No single factor can overcome the barriers to the development of entrepreneurship in the Arab world. Yet, unless those businesses that aspire to take risks and grow can succeed within their communities—regardless of their social or economic privilege—the Arab world’s economies will not prosper to their full extent.
Ensuring open markets is necessary for the entry and growth of entrepreneurs. Open competition, social acceptance, availability of talents, financial and technical support, and access to regional markets together all provide an ecosystem conducive to aspiring entrepreneurs to start and grow. In addition, Arab world governments should provide a friendly and open business environment for entrepreneurs, with the goal of expanding the pipeline of start-ups and making it possible for them to grow and contribute to job creation and income generation. Institutional and regulatory frameworks and the provision of fair opportunity, transparency, and predictability are all critical dimensions that must be examined in order to evaluate how privilege-proof the policy areas affecting the private sector are. Additional dimensions that must be included to provide a welcoming ecosystem are access to information and the availability of grievance, complaint, and recourse mechanisms, as well as rules governing integrity and accountability.
Governments should seek to unlock bottlenecks along the entire growth cycle of entrepreneurs. Governments need to provide the many elements of an ecosystem conducive to entrepreneurs and also to offer aspiring entrepreneurs the right talents that would allow them to leverage the resources they need to unlock growth opportunities. In addition to ensuring that the ecosystem is well formed, governments should also unlock any obstructions and support the growth cycle of entrepreneurs from ideation to maturity.
Focus public efforts on places where the market failures exist. The rationale for public intervention in private markets is often justified by the presence of binding constraints on firms and how public intervention can alleviate those constraints. Some entrepreneurs may be limited by access to short-term credit or burdensome business start-up regimes; others with aspirations for growth may face constraints in the regulation of labor and product markets, access to longer-term risk capital, and overall macroeconomic stability.74 Constraints that affect high-growth firms and innovation activities, in particular, tend to relate to weak components of the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the Arab world, which include competition, risk acceptance, and technology absorption.
Distinguish between transformational and subsistence entrepreneurship and target approaches accordingly. Kerr and others have identified the fundamental distinction between subsistence/necessity and transformational/opportunity entrepreneurs.75 Yet many researchers note that the vast majority of entrepreneurship policies in developing countries have failed to make this distinction and have thus not targeted the right group of firms. Instead, much entrepreneurship policy is aimed at supporting broad-based entrepreneurship and firm start-up, which have few implications for employment growth, innovation, and structural transformation. Merely encouraging the creation of new start-ups will not transform stagnated economies.76 In fact, in many developing countries, the financial infrastructure and accompanying policy environment is better equipped to provide micro financing to small, unproductive subsistence firms, which creates bottlenecks for transformational entrepreneurs and produces the unintended consequences of promoting unproductive entrepreneurship.77
Research has established that allocating entrepreneurial finance to small but promising firms is successful at both rationing finance and at helping firms to grow, but finding these firms is a challenge. It is evident that financing has an impact on firm growth and that the extension of entrepreneurial capital is associated with a higher likelihood of firm survival and an increase in the likelihood of expanding employees. Thus there is an argument to be made that governmental policy should be focused on freeing up private capital to reach potential high-growth entrepreneurs. Along the same lines, a forthcoming World Bank report on high-growth entrepreneurship in developing countries shows that high-growth firms create positive spillovers for other businesses, such as their suppliers and buyers, and in many instances are more productive, more innovative, integrated more tightly with global markets, and attract higher-quality workers and managers. However, high firm growth is found to be often episodic and short-lived, and in some cases can be an outcome of distortions or idiosyncratic demand shocks rather than indicative of intrinsically good performers. Therefore Arab policymakers should proceed cautiously with targeted support because there are no robust predictors of high firm growth despite years of research on business plan competitions and the socioeconomic traits of entrepreneurs.78
Most of the leading entrepreneurs in the Arab world surveyed for this report suggested that the key determinants of success for their business in the future are increased access to markets (68 percent), finance (66 percent), and talent (65 percent). In turn, they suggested that the top priorities on which their governments should focus are providing a friendly business environment (47 percent), robust physical infrastructure (41 percent), market access programs (41 percent), access to finance (41 percent), and better education and training systems (35 percent).
Government policy can play an active role in establishing an ecosystem conducive to entrepreneurs, but it must take a holistic approach. Entrepreneurship is not bound by one country’s geography. Regional entrepreneurial ecosystems are being made in the Arab world, and skilled professionals and start-ups should target these chains to grow organically. The Arab world ecosystem has been growing regionally to connect growing talents in each country to regional financing hubs, a process partially facilitated by policies conducive to entrepreneurs and hosted within a solid support infrastructure in a few Arab countries. Lagging countries should address entrepreneurship development by carefully assessing their ecosystems and addressing challenges across the domains of policy, human capital, access to market, financing, culture, and support infrastructure, noting that in some cases support may best be found from the region rather than locally and that entrepreneurs may pursue business models that place different parts of their business in different countries. Governments should remove mobility and labor restrictions on entrepreneurs to encourage further regional integration across the Arab world.
Support bottom-up ecosystem development, not top-down. Governments should also be careful when supporting their ecosystems not to try to control their development. Ecosystems develop organically through the strength and efforts of many different players, and building this strength and the capacity of the key components is much more important than top-down planning. Governments should engage entrepreneurs in the planning process and give them space to develop their own growth patterns, which could then be supported by governments. Furthermore, overseas investors, entrepreneurs, and diaspora support will be wary of ecosystems where government control is too prominent. Management training and technical assistance interventions have become a popular means of supporting entrepreneurs and promoting growth. Management consulting services have been shown to generate improvements in business performance and often governments or aid agencies will subsidize the purchase of such services.
Policies focused on reforms to the broader business environment remain a priority for creating an entrepreneur-friendly environment in the Arab world. Getting credit, resolving insolvency, trading across borders, and starting businesses are the key issues facing the creation and growth of entrepreneurs across the region. Furthermore, restrictive regulations and the heavy involvement of state-owned enterprises need to change to give entrepreneurs the space and opportunity to grow. Effective anti-trust regulations, limited state involvement in the economy, and openness to trade and investment help entrepreneurs grow.
Public procurement continues to dominate large parts of Arab world economies and could be leveraged as part of the solution to give more opportunities for entrepreneurs. GVCs also present opportunities for spurring entrepreneurship and growth while improving international market integration. Each strategy comes with its own challenges and opportunities, and ultimately countries need to gauge which strategy benefits them most in light of their own development interests. While public procurement practices would require legal and regulatory reforms coupled with technical support and government-to-consumer matching, integrating entrepreneurs into GVCs would require a review of national quality standards, laws, and related regulations, as well as an availability of skills and know-how. State-owned enterprises can be encouraged to engage actively in accelerating and investing in entrepreneurs to help address business challenges they face and put forward innovative business models for future product diversification. GVCs offer enhanced access to export markets, which can have a positive causal impact on profits and productivity. Therefore programs that aim to connect firms with foreign buyers and/or globally linked value chains can also promote high-growth entrepreneurs.
Investment in formal and informal education is necessary for building the skill set of tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. The private sector rewards some types of skills (e.g., coding/programing, design, data analysis) that may need different teaching/training approaches than the usual Arab world approach. Entrepreneurship also generally requires some behavioral characteristics (e.g., innovation, risk tolerance, creativity) that are not strengths of the Arab world education systems. Government policies therefore need to better embed skills critical for entrepreneurship into the formal education system. Private training can also help address these gaps.
Boosting the entrepreneurial culture of creating and building value in the Arab world is key. Although global indicators suggest a growing acceptance for entrepreneurship as a desired career choice and the media pay reasonable attention to entrepreneurs across the Arab world, there is arguably only a thin history of creating and adding value as opposed to trading in the region. Governments can help accelerate this process by focusing more attention on successful entrepreneurs in the region. Governments can also do more to raise awareness about the benefits of entrepreneurship and to build entrepreneurial culture. Furthermore, entrepreneurship can contribute to the development of Arab world solutions to Arab world problems. Although several successful entrepreneurs have introduced business models and technology from elsewhere and applied them to Arab world countries, there is room for entrepreneurs to address Arab world–specific issues. For example, climate change, food security, and water scarcity are huge issues facing the Arab world; these all require, in part, local solutions.
With the lowest labor force participation globally, and with great difficulties in becoming entrepreneurial, women remain an enormous untapped potential in Arab world economies. Governments can do more to support a cultural transformation process to encourage more women-owned businesses by eliminating gender-biased legal and regulatory restrictions; they can also offer women-focused support programs for joining or starting entrepreneurial initiatives. Addressing the constraints women entrepreneurs encounter will help expand opportunities for them, especially impediments in specific sectors and business models (e.g., home-based businesses) that would favor their involvement. Improving soft skills and business confidence, which has proven strongly effective in other countries to boost women businesses, are also greatly needed here.
Social entrepreneurship is nascent in the Arab world, and governments need to become more aware of its potential role or needs. The support of government would be key to allowing social entrepreneurs to play a greater role in developing their communities, particularly in countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence. Social enterprises elsewhere are active in developing innovative ways to deliver effective and cheaper solutions to everyday problems, particularly where public-sector services are absent or inadequate and the market is too risky and not profitable enough for the private sector.
Angel investment networks have been growing in a few countries in the Arab world, but need to become more accessible to young entrepreneurs. Governments should support the development of angel investment in the Arab world to include private investments, bridge equity gaps, and improve the pipeline of investment-ready start-ups for venture capital and private equity funds. Growth of the Arab world angels would provide access to “smart” financing that is usually combined with mentorship and market-access connections. Creation and growth of Arab world angel investment groups could also attract increased investments from Arab communities in the diaspora. Crowdfunding also brings benefits to both the entrepreneurs and the ecosystem. Crowdfunding is more than just providing access to capital for start-ups. It also includes minimizing investment risks through easy-to-access platforms, building networks and long-term relations with investors, providing market validation for business ideas, and creating competition in business ideas to gain the market/investor’s acceptance.
Government- and private sector–led entrepreneurship initiatives should engage systematically with their professional diaspora and business angels abroad to support entrepreneurs at home. International examples of such managed networks include Global Scot and Chile Global, which enlisted some 600 and 100 members, respectively. In the Arab world, Tunisia recently established the “ambassador” program, which is targeted toward diaspora professionals with managerial positions in the IT industry to promote Smart Tunisia abroad. Governments can also encourage diaspora contributions to competitive research and innovation in their home countries. The diaspora can help build the local innovation and research ecosystem. Notable examples include research excellence contests pioneered in Croatia in 2008, in Mexico in 2009, and in Russia in 2010 that provided matching funds to organizations in the home country that set up a joint project with diaspora members.79
This chapter has considered the many elements of successful entrepreneurship and their unique role in the Arab world. Successfully addressing the obstacles to growing entrepreneurship as a viable and sought-after approach to the world will boost Arab world economies and will be essential to seeing the region prosper.
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