Thousands of miles away from San Francisco, New York, and Liverpool a fresh and impressive entrepreneurial spirit is shining from all corners of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. And, the United Emirates (U.A.E.) is taking a leadership role in growing entrepreneurs with the cities of Dubai and Sharjah emerging as global centers of creativity, innovation, and new business development.
Attending the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Dubai last week, I was inspired by the passion and dedication to growing entrepreneurial activity in the MENA region from everyone I engaged with. The summit is the leading U.S. government-supported forum for promoting economic growth through entrepreneurship. This year the Obama Administration partnered with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai and Entrepreneurial Ventures of Arabia, with the goal of stimulating entrepreneurship, private sector job creation, and financing opportunities.
It was a testimony to the importance of this work and the commitment by so many to see the Department of State’s Global Entrepreneurship Program, Global Entrepreneurship Week, the Global Innovation in Science and Technology (GIST), and Higher Colleges of Technology represented so well during the Summit.
Summit participants explored ways to meet the challenges facing entrepreneurial and business growth, opportunities to increase entrepreneurial skills, build networks, and access the capital to realize the potential and aspirations of millions across the region. The Summit offers lessons for all of us:
Launch More Entrepreneurs to Launch More Startups – With youth employment one of the most urgent issues facing the MENA region, currently youth unemployment is at 25%, with close to 100 million jobs needed by 2020. Startups are key to creating jobs, but for startups to be successful the region will need to increase the quality and quantity of entrepreneurs through experiential-based entrepreneurial training, localized startup programming, and improved locally driven mentor networks of experienced entrepreneurs willing to share their knowledge and connections.
Entrepreneurship is American as Apple Pie – Entrepreneurship is a cornerstone of American culture and a pillar of our economic and social prosperity. The U.S. is uniquely positioned to support growing entrepreneurship worldwide because of our diverse experience, pioneering startup methods, and entrepreneurial culture. By promoting entrepreneurship we promote economic growth, job creation, political stability, along with youth and women’s empowerment.
Unleash Women Entrepreneurs – Women account for nearly half of the MENA regions’ human capital. Historically, barriers holding back women have had a small economic cost, but today the economic cost of gender barriers is much larger. Promoting and supporting women’s entrepreneurship is one of the most powerful ways to improve their own economic circumstances and encourage women’s empowerment. To meet the challenge of creating 100 million jobs women entrepreneurs need to reach their full potential and the barriers that hold them back must be broken down.
Quality Mentors Needed – The challenges and obstacles of starting a new company are easier to navigate with the guidance of an experienced role model with local knowledge. Institutions, academia, and organizations cannot take the place of real-world business building experience provided by volunteer mentors. At the heart of any ecosystem are people who have been there and done it and are willing to share, motivate, advise, coach, and open doors for aspiring entrepreneurs. Localized mentors are a key to increasing the quality and quantity of entrepreneurs and enhance entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Small Business is Big Business – The Middle East markets are evolving and becoming more competitive as the business environment moves away from large conglomerate-based oil to the development of an increasing private sector. In particular small firms account for 86% of the employment in the U.A.E. In addition, 90% of the businesses in the MENA region have fewer than 500 employees making them a huge factor in the growing economy. Addressing the specific needs and challenges of launching Small and Midsize Enterprises (SME) will be a key to unlocking the job growth potential of startups.
The MENA region has come a long way since the launch of the Arab Spring on December 18, 2010. Change that transforms a region is never smooth or without its own unique set of challenges. Based upon what I experienced during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, entrepreneurship is going to play a critical role in increasing the economic opportunities and advancement for all people of the region, especially the young aspiring entrepreneurs.