Youth unemployment is among the most pressing challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region today which makes youth entrepreneurship significant in the region. Entrepreneurship is a proven and powerful tool for creating economic opportunities, generating wealth, and empowering citizens.
Entrepreneurship’s Positive Impact on the Youth Unemployment Crisis
If young people are unable to find jobs, they should have the ability to create their own and ideally even generate jobs for others. Newer methods of learning and education need to be incorporated into the school curriculums, starting right from elementary school. The current scenario requires people with entrepreneurial skills including problem-solving skills, familiarity with emerging technologies, and self-motivation to emerge from the schooling systems.
Even in a conflict-ridden zone, entrepreneurship gives people the opportunity to create their own companies so that they can take ownership of their economic futures. Thus, creating an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs and startups in MENA is vital. There are examples of nations that are already succeeding in this regard. Lebanon and Jordan are entrepreneur havens. They’ve acknowledged the importance of cultivating entrepreneurship and have, thus, enabled startup communities to grow substantially in recent years.
Combined, they run over 50 initiatives that encourage entrepreneurial activity in the MENA region out of about 150 in total. Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia have also made strong efforts to launch entrepreneurship initiatives in their countries. These initiatives include technology incubators, NGOs aimed at developing entrepreneurship, networking associations for aspiring entrepreneurs, and university programs dedicated to entrepreneurship.
International Labor Organization and the Arab League have created training, research and other programs to support entrepreneurship in the region with emphasis on entrepreneurial skills in elementary school curriculums. Universities in the region have also entered this space, with several creating on-campus incubators and others teaching entrepreneurship courses to students. Even local corporations have started with programs supporting youth entrepreneurs. NGOs like INJAZ are guiding aspiring entrepreneurs through the business creation process.
The key to accelerating job creation in the MENA region is cultivating an entrepreneurial environment. Not only do startups employ their owners, but the spillover benefits for the larger economy are significant. These include multiple sources of innovation, increased competition, efficiency and productivity along with economic flexibility. Once start-ups mature into small and medium-sized enterprises, they go on become significant contributors to employment and gross domestic product.
Bringing Entrepreneurship to the Classroom
Everyone should learn entrepreneurial principles not only in high school and university but even in elementary and secondary schools. The entrepreneurial spirit often arises at an early age and is highly influenced by the education system, which can guide entrepreneurs and harness their innovation. It is something that needs to be embedded in the culture. But this is not happening in the MENA region today.
Governments in the regions are missing out on a precious opportunity to promote and shape the next generation of entrepreneurs in their educational prime by not incorporating entrepreneurial principles in elementary school curriculums. Schools can teach young people about entrepreneurship and help build a startup culture. Ministries of education should be encouraging school curriculums to include entrepreneurship. The Employment for Education programs in Jordan and Egypt are inspiring examples of this.
At the elementary school level, the first step is to educate teachers through seminars since many of them are not familiar with entrepreneurship. For students, the elementary schools may establish ‘career days’ to expand their career horizons while including information about entrepreneurship specifically. Elementary school educators can creatively reinforce these lessons by creating contests in which students present business plans to a panel of experts and successful entrepreneurs. These types of inter-school events can act as great motivators.
School curriculums’ increased emphasis on entrepreneurship will encourage innovative thinking, an ability to question the status quo of how things are done, thinking outside of societal constraints, and developing unique opinions while making students realize that they do have the power to change things. It may also encourage them to identify and resolve community’s problems and partake in social entrepreneurship in the future.
A positive correlation needs to be instilled with entrepreneurship and growth. Entrepreneurship will allow them to gain ownership of their life when they get older. It is not about raising money, but about finding creative solutions for environmental and social problems, and to fill voids left by ineffective state institutions. It is important to make students realize from early on that they can be innovative and have a great impact with whatever little resources they have at their disposal. These things need to be reiterated in the elementary and secondary school curriculums.
Entrepreneurship at the University Level
The goal for universities should be to provide more students with the desire, skills, and knowledge to start a company. Currently, the region lacks formal education on entrepreneurship. Only fewer than 10% of the universities in the MENA region offer entrepreneurial courses, only 17 universities in the region have centers for entrepreneurship, and a mere five actually offer a major in entrepreneurship. More universities need to establish major and minor degrees in entrepreneurship that cover topics such as business planning, problem solving, project management, risk management, finance and accounting.
To encourage the idea of entrepreneurship, universities may even consider altering the requirements for some existing degrees to include a few entrepreneurship-related courses. They may even encourage entrepreneurship clubs in which professors, business managers or established entrepreneurs present insights and training. All these initiatives at all levels of education could instill a culture of entrepreneurship.
There is also a need for young people to understand that they should expect to qualify once or twice in their lifetime and believe in lifelong learning. It also helps to partake in informal education such as seminars and networking events. Policymakers and educators must also ensure that the students are learning skills that will not only enable them to start their own business but also allow them to work at startups.
While it may be near impossible to teach someone how to become a successful entrepreneur, it is definitely possible to teach people how to think, make decisions and respond to challenges in a more entrepreneurial way and those skills can be leveraged in any office or industry. Thus, developing entrepreneurship skills is crucial to the growth of MENA region’s economy.
Overcoming Challenges Faced By Entrepreneurs
Historically, the public sector has been the main source of job creation in the region. However, currently, 90 percent of the jobs are created by the private sector – a lot of them startups. The growth of these organizations hinges as much on great founders as it does on great teams. To scale, entrepreneurs have to find skilled individuals eager to work for a startup. Along with learning how to start a business, people also need to be exposed to nuances of working for a young company. The shift in job availability is not yet reflected in people’s opinions as public jobs are still more sought after. This will change as entrepreneurship starts to become a familiar concept in school curriculums from the ground up.
Entrepreneurship has been described as a mindset by ongoing initiatives, a mindset encouraging creativity, critical thinking, leadership, communication skills and interpersonal skills accompanied by openness to risk, teamwork, and flexibility. While these are qualities conducive to starting and operating a business, they are also crucial to being an employee that adds value to such a business. As young people learn of the merits of starting a business, they also need to know that working with a startup is a viable career choice.
Local media including print, television, and social does not do enough to promote entrepreneurship. Media coverage can make or break a startup. Given its power to change attitudes and inspire, media can include more focus on entrepreneurship, wherein they highlight and glamorize new ideas. Regional leaders need to give greater attention to entrepreneurs who are truly innovative or have recognized a demand or supply gap in the market and seize the opportunity. These kinds of entrepreneurial activities have positive spillover effects on job growth and the development of the economy.
There is no dearth of entrepreneurial talent in MENA region. At the same time, there is an urgency to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem to bring out that talent. With one of the world’s youngest and fastest-growing working-age populations, the MENA region should provide adequate entrepreneurial conditions for its society to gain benefits from these entrepreneurs.