Q&A: Blair Glencorse - Accountability Lab founder, Guinea-Bissau

The Accountability Lab has bases in Liberia and Nepal and supports projects that help citizens engage in matters of governance. Glencorse has turned his sights on coup-plagued Guinea-Bissau.

How does the Accountability Lab operate?
The Lab was set up to help people change the dynamic around them. For example, we’re working with universities in Liberia to deploy an SMS report-and-response system that helps stakeholders, students, administrators and professors co-ordinate the issues they’re facing on campus. We gather those reports then work with the universities to address each problem.

Why Guinea-Bissau?
There’s a huge agricultural potential beyond cashew nuts and in terms of tourism the Bissagos Islands are a unique ecosystem.

How do you foster civil engagement amid leadership change?
We link “accountapreneurs” with training, networks and mentorship, not just financing – though that’s part of it – so people’s ideas are seen through.

Q&A: Khaled Al Sabawi - TABO founder, Palestine

Palestine’s economy is characterised by temperamental infusions of foreign donor aid subject to the prevailing currents of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Khaled Sabawi, a young Canadian businessman of Palestinian origin, is challenging Palestine’s donor aid culture with a bold full-profit project called TABO (Turkish for title deed), which is developing large tracts of land in the West Bank.

What exactly is the land problem facing Palestinians in the West Bank?
Roughly 70 per cent of land in the West Bank is without title deeds. Since Israel took over the West Bank in 1967, they have employed an Ottoman law which allows the state to swallow lands without title deeds for state use. Many of Israel’s settlements actually sit on state land. We thought that as a private business we could buy the land, create urban master plans with title deeds and then sell small plots to Palestinians looking to leave increasingly expensive cities like Ramallah.

By the looks of it your business is doing the work of a government. Is this a trend in Palestine’s business climate?
In the absence of a functioning government, the private sector can and must provide services that the public sector should be providing while meeting a market demand. Our project is showing that Palestinians don’t have to be solely dependent on donor aid from Europe and the United States, while protecting our most precious natural resource: land.

Are more Palestinians looking for initiatives like TABO to restore a sense of independence?
It hasn’t been easy to meet the demands of our shareholders while providing a social good but we have done so while remaining independent. Given the political situation and the success of our project, more and more Palestinians are realising that private business is a sustainable model for social growth.

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