Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. once said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

With fast-paced changes around the world and substantial changes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the constant question asked is: “What can be done to address these challenges, and how can such challenges be a tool to lead positive changes?”

This was one of the main themes at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa held in the Dead Sea, Jordan. Government, civil society and business leaders gathered at to address the challenges of violent extremism, high unemployment rates, energy and natural resources crisis, and youth empowerment. The World Economic Forum also witnessed a refreshing sight of young people, who are part of the Global Shapers Community, participating strongly in the event, either represented in panels or leading discussions. 

The Global shapers community, an initiative of the WEF, enabled 50 young entrepreneurs to represent the voice of youth aspiration, dreams and fears in the MENA region. Considering that more than 50 percent of the world’s population is under the age of 27, the WEF recognized the need to include young people in global policy discussions. That's why the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum was established, to present a platform for proactive and talented youth to initiate positive change in their society.

One of the most insightful sessions during WEF MENA 2015 was an exclusive meeting with Nader Nashed, head of Coca Cola Middle East. Global Shapers from across the MENA region were eager to discuss problems of unemployment and entrepreneurship in the region, quizzing Nashed about his experience and journey as a leader at The Coca Cola Company. The discussion was led by Mona Arslan, a Global Shaper from the Alexandria Hub and a member of the Strategic Marketing and Entrepreneurship Unit at the Arab Academy for Science and Technology, who inquired about his personal leadership journey, challenges faced, and ways of overcoming them. “Leadership is not about what I do; it is about what we can do together,” Nashed said. 

Global Shapers were curious about Coca-Cola’s approach and support of entrepreneurship in the MENA region. Coca-Cola is a champion in empowering youth around the globe. “Ripples of Happiness” and Coca Cola MENA Scholars are two projects implemented by Coca-Cola to promote entrepreneurship and encourage young students to excel academically and have a positive impact in their community at the same time. More than 100 students have had transformational experiences at Kelly School of Business for four weeks, studying entrepreneurship and gaining skills enabling them to play positive part of people’s life.

As the discussion developed, Nashed shared his insights on how to transform challenges into opportunism, especially in stressful business environments such as the Middle East and North Africa. Coca-Cola found that investment, engagement, involvement and partnership with people and stakeholders in local community projects are vital for their success in these competitive and challenging markets. 

As a Global Shaper from Gaza, I am was inspired by Coca-Cola effort to open a new facility in Gaza, to empower Palestinians and create hope and jobs for young people.

Finally, the session ended with an intriguing question by one of the Global Shapers addressing Coca-Cola’s efforts toward environmental sustainability. “Coca Cola is competing with water, and the MENA region is an area that suffers from water supply shortages. What is Coca-Cola doing to address this issue?” Nashed accentuated the priceless value of water, not only because it is a key ingredient for its products, but also a source of life in this world. By 2020, Coca-Cola is planning to be water neutral, where it conserve and improve the local water resources through recycling wastewater, re-treatment plants and commitment to be a responsible steward of water.

Global Shapers shared their hopes and concerns regarding the unpromising future of the region. Though we couldn’t find magical solutions for the problems we face, we found inspiration. After the session with Coca-Cola, I realized that saying Coca-Cola is a partner for Global Shapers Community is not accurate. I see The Coca-Cola Company itself as a member of the Global Shapers Community, working relentlessly for a better life and a better future.

This session with Coca-Cola taught me that complaining about problems will not solve them. An open mind, desire to learn, willingness to take risks, a sharp mind and collective efforts are the secrets to transforming challenges into opportunities.

I go back to Gaza fueled with energy and enthusiasm to participate in bringing ripples of happiness in Gaza through my Global Shaper Hub’s activities. 

Asmaa S. AbuMezied is a Global Shaper in the Gaza Hub.