Given the limited resources, the aftermath of war in Lebanon and the spread of consumer mentality in the region, measures of success and societal recognition have become limited to monetary achievements and access to power and authority. Youth and university graduates were encouraged to join the private sector as the only means to achieve society’s recognized success and no incentive was given to those who preferred to volunteer or work in the social sector.
Wael’s idea is to restore a balance, not only in Lebanon but in the Gulf and other parts of the region. His idea is to identify and promote “local heroes” who will inspire the youth and serve as role models to restore respect, recognition and appreciation to those working in the social sector.
Wael’s idea is the creation of a union, platform and network of “inspiring local heroes,” whom he calls “independent activists,” who act as role models to the youth involved in environmental, social and cultural movements and who aspire to create systemic change.
Wael’s idea is multi-faceted. His overall goal is to alter and change the current measure of societal success, namely money and power, which in his opinion has led to neglect of social activism among younger generations. The underlying aspect of his idea is to support existing social entrepreneurs and motivate young future entrepreneurs in order to create a vibrant and entrepreneurial citizen sector.
To achieve his goal, Wael established IndyACT in 2007 to serve as a platform for “inspiring individuals” in different fields of the social sector who will serve as role models within a community. Through IndyACT and after a process of due diligence in identifying and selecting these “local heroes,” who become “league members,” Wael, through his organization, provides them with the space and logistical facilities (training, access to government, local aid) to help them achieve their goals. He also promotes them to the youth and the media as examples of an alternative model of success.
Through his “volunteers program,” volunteer University graduates (Indy Activists) are selected and trained to work with the league members. Thus they become inspired and their core values are affected. To date, IndyACT has 200 Indy Activists who work in conjunction with league members on related environmental, cultural and social projects. In addition, Wael established another program Indy Youths targeting 10-18 year old young adults in schools. He travels around, visiting various schools and giving presentations about IndyACT. Through his presence at the schools, Wael finds committed young individuals who are willing to self–organize and come up with environmental and cultural campaign ideas. These groups of young students have to apply to IndyACT and are then provided training and technical assistance. They are coached and monitored. Indy Youths can graduate to Indy Activists after they are 18 years old, and Indy Activists can graduate to become “inspiring heroes” or league members if they meet the IndyACT criteria of total commitment to a social cause.
Via IndyACT, Wael is searching Lebanon and the Arab world for committed individuals who could produce a real change and transform deeply rooted concepts that measure money and power as the only standards of success to new standards of individual commitment to the betterment of self and the community.
Weal is changing the emerging material values of society by modeling a clear representation for the young Arab generations that shows them how people can make a difference through social work and activism. Wael is “extracting the Gandhi” out of committed Arab individuals. Wael is also protecting the passion of activists who are, with the professional support provided by IndyACT, on their way to changing the norms and deeply rooted concepts of money and power as the only measures of success with the aim of creating a strong, vibrant and entrepreneurial citizen sector.
Wael’s idea addresses a number of structural and societal problems in Lebanon, the Levant, and the Gulf regions. The first problem is the lack of incentives for youth to choose a career in social development and the citizen sector. In the last two decades, more appreciation and prestige have been afforded to careers in the private sector. With the spread of a consumer’s mentality, parents and youth alike have shied away from non-monetary self-satisfaction. This has affected the growth of a vibrant and committed social sector. In addition, it plagued the current citizen sector with a different breed of development workers who sought donor-driven projects that ensured a sizable income.
Secondly, with the increase in rates of unemployment and economic regression, the generations of young Arabs in the Levant and Gulf regions lacked an incentive to invest in society. The spread of corruption also reduced their pride in their identity. The absence of “local heroes” and “positive role models” also affected how young Arab adults view themselves and their region. Thus they began to look elsewhere, both to the West and their Islamic past, affecting their sense of self-worth, work ethics and commitment to inspiring their societies.
Thirdly, inspiring and committed individuals, i.e. social entrepreneurs, who challenged such an environment, were left to fend for themselves. They faced major challenges in establishing their CSOs due to a lack of access to information and resources. In addition, a considerable number of these new CSOs ended up inactive due to a lack of management, financial and legal capacities.
IndyACT provides these activists (social entrepreneurs) with a platform to work from in addition to providing them with a variety of resources: human capital through the trained volunteers (Indy Activists); technical training in conducting campaigns and dealing with the media; and other logistical and legal assistance.
Wael’s journey and the inception of his idea began when he was fifteen years old. Watching an MTV program, Wael saw three Green Peace volunteers exposing themselves to danger by fighting the dropping of industrial waste in the ocean. Growing up in Lebanon, Wael and his peers were raised to view successful people as those who chose to pursue lucrative, traditional careers, such as lawyers and doctors. The MTV program changed his life and inspired him to pursue a career committed to the preservation of the environment. Against his family’s wishes, Wael volunteered for one year with Green Peace in Lebanon. Wael enjoyed serving with Green Peace so much during this first year that he ended up working with them for a total of seven years.
During his seven years, Wael’s phase of apprenticeship, he was ridiculed and undermined by his college peers and family members. He also was a first-hand witness to the lack of understanding and appreciation by the media and university students about the mission of Green Peace and the reasons behind his commitment to a career that did not reflect societal measures of success. He also noticed that fewer and fewer young Lebanese entered the social sector or saw it as a respectable career path.
In 2006, when he and a group of his limited friends went to monitor, report and campaign against the oil spill on the coast of Lebanon, Wael discovered that other committed social entrepreneurs were facing the same challenges and were disillusioned with the citizen sector due to the social, legal and cultural challenges they were facing. Thus, in 2006, Wael decided to establish an entity that would address these challenges, identify and promote social activists whom he labelled as “inspiring local heroes” to act as role models for younger generations and provide them with legal, logistical, financial and technical support with the goal of creating a vibrant, committed and professional citizen sector in Lebanon, the Levant, and the Gulf sub-region.
Wael registered his organization in February 2007 as the “League of Independent Activists” or IndyACT. Wael initially identified 3 veteran activists who subsequently became the first league members: Nadine Mawad, Zeina El Khalil and himself. Wael then started providing those inspiring individuals with an enabling environment to support them and recognize the work they had done. By highlighting these people for their services, Wael was showing that the three league members were excellent role models for inspiring others. Through enabling those individuals, Wael has provided a dual support mechanism, one for the league members themselves and the other for the individuals who are inspired by the IndyACT league members.
The first aspect of support that Wael provided to the league members was the provision of an office space and a registered organization under which they could work. He then provided them with a volunteer base to assist in the execution of their projects. The initial training group had more than 60 volunteers. Wael also established partnerships with several highly respectable, international networks and organizations to provide league members with international expertise and an opportunity to grow. He then used his contacts to design and provide training seminars on campaign, management, and project management. To support the league members professionally rather than only with the provision of volunteers and intellectual training seminars, Wael hired a fundraiser, a communication expert, a logistics coordinator and an administrator. Moreover, Wael created an advisory board that includes veteran lawyers, CEOs of companies, international campaign directors, etc. to provide advice and guidance to the campaigns and league members.
Since his recent beginnings, Wael has organized seven local, regional and international campaigns with the league members and the volunteers. One particularly successful campaign was a media campaign promoting the concept of the “Role Model” that depicted the benefits that society gains as a result of having role models. He also delivered two media trainings for university students to promote the concept of social activism through role models and instill within them the passion of becoming active social workers committed to making a change in the region. Wael’s goal was to change their perception about social work and alter their understanding of what success is. He wanted students to recognize social entrepreneurship and activism as a respected profession.
By 2008, the pool of volunteers had increased in number to over 200 active young volunteers operating through IndyACT. In return, league members helped strengthen IndyACT as they worked to support independent activists and networks. As Wael worked with the young volunteers, he saw among them an enthusiasm for the betterment of their communities. Working off of their enthusiasm, Wael was able to develop Indy Youth, a group of young activists from schools and universities between the ages of 10 to 18, to further promote the “role model” concept within social activism. Within three months, Wael was able to expand his network of Indy Youth to 20 young activists.
Other than supporting exceptional activists, IndyACT aims to increase the number of environmental, social and cultural activists in Lebanon. Therefore, Wael initiated two projects to promote activism. One project is to train youth under the age of 18 on environmental and social activism by creating youth campaigning groups across Lebanon. The other is a reality TV show on environmental activism. Wael has designed a group of trainings and capacity building modules through a set program that he delivers via IndyACT including “Training and Capacity Building,” “Project Management,” “Team Management,” “Leadership Skills,” “Campaign Building” and a special “Advocacy Program.” IndyACT also promotes social, environmental and cultural activism by conducting capacity building activities with potential future activists.
Wael is currently running four operating campaigns and the two activism projects. The campaigns are “Arab Climate Campaign,” “Zero Waste,” “Save our Seas” and a “No-Smoking campaign” in which he is using his network of inspiring league members and social activists to inspire others and deliver messages to change the world around them.
The first six months of operation ended with a turnover of US $200,000, a record for a CSO that started with only a US $10,000 donation from an individual donor.
Wael’s program is still in the early-launch phase of initiation and yet his potential for success is tremendous. Just within the last year Wael has seen extraordinary results: IndyACT has three league members; a volunteer base consisting of over 200 people; 20 members involved in his youth venture, Indy Youth; seven campaigns tackling local, regional and international topics; and a budget that grew from US$10,000 at the beginning of the year to over US$200,000 by the end. It is also worth noting in this list of achievements that Wael created a program that fosters and supports entrepreneurs from a young age rather than focusing only on adults to instigate change.
Over the next five years, Wael plans on recruiting 15 inspiring league members: 10 from Lebanon and 5 across the neighboring Arab countries. He will also increase the scope of support to the league members by building a professional capacity-building department within the organization that will train league members on a more diverse skill-set. Wael’s medium term plan is to strengthen and consolidate his organization as well as continue providing campaigning tools to league members. He also plans on developing a research and science department to support league members in researching their campaign topics. Wael will also establish a policy and legal department that will provide league members with professional advice on policy and legal issues.
Over the long term, Wael plans to expand, beginning with the provision of volunteers in three Arab countries: Palestine, Syria and Jordan.
During his youth in conflict-laden Lebanon, Wael’s greatest amusement and escape was found in reading the Superman, Spiderman, and Batman comic books. He was drawn to the idea of a larger-than-life hero that made personal sacrifices for the good of others. It turned out to be an idea that stuck with him for life, remaining in the back of his mind as his attention shifted away from comics and focused on school, friends and family. At the age of fifteen, while watching an MTV “Featured Activist” program, the hero ideology came rushing back to the forefront of Wael’s conscious. As he watched a group of environmental activists in an inflatable raft place tiny inflatable rafts under nuclear waste barrels in an effort to prevent the dumping of nuclear waste into the ocean, Wael thought about the sacrifices that the people on the television screen were making to stop something that would probably not affect them at all. It was the first time that Wael remembers being exposed to such direct action and he was amazed that people would be willing to fight and work for the betterment of society, even risking their own lives in their endeavors. This was a defining moment for Wael and he decided to become like the activists he had just seen.
Two years after the television program, Wael heard that Greenpeace had opened an office in Lebanon and he rushed to join as one of the first volunteers. In no time at all, Wael became the head of the volunteers as well as the head of the Action Team, a position he held for the remainder of his seven years as a volunteer. In 1999 he joined the Greenpeace ships and took part in campaigns protesting and preventing the destruction of marine life and resources.
Through IndyACT, Wael is able to provide a starting point for change in the moral fiber of society as well as changes in environmental, social and cultural issues. His league members are the heroes that he envisioned as a young child and, just like Superman, they inspire others to become environmental, social and cultural activists.