When Kamel al-Asmar founded Nakhweh, one of the Arab world’s first volunteering and development networks, he had no idea how successful it would become.
It began in 2009 as a simple Facebook group called Volunteers for Jordan, but has since grown to become a platform for enhancing the volunteering culture in Jordan and across the region. This success has recently been recognized internationally with al-Asmar being named as one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 under 30 in the field of Social Entrepreneurship. “In my case it was a small initiative that I never in my life thought would reach this point,” al-Asmar told Venture. “I thought that it would be a very simple website that worked by itself while I did my own work, but Nakhweh became bigger than my company itself.” Nakhweh, meaning chivalry in Arabic, works both online and offline with the aim of connecting youth, civil society organizations, social entrepreneurs, social activists, and socially conscious companies to make a difference in society and to work towards the social good. The online component of Nakhweh consists of a directory of over 900 organizations with Wikipedia-like profiles and over 25,000 registered volunteers. The website matches volunteers with volunteering opportunities through a search tool that can be used to find volunteers by location and skill. According to al-Asmar, over 1,500 people are estimated to have been involved in volunteer work through Nakhweh as of December. Beyond the cybersphere, Nakhweh also provides social media training and workshops for organizations and youth on how they can use social media for social good. “After the revolution of social media and the Arab Spring, a lot of initiatives started to show up on Facebook,” he explained. “People started to come up with ideas for initiatives and they pushed them online without knowing how to properly use social media to achieve their goals.” But how does a social enterprise such as Nakhweh survive financially? Al-Asmar explains that the initiative sources its funding from ongoing sponsorship and grants, such as the King Abdullah II Award for Youth Innovation and Achievement that he received in 2011. In addition to this is the business model behind Nakhweh. This consists of offering premium services, such as greater access to the Nakhweh network to its subscribers, for a fee. The basic services are available for free to general subscribers. Al-Asmar hopes that as this premium model is developed, Nakhweh will be capable of independently generating its finances in the future. When asked why he was drawn to social entrepreneurship, al-Asmar responded: “I’m a very loyal Arab citizen. I belong to the Arab world so I see a lot of problems and I know that there are some gaps that should be bridged by individuals, not by governments. Being a social entrepreneur helps in bridging these gaps.” He further explains that he is against the status quo. “I’m a proactive citizen and I think that proactive citizenship is very important for everyone.”This article was previously published in Venture Magazine.