Abu Dhabi: It may have missed the industrial revolution of 400 years ago, but the Arab world certainly should not miss out on the ongoing one led by the power of information technology. But to promote entrepreneurship taking advantage of new and emergent technologies, Arab states have to create localised ideas instead of importing them from others.
“Some people think the West has a magical formula [that suits all], but they don’t,” said Usama Fayyad, executive chairman of Jordan-headquartered Oasis500, at the fourth Abu Dhabi Media Summit. Oasis500 is an early stage and seed investment company
He said the advent of the mobile phone, social media and related IT technologies are just the cusp of an all-encompassing revolution. “These technologies help address the global market in which you can participate from wherever you are — it is our choice whether we can sleep or take part in it for future,” Fayyad said.
He was talking as part of a panel discussion — ‘Building strong local eco-systems to achieve global success’ — along with Eric Gertler, executive vice-president and managing director of NYCEDC-Centre for Economic Transformation. Danny E. Sebright, president, US-UAE Business Council was the moderator.
Governments alone cannot address the growing unemployment in the Arab world, he said, and promoting private entrepreneurship that can create millions of jobs is the only solution. It depends on education and relevant laws to support entrepreneurship.
“There is a huge misallocation of resources in the Arab world,” Fayyad added.
Oasis500 offers programmes in entrepreneurship training, mentorship guidance, business incubation and additional follow-up investment. The company says its goal is to support 500 start-ups in five years.
Dismissing many Arabs’ obsession with depending on the West for ideas and training, Fayyad said he has seen Arab governments and businesses regularly conduct training programmes by reputed Western universities. “They have great ideas and content but Arab participants at such programmes do not find them interesting,” Fayyad said.
“Because those material and content do not relate to their culture and experience. They need localised programmes with references to localised stories and experience. People prefer importing ideas from outside to creating their own... thinking that the West has a magic formula for all. But they don’t have. Localisation in training is very important.”
For example, Jordan has a large number of IT graduates, and as a proportion to the population, even higher than in many other countries. His company is trying to tap that resource in Jordan. “In Lebanon, we are trying to focus on design and advertisement,” Fayyad said.
Similarly, Gulf states can focus on the energy sector. “The biggest desalination plants in the world are in the Gulf states. People can be trained to invent new technologies and business models that can be used in the sector. There is no one formula for all — you have to play with your own strength.”
In commerce, he said the GCC looks like a free zone, but in other Arab countries, customs clearance and border controls hinder trade.
On the need for a proper legal system to support entrepreneurship, Fayyad was critical. He said Jordan had the most advanced laws to protect private investments, but there are restrictions on new companies to distribute their profits, which prompt them to go for offshore operations to overcome such obstacles.