Supporting the Entrepreneurial Spirit in the Middle East and North Africa
Since the first days of the Obama Administration, the Department of State has prioritized fostering global innovation and entrepreneurship as a key pillar of its economic statecraft and broader foreign policy agendas. Much of this activity has focused on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region brimming with entrepreneurial energy and talent. Recent transitions in the region have only reaffirmed the importance of this work as citizens have demanded broad-based economic opportunity and advancement.
The State Department’s work has strived to build the skills, networks, regulatory environments, and access to capital necessary to realize the potential and aspirations of millions across the region and provide employment opportunities for a generation of young people. Global entrepreneurship also promotes America’s prosperity in the global economy. Our success is intertwined with the economic success of communities in the MENA region and around the world. In honor of Global Entrepreneurship Week on November 12-16, and the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on December 11-12, the State Department will highlight its significant efforts in this area and continued commitment to celebrating and supporting entrepreneurs in this critical region and around the world.
Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP): The Global Entrepreneurship Program enlists private sector partners, including NGOs, incubators, investors, universities, corporations, policymakers and others to work with our Embassies to foster entrepreneurship in over 120 countries. GEP works to identify, train, connect and sustain, guide to financing, help create enabling environments for and celebrate entrepreneurs in countries from Turkey to Indonesia. In Egypt, GEP has hosted dozens of gatherings for identifying, training and mentoring entrepreneurs and has helped develop at least 35 startups already employing hundreds of people. GEP supports the Egypt Competitiveness Project (ECP), which promotes a globally competitive Egyptian economy. ECP recently trained 1,200 public university students and facilitated financing for 12 startups. GEP also partnered with Start-up Weekend Alexandria to host two successful start-up weekends that attracted over 2,100 applicants and 800 participants, and culminated in a woman entrepreneur winning the grand prize.
Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Programming: Across the Middle East and North Africa, ongoing MEPI programming supports a new generation of entrepreneurs by offering skills-building training, mentoring, business development support, increased access to capital, and job placement assistance. When finished, these programs will ultimately support approximately 170,000 people from the region. MEPI is also building the capacity of over 40 business development organizations, commercial development organizations, and local and regional Chambers of Commerce to improve trade facilitation and access to capital services for their membership. Finally, MEPI programming is also providing technical assistance to improve legal frameworks and financial institution practices as well as training for regulatory officials to promote improvements in the business enabling environment throughout the region.
Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) initiative: The GIST initiative strengthens innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems through programs and partnerships focused on networking, skill development, and financing. Since 2011, GIST has trained and mentored over 2,500 technology startups in the broader MENA region through startup boot camps and its Technology Idea (Tech-I) video-pitch competition, a featured program of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Additionally, GIST has reached over one million youth through Department of State social media platforms and linked over 68,000 technology developers to online business development training, tools, and resources.
Exchange Programs Supporting Entrepreneurship: TechWomen brings women technology leaders from the MENA region to Northern California for five-week mentorships with women at leading technology companies. Participants also attend workshops, networking events, and end-of-program activities in Washington, D.C. A few months after the conclusion of the U.S.-based program, TechWomen mentors travel overseas to join alumni in training other young women and girls in the region. Since the program launch in 2011, TechWomen has supported 18 participants from the MENA region. TechGirls brings 15-17 year olds from the MENA region to the United States for a three-week summer tech camp. To date, TechGirls has supported 25 teens from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Tunisia, and Yemen since its inaugural class in 2012. A New Beginning: Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation, a global International Visitor Leadership Program, has so far brought 18 entrepreneurs from 12 Middle East and North African countries to the United States. Participants engage with American business owners and develop their entrepreneurial and leadership skills. Fortune/State Department Global Women’s Partnership, a public private partnership, has brought 32 women from the Middle East and North Africa to the United States for mentoring with American women executives. Participants observe best practices, learn organizational and management skills, and cultivate a valuable network of American professionals.
Partnership for a New Beginning (PNB): PNB is a network of private sector and civil society leaders committed to building public-private partnerships geared toward broadening and deepening engagement between the United States and local communities in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. Since 2010, PNB has established 11 locally-owned and locally-driven PNB Chapters in Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Jordan, Mauritania, and the Palestinian Territories. PNB and its local chapters have launched, expanded, or pledged support for more than 120 new projects since the partnership began that promote economic opportunity, enhance educational opportunities, and foster advances in science and technology and catalyze exchanges in a number of fields. Notably, Cisco Systems has announced two $10 million investments in both Jordan and Egypt that will, among other things, be used to create employment centers that will be a sustainable model of job-creation and economic development, with a particular focus on high potential small businesses. In Tunisia, a partnership program funded through Intel and Microsoft and driven by the PNB Tunisia chapter, will identify 1100 students in their final year of university and helps them develop projects and business plans that will improve their employability upon graduation and enhance their entrepreneurship skills. Recently, a U.S. delegation of 20 investors and entrepreneurs visited several tech start-ups in Jordan. The delegation shared its expertise with approximately 200 local entrepreneurs and business leaders, and reached countless more through a series of public forums that offered insight into raising capital and scaling businesses.
Partners for a New Beginning/North African Partnership for Economic Opportunity (PNB/NAPEO) is a regional public-private partnership that builds locally-owned, mutually beneficial partnerships between leaders, innovators, and organizations from the United States, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia to foster economic opportunity and regional integration. NAPEO’s successes to date include over forty locally driven partnerships; an Entrepreneurship Delegation, in which prominent entrepreneurs and early-stage investors trained, mentored, and showcased 70 promising Maghreb start-ups; the 2012 NAPEO Conference that convened 450 partners and over 100 trainers, experts and mentors; and the first-ever Maghreb Start-Up Initiative that linked to U.S. diaspora communities and awarded more than $70,000 in cash prizes.
TechCamp: As a part of Civil Society 2.0 initiative, within MENA, we have held TechCamps in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Morocco. These events are designed to bring civil society leaders and technologists together to identify problems and technologies that can help to solve them. In the MENA region, we have had TechCamps in Israel and in the West Bank that have helped raise the digital literacy in more than 200 civil society organizations through hands-on training that provided new skill sets in open software tools, social networking, and mobile applications. Participants are now members of a virtual community that is comprised of over 1,000 civil society organizations from more than 90 countries. A recent TechCamp in Morocco focused on providing civil society technology based solutions to address challenges pertaining to youth and employment.
Fund for Innovation: The Fund for Innovation supports creative projects designed by Department of State personnel that enhance the economic objectives of U.S. foreign policy. Since 2010, the Fund has received approximately 350 project proposals and has disbursed $8.2 million to U.S. embassies and consulates of all sizes across all regions of the world in support of 150 creative projects advancing U.S. strategic interests. Recently, we funded programs in Tripoli, Sana‘a, Jerusalem and Manama to support entrepreneurship initiatives and economic empowerment, with a focus on youth. For example in Sana’a, we organized a three-day seminar on Yemen’s job market, the job search, resume writing, and interview skills and brought Yemeni job-seekers together with Yemeni businesspeople and alumni of U.S. sponsored exchange programs.
Engaging Foreign Audiences: To create a global, virtual network of aspiring entrepreneurs, the Department’s Innovation Generation Facebook pages in English, French, and Spanish connect more than 2 million people with ongoing conversations to share innovative thinking and practical advice about starting a business. We also provide traveling and virtual speakers to U.S. embassies and consulates to engage local audiences on economic statecraft topics, and produce an array of multi-lingual educational products that help enhance understanding of entrepreneurship principles and provide resources to assist budding entrepreneurs with bringing their business ideas to life.