It is a matter of fact that chronic poverty and unemployment have long been the twin hallmarks of most Arab economies. While poverty afflicts between 30 to 40% of the populations of non-oil producing countries, unemployment is denying legions of Arab youth a dignified and productive life.
It seems evident, then, that unless innovative and bold solutions are deployed in the fight against these two problems—indeed in the struggle for our societies’ socio-economic progress–they will haunt future generations, much like they have harassed and demoralized past ones.
Now that the Arab world is contemplating a transformative leap, we, in the private sector, must seize the moment, recognize our vital role in the development of our region, tap into our huge reservoir of knowledge and experience and put vision and resources in action.
The private sector is up to the challenge. Long before 2011 turned into a crossroads, we had begun to embrace our civic responsibilities towards the wider community and understand the interests that link our bottom-line to that of society at large. Barely a decade ago, Corporate Social Responsibility was an alien concept to most in our universe. Today, an increasing number of businesses are adopting CSR as a fixture of corporate policy. CSR is clearly trending.
But in addressing the myriad quandaries that continue to confound us—citizens, businesses and governments alike—none more visibly than youth unemployment and poverty, we need to build upon, even transcend, the hard work done in the name of CSR. We need concerted, collective action. We need a movement that positions the private sector at the center of efforts to deliver a decent living for our people.
I put it to you that Corporate Entrepreneurship Responsibility is the movement: the method through which to lobby, mobilize and organize the private sector towards building region-wide entrepreneurship ecosystems. And these ecosystems would be the bedrock of the sector’s developmental strategies and the nexus around which new public-private partnerships would pivot.
At first glance, my proposition seems extraordinarily audacious. But consider this: The latest study of note that canvased Arab youth aspirations concluded that their highest priority is a decent wage and their greatest concern is the cost of living. And every single serious prognosis of the anemic Arab jobs market links the problem to weak educational systems, overburdened public sectors and ill-studied investments that waste rather than nurture our human capabilities.
And yet, precisely because of this discouraging tableau of realities, the groundwork is all set for CER. Small and medium sized companies (SMEs) already dominate private economies, formal and otherwise, providing the most viable route for our entrepreneurial youth and representing the surest breadwinner for them. Formal SMEs in MENA boast an average 30% of all private sector employment. Add informal ones and watch the figure turn palpably more impressive.
Moreover, startups in emerging countries, no less than in the United States, create the most jobs, generating wealth and unleashing talent. Jabbar and Souq Groups are a showcase of such ripple effects. When Yahoo acquired Maktoob in 2009, the creators of the Arab world’s largest on-line community went on to establish Jabbar and Souq Groups, which promptly raised $100 million and formed eight new companies. According to Samih Toukan, one of the founders of Maktoob, the Groups today employ 600, more than double that of the on-line platform.
The Arab world is teeming with aspiring entrepreneurs who need nurturing, guidance, mentoring, financing… That organizations, like Endeavor, Wamda, Meydan, Oasis500, Flat6Labs, Nahdet el Mahroosa, Sherkitna and Injaz, have risen in response to such needs reflects the private sector’s growing awareness of the contribution it is uniquely equipped to make in facilitating a thriving entrepreneurial environment.
We have everything it takes to make a real difference. My blueprint on CER highlights ten areas that require our attention:
Access to Capital
Access to Knowledge – Mentorship
Access to Networks
Building National Databases: mapping and Indexing Entrepreneurship Ecosystem per city
Doing business with entrepreneurs
Building startup communities and spaces
The options I cite under each in the soon-to-be published blueprint are designed to trigger discussions, concentrate efforts and invite country-specific solutions.
Through CER, I am calling upon the private sector to proclaim an active stake in building an inclusive future.
Any individual and/or company could set up a local chapter in order to champion CER. The local chapter’s responsibilities will be to mobilize private sector actors to focus their energies on the ten areas I have outlined above.
To join, interested parties can register on Wamda, which will disseminate instructions for joining local chapters.