By Nafez Dakkak
There has been a lot of talk recently, both globally and regionally, about the importance of creating an entrepreneurial culture, and the role such a culture can play in an economic recovery. Calling for an “entrepreneurial revolution” should definitely be one of the priorities of the world today; however, we need to make sure we do not define entrepreneurship too narrowly. In its essence entrepreneurship is about a proactive mindset that encourages ownership of surrounding problems in society, sees them as opportunities, and embraces the risks and failures involved in finding a solution.
In most cases, discussions about creating an entrepreneurial culture focus exclusively on endeavors to establish a business-centric ecosystem of workers and employees. Yet entrepreneurs are daredevils and business owners who are not found in our everyday environments. I believe an emphasis only on business is too narrow and can be very detrimental in the long run.
With the highest youth unemployment rate globally, job creation should definitely be a key priority for MENA economies. Nevertheless, a narrow focus on job creation alone misses a great opportunity to radically improve the region’s future. Governments and other entities working on establishing an entrepreneurial culture should not overlook the importance of creating a proactive and entrepreneurial citizenry outside the workplace.
In the new Middle East, we must not forsake any of the potential positive change an entrepreneurial revolution can bring. We must see entrepreneurship through a larger and more holistic lens. An entrepreneurial revolution must encompass all members of society in their different capacities and describe a culture that takes ownership of its problems and thinks critically and creatively of solutions – even if these solutions are outside of a business framework and don’t result in the creation of actual companies. Under this framework, the teacher that employs technology in the classroom to engage his students is an entrepreneur whether he fails or succeeds. Similarly, the company CEO who takes time after work to raise awareness about important local issues is an entrepreneur, whether she succeeds in solving the lack of information problem or not.
Entrepreneurship has the chance to play a central role in moving the Middle East forward and creating a more engaged and active civil society. Its rise presents the chance to create a culture that values and practices lifelong learning and takes direct ownership of all its problems. The promotion of such a society can only lead to a better environment for nurturing companies and start-ups. Existing and future companies will exist in a region where the general population is entrepreneurial by nature and no longer sees problems as obstacles but as opportunities for positive change and improvement.
In an opinion piece for CNN, Marwan Muasher stated that “[w]hat has taken place in the Arab world is the start of a genuine and permanent process of change where the average citizen suddenly discovered real power.” Moving forward, governments in the region and others working on creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem should leverage this change to empower citizens to become entrepreneurs that find organic and culturally sensitive solutions to the problems facing us today.
Nafez is a recent Yale Alum who majored in Economics and International Studies. Nafez wrote his Yale thesis on Obstacles towards curriculum reform in Jordan and the UAE. He is currently a consultant for PricewaterhouseCooper’s Education Team based in Dubai. He is interested in Education Reform, MENA politics, social entrepreneurship, and tech start-ups and is a firm believer in the power of gamfication. His main passion is the intersection between technology and education entrepreneurship.