Jordan’s WEF accentuates SMEs as key economic drivers in the Middle East

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Entrepreneurship is no longer only discussed in private meetings and coworking spaces, it is increasingly becoming relevant on a macro level where policy makers are considering it a priority. This was at least evident at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, which took place in Jordan during the last three days under the theme of ‘enabling a generational transformation’.

Entrepreneurship as a method to empower generations, was a main topic discussed by businessmen and economists present at the forum. Many entrepreneurs attended the conference as part of the ‘Startup4IR’ initiative where the best 100 Arab startups were chosen to attend the conference and become part of the forum’s platform. The initiative was organized by WEF and the International Finance Corporation.

Wamda met with entrepreneurs, corporations, and other officials to further understand the connection between the ecosystem and the international community.

What is it for entrepreneurs?

“Attending the summit allows me to initiate deals with investors in the region, especially in the Gulf. It also enables me to connect with government officials in order to amend restrictive regulations,” said Mohammad Al-Shaker, the founder of Arabia Weather, which was selected among the best 100 startups in addition to 20 other startups from Jordan.

Within the same lines, Ahmad Al-Hanandeh, the CEO of Zain Telecom, believes that “the presence of young entrepreneurs at the summit assured corporates and governments that keeping up with technology is the way forward towards an opportunistic future, and that the tools needed for a smooth transition into a digital economy are within their reach”.

During the summit, Zain and WEF launched the Jordanian edition of the global initiative ‘Internet for all’ which aims at reaching 60 million new internet users by 2019.

Entrepreneurship as a general philosophy

Various panels stressed on the responsibility of governments, the private sector, and the civil society in supporting entrepreneurs and endorsing innovation into the core of their operations.

Alain Peloux, vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, believes that private investment is essential for a healthy ecosystem. “The continuum of financing ranges from business ventures, venture capitalists, and banks to private equity. This continuum needs to exist in order for startups to thrive,” he told Wamda.

 

Fadi Ghandour, executive chairman of Wamda Capital, and Alain Peloux, VP of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (Picture via WEF).

Technology for social development

Aside from the private sector, civil society organizations showed their interest in collaborating with startups and in adopting new technologies. The International Migration Organization for example, presented a technological project adopting an interactive map to display its data on migration.

Technology was also discussed as a tool that needs to be absorbed on different layers and by all society sectors. This will ensure a smooth transition into the fourth revolution which is expected to present new challenges to the world’s and the region’s labor market by automating many sectors.

As a response to this rising concern, two reports that present future challenges and the role of technology, were released during the summit. The first, titled ‘The future of jobs and skills in the Middle East and North Africa: Preparing the region for the fourth industrial revolution’ was released by WEF, while the second: ‘MENA talent competitiveness report’ was jointly published by Google and INSEAD.

Locally, the Jordanian accelerator Oasis 500 seized the opportunity to launch its campaign Innovative Jordan which aims at strengthening Jordan’s position in the region’s ecosystem, as well as offer an inspiring platform for entrepreneurs.

“Jordan has been disserviced by its inactivity in terms of promoting its success stories,” said Faisal Haqqi, the accelerator’s CEO. “This is exactly what Innovative Jordan aims to do. It aims to shed the light on Jordanian success stories locally and regionally”.

According to Haqqi, WEF’s focus on entrepreneurship as a main objective reflects nothing but the avowal of decision makers and international stakeholders that SMEs are truly the engines driving economic growth in the Middle East.

Using interactive maps to showcase immigration routes (Picture via WEF).

.Header photo is via WEF's women and entrepreneurship panel 

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