In the wake of growing divisiveness, tolerance has become an ideal the world aspires to. In the UAE, however, it has always been recognised as more: it is — as the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE, said — our duty. As a country that is home to over 200 nationalities, and through declaring 2019 the “Year of Tolerance”, the UAE stands as an example of what it means to welcome those of differing backgrounds and faiths.
Tolerance as duty applies to any nation, and it also applies to any thriving entrepreneurship community. After all, a core tenet of entrepreneurship is that anyone, regardless of race or creed, can generate change.
The Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre (Sheraa) has sought to honour the spirit of tolerance. Our programmes are open to all, and over the past three years we have supported entrepreneurs from over 25 nations, as young as 16 and as old as 52, from a myriad of backgrounds and experiences. However, what we have learnt is that when it comes to building an entrepreneurship ecosystem, there are other forms of tolerance that are just as crucial.
Tear down the aversion to risk
Integral to entrepreneurship is the willingness to venture into the unexplored, sometimes failing along the way. However, people still hesitate to take the risks that come with being an entrepreneur, afraid of the stigma of not succeeding. We as a society must strive to develop our tolerance for failure.
Pioneers such as His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Coucil Member and Ruler of Sharjah, are role models for the entrepreneurial mindset. Consider Sharjah’s title as the Unesco World Book Capital for 2019, a feat years in the making. Every year, for eight years, Sharjah steadfastly applied for the honour, only for it to be granted to another city.
Yet His Highness did not consider a single attempt wasted. Each rejection was used as an opportunity to enhance the emirate’s work in the book and publishing sector and try again, until, on the ninth attempt, Sharjah earned its title.
Sheraa remains inspired by His Highness’ commitment and tenacity in the face of challenge. We know that we must nurture an environment that not only supports those trying to build start-ups, but also accepts failure for what it is: just another way, sometimes the only way, to learn. Avoiding or denouncing it merely robs people of valuable experience, and ultimately hinders genuine progress.
Defining start-up success and failure
Conversely, we must also be tolerant of all forms of start-up success. The news of Careem being acquired by Uber has been a proud touchstone moment for the ecosystem, and has given us a sense of how big scalable start-ups can grow. However, not every entrepreneur has the same measure for growth, and not all ventures will scale to become unicorns.
For example, within Sheraa’s portfolio lie start-ups such as The Mawada Project, which creates volunteering and community-engagement programmes for children, or BluePhin Technologies, which develops autonomous water monitoring and cleaning vehicles for commercial bodies of water. These may not be the “next Careem”, but that doesn’t make them any less meaningful.
Any start-up that generates positive social impact and sustainable economic contribution is worthy of celebration, regardless of size. If it helps move the needle toward progress, innovation, and job creation, it matters.
Tolerance is our duty, and we as ecosystem builders must expand our definition to go beyond embracing people from all walks of life. We must embrace risk and potential failure. We must be inclusive of all start-ups that generate positive change. What better time to do so than the Year of Tolerance?
Najla Al Midfa is General Manager of Sheraa (Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre).