Enabling A Vibrant MENA Technology Ecosystem Through Policy, Education, And Funding
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The last 50 years of economic development in the Middle East region were driven primarily by hydrocarbons and infrastructure development, which have seen the lion’s share of investment and policy-making to fund and develop these sectors. But now, there is a new technological industrial revolution upon us that is unfolding at a rampant rate. The rate of development in this next revolution will not be linear, but exponential.
We need to be prepared for this and lay the ground work so that we can participate and create a new era of prosperity in our region. Our economies have been configured for big business over the last 50 years, which was necessary for us to build a new region with new and exploding populations that was at the forefront of the global hydrocarbon revolution. We now need to configure our economies to allow for the new reality of technology entrepreneurship and innovation, which is a movement that will be led by both our youth and entrepreneurs. Let’s get behind them!
There are three main components that require configuration in order to successfully enable a vibrant technology ecosystem: Policy, Education and Funding. All concerned stakeholders have to contribute to creating this enabling environment.
Policy We need policies that enable fast and low cost setting up of tech companies, relaxed bankruptcy laws that allow for an orderly unwinding of failed attempts, risk-taking that is a necessary component of this revolution, and a strong legal system to enable IP protection and contract enforcement.
Education We need educational establishments and governments to step up and modify curriculums to include a strong foundation of mathematics, the sciences and a wide range of computing skills, in order to retool our youth to be able to participate in this revolution.
Funding We need financial institutions, sovereign wealth funds and investors to invest a “prudent” allocation to the technology ecosystem, and let the best investors and entrepreneurs create value and role models so that we can create a positive, compounding and reinforcing cycle of prosperity.
In the decade between 2000 to 2010, we saw very little investment in the tech ecosystem, but were still able to create success stories in and for our region with pioneers like Maktoob, Bayt and Zawya emerging and setting the foundation. If we invest little into this ecosystem, then we will not create tremendous value. We have accelerated the quantum of investment over the last few years, and as a result, have seen many new success stories emerge with the likes of Souq, Careem and PropertyFinder and a much larger pipeline of emerging titans that are in the making.
We at BECO focus on addressing the GCC, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan as our primary geographic focus, which in and of itself is a region of 160 million people, who are amongst the youngest in the world, the most connected digitally through smartphones via very high quality telecoms infrastructure, and who have the propensity to consume content, goods and services at multiples that of other peer economic blocks like SEA, LATAM and India. The tipping point to create enough critical mass to create billion dollar companies is 50 million “connected” consumers, which we have almost achieved in our prime geography alone, and are still growing annually at double digits.
We are about three years away from a tremendous boom in our tech ecosystem. We need to collectively create the enabling environment and fund this wave of entrepreneurship in order to keep the ownership of these strategic assets and the significant financial gains that will come from it as a result. We dream of a region in the next 15 years that becomes a hotbed of technological entrepreneurship and innovation, with happy people in dignified tech jobs, creating the new wealth of the region, alongside the familiar hydrocarbons and infrastructure.