How To Keep Your Entrepreneurial Dream Alive In The Arab World

Many of the obstacles that young Arab entrepreneurs face when they are trying to start their own ventures are cultural ones that stem from their nuclear family or the surrounding community.

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By Soukaina Rachidi

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While entrepreneurship isn't supposed to be easy, the culture of where a startup ecosystem is located has a great impact on how easy or difficult it is for a startup enterprise to survive. In the Arab world, there are various other factors that impact the entrepreneurial spirit of Arab youth, which often have nothing to do with the lack of venture capitalists, human capital or infrastructure. In fact, many of the obstacles that young Arab entrepreneurs face when they are trying to start their own ventures are cultural ones that stem from their nuclear family or the surrounding community. Entrepreneurship is all about disrupting social, economic and cultural norms, so naturally many Arab youth face resistance from their communities, because they are ruffling all kinds of feathers. In communities that thrive on collective values and family cohesion, working "outside of the lines" isn't just a business risk; it's a social one. So, how can Arab entrepreneurs stay motivated while they pursue their entrepreneurial dreams?

1. Share ideas with people you know will be supportive

When you have an "aha!" moment as an entrepreneur, it's very easy to get overzealous and start telling every person you meet about your new idea. While it's tempting to share your startup idea with everyone under the sun, doing so in the idea stage and in an Arab context can be dangerous. Many Arab communities dislike the unconventional lifestyle and uncertainty that comes with being an entrepreneur, so they often discourage Arab youth from pursuing the startup route. This general lack of community support makes it necessary for Arab entrepreneurs to establish diverse support networks to draw strength and motivation from, which will ultimately help them survive in the region's new developing ecosystem. While finding and gaining the support of mentors and other startups isn't always easy, young entrepreneurs should try to reach out to groups, associations or individuals, so they can find group of formal and informal supporters. By connecting with other startups, young entrepreneurs can crowd-source data, advice and resources, so they can stay motivated on their entrepreneurial journey and learn how other startup founders are navigating the turbulent seas of social disapproval.

2. Trust your research and instinct

Unfortunately, in most parts of the Arab world, research and statistics relating to business and entrepreneurship that are conducted by national institutions or government entities are often difficult to find. However, even when such information is available, it's not always easy to corroborate it with the reality on the ground, thus making it unreliable. On the other hand, the information that is more readily available to startups usually comes from international organizations, which don't always fully understand the social and economic dynamics of the Arab country in question. This situation thus ends up forcing many young Arab entrepreneurs to conduct their own primary research. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it isn't always easy to find, access or calculate the numbers needed to justify a new startup idea, and subsequently, this makes it much harder for young entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to investors and venture capitalists that are already skeptical of their capabilities.

After conducting their research and collecting the necessary data, Arab entrepreneurs should just trust their gut and take the proverbial leap. When it comes to marketing an innovative service or product, even if young Arab entrepreneurs don't have exact numbers, they should demonstrate one of the following things. They should be able to show how their target audience is similar to another country's population, where a similar product or idea has been successful. Alternatively, they have to show how they can create a need for their product or service, or how they can exploit a current gap in the market. Lastly, they should be able to use demographic or economic statistics to prove how their product is a natural fit for their target market. At the end of the day, no matter what information a young Arab entrepreneur has, if they can use it creatively and trust their instincts, they will have a much better chance of weathering the criticism they receive from their communities and potential investors.

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3. Understand that redefining norms isn't easy

When people refer to the Arab world, sometimes they forget how different the social, economic and cultural norms are in North Africa, the Levant, the Gulf and parts of the Horn of Africa. If young Arab entrepreneurs are able to navigate the socio-economic obstacles that challenge entrepreneurial innovation in their ecosystems, they also have to be willing to accept and understand that challenging cultural norms and values isn't easy, especially when you are introducing "foreign" values. Young Arab entrepreneurs have to understand that it's not enough to introduce a new idea, and that they have to be willing to create a culture around their products, which will promote their values while also promoting the sustainability of the business.

Young entrepreneurs have to accept that they will hear one of two things when they propose a new startup idea. Either they will hear that there's no market for their idea, or that people won't buy it- but if young entrepreneurs want to survive in the startup world, they have to learn how to get past the negativity that's thrown at them. That being said, young Arab entrepreneurs also have to discern the difference between constructive criticisms and empty criticism. Like empty calories, empty criticism adds no value, and it is harmful and demoralizing for a startup's health and momentum.

Unfortunately, many Arab communities, especially older generations, offer aspiring youth plenty of unsolicited and demoralizing "advice," which means that many young people stop dreaming even before they have had the chance to start. So, if young Arab entrepreneurs want to succeed in the startup world, they need to persevere and master the art of filtering constructive criticism, while also learning how to respectfully agree to disagree.
Soukaina Rachidi

Founder and Author, Soukie Speaks

Soukaina Rachidi is the founder and author of Soukie Speaks, a blog which strives to reimagine the narrative of young leaders, businesses and communities in the MENA region and empower a new generation of Arab leaders and entrepreneurs. Although Soukaina was born in Morocco, she spent most of her formative years in the United Arab Emirates. She has lived in Qatar, the USA and Argentina. Soukaina's diverse work experience includes university student recruitment, management, customer service and PR. Before becoming a full-time blogger, writing consultant and author, Soukaina was the Media Relations Coordinator at Dubai-based startup Melltoo Marketplace, where she was responsible for forging new partnerships with like-minded entrepreneurs in the MENA startup ecosystem and promoting Melltoo’s core values of trust, sustainability and privacy. With a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Delaware, Soukaina is passionate about writing, global issues, entrepreneurship, youth empowerment and sustainability.

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