Although entrepreneurship in the MENA region is booming, greater and more comprehensive cooperation between local governments is necessary in order to capitalize on recent momentum within the ecosystem, according to a senior World Bank representative.
Ali AbuKumail, a Senior Private Sector Specialist at the World Bank, recently worked on the Arab World Competitiveness Report 2018 – a joint cooperation between the World Economic Forum and World Bank which focuses on MENA entrepreneurship. In the latest Wamda podcast, he shares his views on the state of the startup ecosystem with Walid Faza, Partner at Wamda Capital.
“Policymakers have to look at the comprehensive picture of ecosystem development and the journey of entrepreneurs from the minute they are individuals who aspire to start a business, up to the point they exit their business,” said AbuKumail. “Give the leadership to the entrepreneurship ecosystem to form itself and instead of putting the parameters of ‘this is how it should be’, let it flow and grow organically and at the same time, build on that momentum to give them the support they require.”
According to AbuKumail, governments in the region are becoming more receptive to entrepreneurship after many years of scepticism. The large exits of Maktoob in 2009 and then Talabat in 2015 and finally Souq.com in 2017, have helped shift attitudes towards entrepreneurship for the better, particularly where job creation is involved.
“Now is the right time for governments to say this is rewarding, how can we capitalise on this momentum and move forward,” said AbuKumail. “Many countries have done it, it’s all about setting the strategy of what do we want to do here. Because of the very specific situation in MENA, where most of the countries’ geographies are small, policymakers need to look at the region as one big unit or one big ecosystem. It is important to understand that entrepreneurship development in MENA cannot be bound to one country’s geography.”
“Even if investments are happening in places like Dubai mostly, ideas and talent are available elsewhere. More than 40 percent of ideas that came to Dubai last year were actually from Jordan and Lebanon,” he explained. Highlighting macroeconomic issues such as the alarmingly high youth unemployment and low female participation in the workforce, AbuKumail reinforced the need for government integration to tackle these issues.
The discussion between AbuKumail and Faza touches on the MENA entrepreneurship ecosystem, the Arab World Competitiveness Report 2018 and its findings, what decision and policymakers in the Arab World have to do to support entrepreneurship, as well as topics specific to Jordan including brain drain, infrastructure needs, and the World Bank’s “Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund” (ISSF). AbuKumail is one of five World Bank specialists who has relocated from Washington D.C. to Jordan to focus on the MENA region.