Kamal Mouzawak spoke at Beirut 2013 with Rosie Boycott about 'Food anf the city'

When social meets business: Kamal Mouzawak

Considering a new species of social entrepreneurs, that must do “well” and do “good”

“Entrepreneurship” and “social” rarely used to meet! Then a while ago, we started to hear about a new species called, “social entrepreneurs”.

Entrepreneurs normally belong to the “business” world, and that usually means “income generation” and “profitability” … the doing “well” side of life!  … Which from time to time also “buys a conscience” with some Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities.

The world of NGOs, charities and welfare associations, takes in social and environmental involvement … but rarely has a clue about income generation or economic sustainability, and is usually “fueled” by funds and donations.  This is a world interested in doing “good”.

Today, there is a new notion of social entrepreneurs, that is about combining the best of both worlds … the world of environmental and social responsibility, and the business world’s income generation, management and organizational skills. In other words doing “well” and “good”.

Our modest adventure known as Souk el Tayeb (SET), somehow illustrates this case.

Souk el Tayeb, conceived in 2004 as a weekly farmers’ market – was created to preserve food traditions and the culture of small scale farming in Lebanon, as well as to protect the interests of the local small farmers and producers, enabling them to compete fairly in an era of globalized agricultural trade.

SET, by connecting consumers and producers who both value traditional, high quality, natural products, was able to get the farmers a fair price for their goods, while gaining them recognition and a better income.  Thus doing “well” and “good” while providing a way to perpetuate and preserve centuries old food traditions for future generations to enjoy.

The land, its people, history, production, food and traditions underpin the very existence of Souk el Tayeb. In time, this evolved from an experimental farmers’ market promoting small scale farmers and producers, to a vibrant organization working on many levels and projects, nationally and internationally to promote and preserve Lebanese food and culinary traditions, rural heritage and natural environment.

This “platform” grew organically, into a meeting place bringing together people from different regions and beliefs with a shared goal – celebrating the land we love.

The shared goal was also about introducing environmentally-friendly practices, encouraging organic, eco-friendly produce to improve the quality of food, life and health, and contributing to local community development initiatives. These include teaching environmental awareness to future generations (through educational campaigns, Souk @ school and Souk @ university),  consciousness-raising and promoting the experience of green living  (through public awareness campaigns , El Tayeb Press and El Tayeb Newsletter), and promoting regional and local traditions and food specialties, through Food & Feast festivals.

The latest enterprise and development for Souk el Tayeb, is Tawlet, the farmers’ kitchen, a restaurant where each day a different cook (from Souk el Tayeb family) prepares and showcases traditional meals from their region. Dishes such as  – zenkol, samke harra, kebbeh bassalyieh, maftouleh, reshta … each day, a different cook, a different producer, a different meal, a different story, a different eating experience that together unites a nation!

More than a mere farmers’ market, Souk el Tayeb, through its various projects, became the place to share life experiences and to raise awareness about healthy living, through education and information. A hub to combine both the “well” and the “good”.

The initial spark was about doing “good”, about human development and support for admirable rural farmers producing high quality, traditional products. Doing “well” followed closely after, providing the producers with a “platform” (a farmers market in the city, a festival in their village, a farmers’ kitchen in the city, along with the means to communicate and promote their products), where there is a demand and purchasing power for their products; this was not just about giving recognition and “pat on the shoulder” for the producers, but also about providing income generation and an economic platform!

In today’s world, this was redefining sustainability and profitability.

Sustainability is about “conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources”. Why shouldn’t this also be about economic sustainability, providing sound and responsible income generating activities too?

And profitability is about “yielding profit or financial gain”. So is it just about figures? Or should we redefine profitability as social and environmental responsibility alongside improving income, exposure and working conditions?

So getting back to our social entrepreneurs. They should not be considered as a species of their own!  They should be considered as valuable social experimenters as well.

Professor J. Gregory Dees in his article “Creating large-scale change: Not ‘can’ but ‘how’”, defends the role of the social entrepreneur while questioning the reaction of society.  He writes “It takes an ecosystem to solve a social problem. Social and environmental problems are typically rooted in behaviors, norms, institutions, social structures, and policies that no one social entrepreneur and no one social venture can hope to change working alone, Social entrepreneurs may have important roles to play in their ecosystems, as innovators, catalysts, leaders, coalition builders, visionaries, and the like. But they should not bear the sole responsibility for the success or failure of their innovations to create large-scale change. It is as much a failure of the society in which that social entrepreneur is working, as it is a failure of the social entrepreneur. lf our societies fail to capitalize on or harvest the value of the innovations and the knowledge developed by social entrepreneurs, it reveals weaknesses in our institutions and policies”.

Ghandi said: “Be the change you want to see.” Change often needs a “spark”, an initiator, and then must move from an individual’s responsibility, to community, societal or national interest. That is what we tried to achieve and continue to fight for with Souk el Tayeb.