Did you know there’s a country where Internet service sector contributes as much to the GDP as its other key services ― including health, education and energy related services?
This country’s growth rate is nearly twice that of Europe, largely driven by its progression in private and corporate-backed entrepreneurship. What country would you guess I am talking about?
This country has the largest population of Internet and mobile users in its region as well as one of the most sizable and talented youth populations in the world. It has a huge consumer market. Moreover, it’s a global tourist destination.
Now take your best guess … Am I describing USA? Maybe China? Brazil?’
In Egypt, as well as across the Middle East and North African region, there is an unprecedented opportunity to embrace entrepreneurship. This phenomenon is a new way of problem-solving, which provides opportunity, promotes economic growth, and empowers people.
Entrepreneurship is hardly new to Egyptians. The Pharaohs believed that once a person died, s/he would be asked two questions by the Guardians of the Gate, and that their answers would determine whether they qualify to enter Heaven:
“Did you find joy in your life?”
“Did you bring joy to others?”
Written on Egyptian tombs, these questions represent the true meaning of life as well as its roadmap. But how is this linked to entrepreneurship? In essence, entrepreneurship is about following one’s passion, doing more of what makes one joyful, and turning this passion into a profitable and a sustainable business. Additionally, one of the core traits of successful entrepreneurs is mentorship, which is all about bringing joy to others, helping them achieve their dreams.
There are many ecosystem enablers in Egypt, as highlighted by the book I co-authored, Entrepreneurship in Egypt, from Evolution to Revolution. These include: an increasing entrepreneurial spirit among youth, which make up 40% of the population. There are also more and more champions from the private sector ― business owners and investors supporting the startup movement. The ecosystem is also buttressed by a proliferation of accelerators, fabrication labs, and co-working spaces.
Despite the positive trends, challenges remain. They include: difficulties with commercialization and market access – especially to global markets, the lack of women’s empowerment, the lack of transparency and data availability, and an old-style business culture heavily centered in Cairo.
Fortunately, there are new initiatives that seek to address these challenges. One of these is the MENA-Michigan Initiative for Global Action through Entrepreneurship (M²GATE). I have the pleasure to work on M²GATE, which is sponsored by the Stevens Initiative and implemented by the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan. M²GATE is an important initiative for Egypt because it allows students from all over the country in all academic disciplines to work on teams with American students to solve social problems. The M²GATE program applicant data speaks for itself. More than 600 Egyptian students applied, with a nearly equal split between men and women. They come from diverse backgrounds and are interested in an array of social issues, as these charts show:
The benefits of M²GATE to participants include:
· Cultural exchange that provides global perspectives on the problems we face
· The ability to identify and understand social issues in MENA and the US
· The introduction of creative and innovative problem-solving techniques
The sustainability and continuity of initiatives such as M²GATE — which empower young people to challenge the status quo and provide them with new tools to bring sustainable solutions to our most pressing problems — is critical to the economic and social development of Egypt and the entire MENA region.
The Stevens Initiative is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.