Authored by: Diana Hollmann
Nobody had foreseen what we witnessed happening throughout the Arab World in 2011: Three heads of state have been ousted from office, at least two still fear for their power as citizens fight for their rights, shaping a new Arab World. It’s an Arab World that people from both inside and outside the region are beginning to associate with the terms ‘opportunity’ and ‘change’ rather than ‘disenfranchisement’ and ‘stagnation’. This revolution of mindsets might set the ground for a cultural shift toward more risk-tolerance, activism and entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Barriers to unleashing entrepreneurial activity
Through the media we mostly hear about the political transformations sparked by the Arab Spring; but the dire economic situation, particularly of the youth in the region, was the final straw that actually got the ball rolling: two thirds of the region’s population is below 30 years of age. Some 20 to 30 percent of youth, in some countries up to a staggering 45 percent, are unemployed while barriers for starting a new business persist. By 2020, 50 million new jobs will have to be created just to keep current unemployment figures on the same level. Business creation will be an important motor for job growth; however, barriers for aspiring entrepreneurs are still commonplace in MENA. When Steve Jobs (who was half Syrian) passed away, a 28-year old from Damascus said: “I think that if (Jobs) had lived in Syria he would not have been able to achieve any of this, or else he would have chosen to leave Syria.”
Barriers to setting up a new business are multifold, ranging from a culture with little appreciation of risk and entrepreneurship in favor of secure government jobs (according to a recent report government is considered the second most popular sector to work in after oil, gas and petrochemicals) to a lack of finance for start-ups paired with regulatory frameworks and corruption that stifle private enterprise. The story of Mohamed Bouazizi whose self-immolation triggered the protests in Tunisia is instructive: at 26 years old he couldn’t find a job.