflection work can help changemakers better understand themselves. In turn, they can go into the world as their authentic selves in an open-hearted and generous way. This is vital to building the trusting relationships that are the basis of collaboration and innovation.

To this purpose, Synergos employs facilitation techniques and practices that draw upon our experience as well as the expertise of numerous partners. Through these techniques, we enable individuals and groups to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their highest purpose – transforming themselves into more whole and effective leaders.

For over 25 years, the Synergos Institute has supported leaders, communities, institutions and partnerships in over 30 countries to help them implement innovative ideas that lead to sustainable and systemic change. We deliver leadership and peer learning programs for several networks who share Synergos’ commitment to collaboration for social change. These networks include the largest network of social entrepreneurs in the MENA region, a fellowship of 150 outstanding civil society leaders from 45 countries; 100 Fellows from the Leadership and Innovation Network for Collaboration in the Children’s Sector in South Africa; and the Global Philanthropists Circle, a network of over 90 philanthropic families from around the world.

Synergos has had a long history in Egypt, South Africa, Ethiopia, Namibia and Brazil in building local institutions and strengthening community philanthropy and social justice. In South Africa, we are currently working to reduce the isolation and improve the well-being of vulnerable children. In Ethiopia, we are helping smallholder farmers by supporting the country’s agricultural transformation. In Namibia, we are working to strengthen Namibia’s public health systems, particularly in maternal and child health and nutrition. In Brazil, we are supporting a large-scale multi-sectoral partnership for educational reform, targeting 1.7 million children. Finally, in Egypt, we support a growing network of nearly 100 entrepreneurs addressing social problems

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
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Attachments (5)

Synergos - Use Experience Maps - All.pdf

Here we include 3 user experience maps - one from each of the cohorts served by our Pioneers program. The first user map is through the lens of an established Pioneers. The second is through the lens of a start-up entrepreneur. The third user map is through the lens of a youth volunteer.

Annex 1 - Timeline.xlsx

This GANTT chart visually shows the implementation timeline of our project.

Annex 2 - M&E Framework.xlsx

This M&E framework lists the outcomes and indicators that will me monitored each year of the project.

Synergos Social Media Support.jpg

Synergos has shared its concept widely on social media, reading over 5,000 users so far.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Aline Sara

Hi Sara,
Great to see this project! I have travelled multiple times to Egypt and love the country. I am also very dedicated to supporting Syrian refugees (though our focus for now has been in Lebanon, where I am originally from.) In case you come across Syrian refugees who would be interested in working as online tutors for NaTakallam to help make an income while participating in your project (or simply  because they struggle to find employment--as I am sure many do) please send them our way! NaTakallam is actively looking to work with more Syrian and other Arabic-speaking refugees in Egypt, among other Arab countries. They can connect with us at Alf Shukr!

Photo of Sara

Hi Aline

Thank you so much for your interest in our project! If we are successful in launching this pilot with the Syrian community we will certainly keep you in mind as a resource for our Syrian participants. NaTakallam looks like a promising initiative and exciting pathway for Arabic-speakers looking to generate additional income.

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