Radwa Rostom is a social entrepreneur. A few years ago, she had never even heard the term before.
The founder of Hand Over, a social enterprise that utilizes sustainable construction techniques for community development, Radwa won last year’s World Bank Women for Resilience Competition, and now serves as an Ashoka and Echoing Green Fellow. Radwa gained inspiration for Hand Over in college, when she worked on a literacy project for a low-income community in an informal settlement in Cairo. Working with the community, Radwa witnessed the challenges of those living in informal settlements and unstable housing firsthand.
“I was studying construction at the time. I felt that I had to help my community through my field of study, rather than doing the normal, but still decent, community work” she said. “I didn’t know anything about social entrepreneurship or business models, any of these terms.”
With the idea in her mind, Radwa applied for a fellowship with The Do School a few years after graduating. In 2014, she was accepted as a fellow to grow her idea in Germany.
“The idea at that time was very immature. The idea was to make decent and humane houses for people to live in,” she said.
Radwa applied with a pilot project to the World Bank Women for Resilience Program, and then won the competition.
With the skills and training from the workshops part of the Women for Resilience program, Radwa gained confidence and a network of mentors and resources to support her idea. She has continued to stay in contact with many of her mentors, whom she still speaks with today and have helped guide her business to make it a sustainable model. “My mentors were encouraging me to see how at some point I can start to make some kind of revenue and make it sustainable,” she said. “It’s new, but we thought that this is the path that we need to try. We are not rigid, we are very flexible. We are testing as we are going.”
It is this kind of community that inspires Radwa to continue to promote and connect social entrepreneurs in Egypt and throughout the world. But creating more social entrepreneurs first requires addressing misconceptions about the field. “People always talk about social impact or social causes and relate it to NGOs and charity work and volunteering work. At some point some people think if you are doing some kind of charity work that it has to be for free, that it’s something that you can’t get money out of it,” she said.
To Radwa, however, social entrepreneurship is an opportunity for people to build a sustainable business and earn a stable living in order to create a social impact. “It’s important that you are able to support yourself and make a good stable living, because if you are not taking care of yourself then you are not able to sustain others.” Radwa’s perspective on social entrepreneurship offers a shift in how entrepreneurs think about making an impact; she demonstrates that creating positive change can come from building an effective and sustainable business.