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Unlocking Digital Opportunities Across The MENA Region

Supporting MENA entrepreneurs to launch, scale, and grow in a digital ecosystem.
Regional Vice President of Facebook for Middle East, Africa and Turkey
5 min read
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The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is one of the most digitally connected in the world. Since the past decade, the region has been undergoing a remarkable digital transformation where private citizens, governments, and businesses alike are engaging online, now more than ever before.

Digital connectivity means entrepreneurs are able to expand and grow their businesses across geographies. Examining recent engagement figures on Facebook, we know that almost 62% of people across MENA are connected to at least one business in a foreign country, and 67% are connected to at least one domestic small or medium sized business (SMB). Today, over 150 million people around the world are connected to a business in the UAE on Facebook, with over 60 million and 130 million connected to a business in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Egypt respectively. Furthermore, small and medium-sized businesses led by women in the Gulf are worth US$385 billion, and are an incredibly important part of any economic transformation ambitions for the region. MENA businesses have started to embrace video for storytelling and brand-building, and the region is experiencing a startling growth in both the number of successful startups, and the amount of investment funding available to them.

Despite this tremendous appetite for online content and services, key digital sectors remain nascent, and entrepreneurship potential is yet to be fully tapped in the region- with the opportunity for many more businesses to access new markets, through the vast audience afforded to them online. Across MENA countries however, only 8% of SMBs have an online presence -ten times less than in the US- and only 1.5% of MENA’s retail sales are online. What’s more, research shows that if we increased women’s participation in the workforce in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region alone, it would add $180 billion, or 7% to the economy in 2025, forming the backbone of a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem across the wider region.

Demonstrating the abundance of raw talent and creative business potential of Arab entrepreneurs, two startups from the region –InstaDeep, a Tunis-headquartered artificial intelligence startup, and Mind Rockets Inc., an Amman-based tech startup– were chosen by Mark Zuckerberg to share the stage at F8 2017 with developers from around the world, where they showcased innovative products and services they had created for their local communities and the global market.

At Facebook, we think we can help the region accelerate its digital transformation and are working hard on a few initiatives to fuel the growth of local economies. By providing the necessary tools, resources, and avenues for people and businesses in the region, we can contribute towards the creation of more jobs in a burgeoning ecosystem. For instance, we're helping train people in digital skills like coding and digital marketing to support them with finding future-proof jobs, launching their projects in the digital sphere, or penetrating new revenue streams online. As such, we hope to empower the regional workforce, unlock hidden possibilities and develop new tools for local businesses to attract the right applicants and hire quickly and affordably. With #SheMeansBusiness for example -which is a female-centric global program that was launched in 2017- we aim to train 10,000 women in the region on how to leverage Facebook, Instagram and Messenger for their businesses.

This year, we are building on our commitment to engage with the region’s startup community even more. We’ll be visiting one of the region’s most important startup hubs, Beirut for the upcoming Facebook MENA | Tech Week 2018, during which we’ll meet with SMBs, women entrepreneurs, and community leaders to engage with visionary startups, developers, and other innovators across the region. Lebanon has built an impressive reputation for its vibrant entrepreneurial landscape, and is a strong base of SMBs contributing significantly to its open economy- with stats from 2016 revealing that two out of seven Lebanese individuals between the ages of 25-44 years are either starting or running their own businesses. For this reason, we’re excited to be also supporting Beirut Digital District (BDD) and TechCrunch Startup Battlefield in their quest to discover the rising talents of entrepreneurs from the country and region. Recognizing the power of Lebanese and Arab women in business and tech, the aforementioned #SheMeansBusiness will also be coming to Lebanon during the same week, with a panel workshop prepped for 100 women. Similarly, we’ve organized a dedicated panel to celebrate female engineers, as well as a training session designed for female students and junior developers.

Technology has done so much for the global economy, and is helping more people discover and connect with local businesses every day. Tens of millions of regional businesses are using Facebook and Instagram to get started and connect with customers to grow, trade, and hire. Building on these connections, we plan to invest in more people, technology, and programs to help propel local businesses, and support people in getting the skills they need to land new jobs. We believe this is good for our communities, for local economies, and for the world.

Related: Partners In Progress: Ime Archibong, Facebook's Vice President Of Product Partnerships

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