Arab League moves to support Arab entrepreneurs with forum in Cairo

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In an unprecedented move to support entrepreneurs, the Arab League has hosted the first forum for Arab Entrepreneurs and Innovative Ideas, held in Cairo from February 18 to 20. The forum aimed at gathering Arab investors and entrepreneurs to close deals reflecting the recent changes the Arab world has witnessing in an attempt to support the Arab economy. 

The Arab Youth Council for Integrated Development held the forum with the theme of ‘Prospects for Economic Integration for Arab Entrepreneurs and Innovators’. The forum is set to become an annual event, and will be held in Saudi Arabia next year. 

 The forum resulted in the Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd Foundation for Human Development (PMFHD) undertaking the establishment of a national fund for youth projects, an Arab youth observatory, and an Arab non-profit organization for youth investment management.

The forum emphasized the importance of improving the investment climate in the Arab region, facilitating youth participation, establishing an information bank for ideas and initiatives in the Arab world, and organizing annual exhibitions that showcase ideas and innovations from Arab youth. The forum also sought to isolate strategies for building the capacities of young Arab innovations and inventors, and using the media to market and introduce Arab ideas. 

Twenty-four Arabs pitched their ideas before the attendees on the second day. Most of them came from Egypt, followed by Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Yemen, Morocco, and Sudan. 

Their ideas included an auto-parts washing machine, a project for the establishment of smart cities, an integrated transportation system (magnetic levitation transportation means), housing (small-space apartments with multi-use furniture), alternative approaches to education, and an advanced mobile hospital model presented by engineer Khaled Thabet from Al Mawred. Ahmed El Khawly also presented preneur-masr.com, a website for Egyptian entrepreneurs specialized in entrepreneurship and SMEs, incubated by the Egyptian Ministry of Investment’s Bedaya Startup Academy. 

Other than the pitch session, the forum was dominated by formal discussions and conversations given that most of the speakers were government officials. This format may have failed to most efficiently engage the broad base of Arab entrepreneurs who are perhaps more capable of making a difference in their societies. Their participation in such an event would be important so as to prove as positive examples for would-be entrepreneurs. 

Entrepreneurs in attendance had mixed reactions to the forum’s usefulness. The forum was an excellent opportunity for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to investors, and a great chance for networking, said Karem Sayed, founder of shglnafsk.com, an initiative that helps users learn that the internet can be used for more than just recreation. Mohammed Al Anwar, however, a scientist at the Fayoum University who discovered a fertilizer that can increase crop yields at no additional cost, disagreed with Sayed, not having sensed any increased connection between entrepreneurs and investors. He asked: “Innovators heard each other, but who will help them implement their ideas?” He would have preferred for the private sector to have a larger and more diverse presence at the forum. 

El Khawly said that the forum could have taken advantage of the presence of Arab officials and private institutions to discuss obstacles that entrepreneurs face, followed by a discussion of possible solutions by engaging the private sector and steering away from governments. Communication during the event was, instead, he said, unilateral. 

Further, the event wasn’t advertised widely enough, which limited attendance in both numbers as well as diversity.

Future events may be more useful if the organizers are able to learn their lessons from this first forum; the event has potential though, and we look forward to next year’s version in Saudi.

Hanan Solayman is a freelance journalist and founder of El Mandara, a local news portal in Egypt. She studied Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York. You can connect with her via e-mail at hanan@mandaraonline.com or on Twitter @hananzaz.

 


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