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A Renaissance in Entrepreneurship Policy in the Middle East

Posted by: Jonathan Ortmans on November 21, 2009 Source: Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship

Throughout the Arab world, policymakers have been paying attention to the power of entrepreneurship. Hundreds of initiatives are being launched to encourage youth to innovate, learn marketable skills and start their own enterprises. The United Arab Emirates and the Arab Republic of Egypt rank among the top 10 global reformers in 2008/09 (Egypt for the fourth time), according World Bank’s Doing Business in the Arab World 2010 report.

Countries more experienced in building entrepreneurial economies, like the United States, have been lending their expertise and encouragement.  The U.S. State Department's Office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative is working to encourage youth entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa and President Obama will lead an entrepreneurship summit focused on the Muslim world in March 2010. The World Bank and other development organizations like the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) have also focused on small and medium-size enterprise (SME) development in the region.

This week, leaders in the United Arab Emirates seized the opportunity to promote a culture of entrepreneurship among the young through Global Entrepreneurship Week. On opening day of Global Entrepreneurship Week, the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) Forum began in Doha. For three days, decision-makers from governments, businesses, civil society, schools, media and international institutions exchanged experiences and identified new education techniques, players and technologies that will enhance human capacity across borders.

In terms of facilitating innovation in education content and delivery, speakers rightly emphasized that learning should not be confined to the classroom, but rather engage various other channels in society. I can’t think of a better way to connect society and education in the immediate and long term than through entrepreneurship educational experiences. Student-run businesses are an enriching educational experience and hold potential for impact on society through jobs, innovations brought to the market and much more.

Thought leaders from the private sector, government, NGOs/INGOs and academia also gathered this week in Dubai for an Arab-regional conference on Best Practices in entrepreneurship Policy (BPEP) – a Featured Event of Global Entrepreneurship Week. They explored not only the cultural aspects of entrepreneurialism, but also the incentive structures at work. 

Conference participants identified policy challenges as well as an agenda of best practices in the many areas that affect young entrepreneurs, such as education, bankruptcy laws, and credit access. Proper examination of a wide range of policy areas is necessary. The World Bank found that successful Doing Business reformers are comprehensive. For example, Egypt implemented at least 19 reforms, covering 8 or more of the 10 areas measured by Doing Business over the past 5 years. Consistent reformers are also inclusive, involving all relevant public agencies and private sector representatives, and they institutionalize reform at the highest level.

One clear policy recommendation coming out of the BPEP conference responds to the issue of fear of failure. Participants called for the decriminalization of bankruptcy. According to Dale Murphy, Senior Research Fellow at the Dubai School of Government, “youth should not fear going to debtor’s prison if their legitimate business goes bankrupt.”

The leaders of entrepreneurship in the Arab world can only uphold the promise of job and wealth creation if they continue to build a policy environment that is supportive of youthful enterprises. These knowledge and idea exchanges have built momentum this week towards institutionalized commitments to entrepreneurial cultures and economies in the region.

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