How Cisco is Wiring Future MENA Business Leaders

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It’s no secret that communications multinational Cisco is facing hefty organizational restructuring. But that hasn’t stopped its corporate social responsibility arm, Cisco Entrepreneur Institute, from quietly becoming a dominant player in entrepreneurship training in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The institute aims to foster entrepreneurship in the region- and economic propersity more broadly- by filling existing gaps in business education.

“Young people are leaving university with great projects, but there is a gap in soft skills,” says Karim Djerboa, the Senior Manager of Global Field Operations and Strategic Alliances for Cisco Entrepreneur Institute. “Cisco sees its training centers as a one-stop shop that helps entrepreneurs go through the intellectual gymnastics of building a business.”

To this end, the institute offers three primary training courses, “Starting a Business,” “Growing a Business,” and “Entrepreneurial Mindset,” among others, in partnership with local institutions, such as Abu Dhabi University, who localize the sessions.

Its biggest partner, AMIDEAST, has launched joint workshops in Oman this year, demo workshops in Ramallah in tandem with job search platform Souktel, and, in Lebanon, a new “Sales Team Development” workshop that launches in September.

Far from being initiatives in name only, the Cisco Entrepreneur Institutes are demonstrating tangible successes. One Lebanese alumna became a finalist in the Deutsche Bank Creative Award Competition. The owners of Jordanian company Keenwash used their training to open successful franchises in Bahrain, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.

And 83% of participants come away with better understanding of how to use day-to-day technology in their businesses, despite the fact that Cisco does not hawk its own products. 

The hope is that these small successes across the board will build regional momentum and slowly transform entrenched mentalities, notes Djerboa. “Sometimes I meet people who are in love with their business cards, who have a patriarchal approach, without showing real leadership. At Cisco, I felt that it’s important to train people how to be true leaders.”

Djerboa’s approach reflects that, far from being another hotbed of motivational sound bites, the Cisco Entrepreneur Institute is building genuine- and timely- change.

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