In 2019, Dr. Branko Woischwill had the chance to interview Middle East experts on the topic of power and entrepreneurship. The specialization of the experts is the field of social entrepreneurship. Localized are the experts in Amman, Jordan and Lebanon. The interviews used the content structure of the Power Triangle (networks, resources, knowledge) to simultaneously explore local framework conditions and the relevance of individual mind sets. The main findings of structured interviews are summarized here.
About regional characteristics
In the Middle East some regions already have an ecosystem for entrepreneurship like Lebanon and Jordan. Lebanon offers accelerative programs, divided by sectors and growth stages. As people in Jordan are reacting to local challenges they are facing (e.g. waste management, women empowerment, recycling, inclusion, refugees), so they build social enterprises trying to solve such problems. “Refugees are influencing business ideas. The people are building social enterprises that are serving refugees. The most startups are focusing on education and housing.”, explains the Jordan expert. Besides, the Lebanon expert and the Jordan expert, both mentioned the complex regulations for NGOs and social enterprises.
In contrast to Lebanon and Jordan there is no ecosystem for entrepreneurs in Gaza. People get only small donations (maximum 7.000-10.000 Dollars) for each project and there is often no follow-up. In Gaza entrepreneurs need to know the market very well and need to who knows how to adapt a business to the market: “The problem of Gaza is, that the population lives under an emergency situation. You cannot build a business here without having a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. Because everything is connected to politics, the borders are connected to politics, the economy is connected to politics, everything. You cannot depend on a market because it’s changing every month. If you want to do so, you need an entrepreneur who is very well known with the marked and how to adapt a business to the market.”
All three experts emphasized the relevance of networks. In Lebanon and Jordan there are already a lot of networks for social entrepreneurs. In Lebanon, there is one ecosystem and the entrepreneurial activities are focused in Beirut. The Lebanon expert explains: “Beirut is a small city. We have a frequent event where you can see all people of the ecosystem attending the event. There is also a lot of support among the community because everyone wants to help everyone.”
In general, using networks in the Middle East region is sometimes not so easy, especially for outsiders. Some networks are not open for everyone. In Gaza things are special. The Gaza expert said: “Networking is very important for every startup in Gaza or outside Gaza. The idea is if those people here are aware enough of their existing networks. If you give them a specific network, they don’t know how to maintain a relationship. People in Gaza are not ready to be business-people. They do entrepreneurship because they have nothing else to do.”
In Jordan, there are specific resources available that an entrepreneur needs (e.g. well- equipped working places, available mentors, financial resources). In contrary, in Lebanon the resources are limited and it’s more difficult for social entrepreneurs. The expert explains: “We mainly develop our own entrepreneurship programs and have some programs from outside. However, honestly said we are not the best country in terms of financial recourses.”
As with Gaza, the area is somehow disconnected to the world and entrepreneurs are isolated. Getting people out or experts in is nearly impossible. In the region, it’s almost impossible to get access to extern resources.
In Lebanon, the young ecosystem is in progress, an early stage of ecosystem is developing. Looking at Gaza, so there is somehow a lack of basic entrepreneurship knowledge. The Gaza expert explains: “There is a lack of the basic knowledge: languages, mentorship, building a business, coaching or developing a business model. The basic computer skills are existing in Gaza among the people. But they don’t know how to use it.”
Besides, some regions (larger, well developed areas) in the Middle East offer entrepreneurship education and there are a lot of events to share knowledge. Entrepreneurship knowledge in the Middle East is progressing and developing.
About the mindset
In Lebanon people have learned to work with limited resources. The expert from Lebanon states: „Mindset is more important than money. The Lebanese are residence, they know how to work with limited resources, prototypes. The accelerative programs give you a bit of money, but you don’t have access to the full funding in these stages. The Lebanese people are able to prove their concept with limited resources and limited funding.”
The expert from Jordan underlines, that beside the special mindset, other aspects are important too. One should be able to handle the extremely flexible and innovative job market: „It is not only the mindset, but the use of the right skills. Entrepreneurship is not made for everyone.“
The expert from Gaza is underlining the emergency situation in Gaza. As a result these framework conditions have consequences: „The mindset of the people in Gaza is the mindset of someone you have put into a room and you closed the room for twelve years.“