South Africa's Growing Business Landscape
South Africa‘s business landscape can be challenging. Many businesses have become successful nationally as well as internationally in some cases, but it can be difficult for new businesses to get off the ground. These are a few of the difficulties faced by businesses in South Africa as well as some opportunities to overcome.

The Brain Drain

The large number of skilled workers leaving South Africa for other countries has led to the term “brain drain.” The Global Innovation Index estimates that South Africa has lost 5 percent of its researchers and entrepreneurs to other countries, which has taken away up to 20 percent of innovative production. By September 2015, 47,000 skilled South Africans had left the country, with 70 percent happy with their choice. This brain drain has led researchers to wonder why so many citizens are leaving and how to increase enthusiasm for staying in South Africa.

The Challenges of Owning a Business

Part of the challenge for entrepreneurs is simply the time required to open a business in South Africa, which hurts small businesses that cannot afford to wait. The main positive of opening a business is that the rules seem to be followed and there is a clear path to take. However, the time involved is lengthy. Construction permits can take up to 127 days to complete, but getting electricity for a building can take up to 226 days. It is estimated that it takes an average business owner 200 hours a year to complete their taxes. If someone breaks a contract, it may not be worth the time to try to recover the costs, because it takes an average of 500 days for cases like these to go through the court system.

Many Changes in the Last 25 Years

Other difficulties for many South Africans may be systemic ones. South Africa has seen a lot of change in the last 25 years in overcoming the aftermath of South Africa’s apartheid system. Like most major system changes, there are improvements and also growing pains. Many neighborhoods in South Africa still reflect separations in races and ethnic groups, which dates back to when this was required by apartheid law. In addition, there is still a significant wage gap between black and white citizens, with white citizens earning more.

However, improvements such as the murder rate being halved, access to better housing and the growing availability of electricity (50.9 percent in 1994 to 85.3 percent in 2012) show the country is invested in a better future. While these changes and challenges do not directly relate to businesses in South Africa, they illustrate the environment businesses are operating in. More than ever, it is clear that businesses are needed to help with some of these issues, particularly with the unemployment rate, which is at 26.7 percent, higher than it was in 1994, but lower than when it hit its peak of 31.2 percent in 2004.

Successful Businesses in South Africa

There are still challenges facing businesses in South Africa and a large number of citizens are finding opportunities elsewhere, but there are those that have stayed and been successful. When South African entrepreneurs were asked what lessons they learned, they cited the importance of building a loyal consumer base, a willingness to be gutsy and a readiness to try new things.

Some successful entrepreneurs that have changed the face of South Africa are Pam Golding, who founded Pam Golding Properties in 1976 as an estate agency, but has since moved into the luxury residential space. Or Richard Maponya, who started successful businesses involving retail and property despite apartheid laws and recently helped open Maponya Mall. Or Adrian Gore, who founded Discovery Health, which has had such a huge impact on health insurance that many other companies are duplicating his model.

While not all of South Africa’s challenges will be cured through business, developing a healthy business base will create more opportunities for citizens, increase employment opportunities and help fill in other voids, such as infrastructure or bridging gaps between groups of people. All of this together will help to create a healthy work and business environment, consequently reducing the brain drain in South Africa.

-Natasha Komen

Photo: Flickr

Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act
The Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act (WEE) of 2018, H.R. 5480, was introduced in the House earlier this month. The House of Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and Representative Louis Frankle (D-FL-22), 
Co-Chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, worked together to propose this bipartisan legislation.

“By confronting these barriers women face, we can help lift people out of poverty and drive economic growth – by some estimates adding trillions of dollars to annual global GDP,” says Chairman Royce.

Introduction to the WEE Bill

The aim of the WEE bill is to improve the status of women worldwide through empowerment and education so that women play a greater role in entrepreneurship. An introduction to the “Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act” means that the bill would supplement programs that promote women’s economic roles through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The “Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act” specifically focuses on:

  • Ensuring the reduction of gender disparities including gender-based violence, women’s property rights and economic participation as part of U.S. policy
  • Ensuring that all USAID programs incorporate gender-specific issues in attempts to empower women
  • Advocating for small and medium-sized enterprises that are owned, controlled or managed by women
  • Increasing women’s use and jurisdiction over resources such as land and financial inclusion

It’s no secret that the majority of the world’s poor are women. According to the U.N. Women Deputy Executive Director, Lakshmi Puri, If women and men have the equal access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets, the consequent 20-30 percent increase in agricultural production on women’s farms could lead to 100-150 million less hungry people.”

U.N. Women and Women Everywhere

The Borgen Project’s main goal is to eliminate global poverty; nevertheless, the facts cannot be ignored that when women play a greater role in the economy, it brings innumerable benefits to the nation and the world as a whole. According to U.N. Women, by increasing female labor force participation, education, shared household income, and women’s overall participation in the economic world, it would bring exponential benefits to the country as a whole.

Not only would economic empowerment bring millions of families out of poverty, child mortality would decrease and economies grow faster. Finally, the Mckinsey Global Institute study proposes that “closing gender gaps in labour-force participation rates, part-time versus full-time work and the composition of employment would add 12-25 percent to global GDP by 2025.”

An introduction to the “Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act” understands the obstacles when empowering women’s economic standing. The bill symbolizes a step in the right direction for U.S. efforts to help eliminate global poverty.

– Emma Martin

Photo: Flickr


Small-scale enterprises have been a large part of industrialization as well as job creation in India. As defined by the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development (MSMED) Act of 2006, a microenterprise in India is a small business in which the investment in plant and machinery is no more than $ 40,000. Microentrepreneurship and women entrepreneurs are alleviating poverty in India, particularly because up until the past couple of decades women were a largely untapped source of economic potential.

Women Entrepreneurs in India

The Government of India has defined women entrepreneurs as those whose enterprise has a minimum financial interest of 51 percent of the capital and is made up of at least 51 percent female workers. Although rural women in India are mainly responsible for agricultural production, domestic duties and childcare, their economic status is low in a male-dominated society. Women in India have been able to raise their economic status and fight poverty in their country by taking charge of microenterprises.

Increasing the participation of women in micro, small and medium enterprises is an important stepping stone to alleviating poverty in India because not only does it engage women in productive work outside their homes, but it also empowers them and improves family health. In addition, women entrepreneurs can provide society with different management, organization and business solutions because of their different perspectives and skills.

Self-Help Groups (SHGs)

One major resource for women entrepreneurs in India are the Self-Help groups (SHGs) provided by the Government of Bihar and supported by the World Bank. These groups are part of what is known as “Jeevika”, the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project. (“Jeevika” means “livelihood” in Hindi.)

SHGs provide skills training, access to markets and finance as well as business development services. There are 45 million rural women in India who have been empowered by these SHGs under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) in 2011. The NRLM has saved $ 1.4 billion, leveraged $ 20 billion from commercial banks and is helping nearly 3.3 million women farmers increase agriculture and livestock productivity. Here are some success stories that, with the help of such programs, show how women entrepreneurs are alleviating poverty:

  • Nearly 800 rural homes in Gujarat have partnered with Airbnb to generate incomes averaging $ 500 a month. This service enterprise was made possible by the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) that helped the homes to make official connections. In addition, tourism operators plus culinary and transportation services have been benefiting from local Airbnb homes.
  • Kiran Devi, due to resources from a self-help group in Bihar, went from stitching two to three pieces of clothing every day, ending up with blisters on her hands to directing the Aranyak Producer Company. Her farmer’s production company has adopted technological solutions to aggregate maize from small farmers and deliver better prices to over 6,000 maize farmers in the Purnia district of Bihar. Her company enhances agriculture and livestock productivity for small-scale women producers by helping them form producer groups in each village to aggregate produce, train and control quality. They even directly connect the market to these women farmers who would have sold their produce to local middlemen.
  • Technical assistance partners have increased the success of artisan groups in Madhubani, Bihar through design upgradation and implementation of e-commerce platforms.
  • Women Entrepreneurs India (WEI), an independent initiative, helps women entrepreneurs develop skills by providing training programs, financial education, motivation, mentorship and support with product and services marketing. Some of the home-based business options they suggest include retail consulting; home-based food services and delivery; event planning; writing; marketing; online translating; fitness; and fashion and jewelry design.

Future of Microenterprises

Women have, therefore, been able to use household skills to knit, stitch, weave and embroider for developing their microenterprises. They have also been able to use their technical skills and raw farm materials to earn substantial incomes and small agricultural units.

In conclusion, one reason the future of economic growth in India looks bright is that women entrepreneurs are alleviating poverty with their growing microenterprises. That is to say, the empowerment of women in India goes hand-in-hand with the auspicious development of microenterprises.

– Connie Loo
Photo: Flickr

Small businesses make big changesSmall- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are estimated to account for more than 90 percent of businesses in the world. SMEs employ around 60 percent of employees in private sectors and add around 50 percent of the world GDP. The benefits of SMEs cannot be overstated–small businesses make big changes.

Mahindra Rise is an example of a company that has far outgrown the small business classification, but it is an inspiring story for up and coming enterprises. Mahindra Rise began in 1945 in India as a steel company but has had the success and adaptability to extend beyond steel production. This company now works in 20 industries over 100 countries and is best known for its vehicle production.

At the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya, former President Barack Obama said, “Entrepreneurship creates new jobs and new businesses, new ways to deliver basic services, new ways of seeing the world—it’s the spark of prosperity.” President Obama is describing how small businesses make big changes. Here are a few examples of that small business strength.  

Farmerline

A mobile app based out of Ghana, co-founded by Emmanuel Owusu Addai and Alloysius Attah, Farmerline helps small farm-holders across Africa. A small-scale farm is dependent on market prices, weather and farming techniques, all of which can change quickly. This app, launched in 2013, has helped over 200,000 farmers across four countries increase their harvest by sharing information through the app.

Afghan Citadel Software (ACS)

Roya Mahboob helped co-found ACS at the age of 23 in 2010, helping to create a business aimed at creating opportunities for women to be incorporated into Afghanistan’s growing technical culture. Some of what ACS does is build internet classrooms, register users for online education and produce videos by young Afghan women.

Nirtech Limited

Co-founded by husband and wife duo Nichole and Ricardo Thompson in Jamaica, Niritech aims to help students in the Caribbean grow in the subject of digital literacy. Through an online platform, students are connected to instructors and have better access to education in order to become more competitive in the job industry.

FaceTagr

Vijay Gnanadeikan created the FaceTagr app to use face recognition to help find and identify missing people. The Chennai IT developer came up with the idea because of the huge amount of children that go missing in India; estimates are that about five children per hour disappear. Right now, the app is being tested by the police and government and, so far, FaceTagr has helped to locate 100 children in India.

Emerging companies understand their local contexts and create niches in order to compete with large multinational corporations. Local companies use their knowledge and understanding to work around institutional voids and an inability for market research. Companies that treat voids as opportunities create profitable enterprises. These small businesses make big changes in their world by not being afraid to compete and discovering the local needs.

– Natasha Komen

Photo: Flickr


Zambia’s youth have continued to face not only high unemployment rates, but also poor quality education, teenage pregnancies and early marriages. Fackson Shamenda (Zambia’s labour and social security minister) says the country’s young people are critical for development objectives; however, work is being done to increase employment for Zambia’s youth.

Promoting Equality Among Zambia’s Employed Youth

Launched in 2013, Impact Enterprises was Zambia’s first digital outsourcing company with a mission to provide the country’s youth with digital jobs. The company soon found that in group settings, young Zambian women were afraid to share their opinions among male coworkers. In June 2015, Impact Enterprises launched Ladies of Victory and Encouragement (LOVE), a support group for its female employees.

By July 2015, LOVE helped the company’s female employees become more confident in participating amongst male workers. One of the employees, Debra, said that LOVE restored the energy she used to have in secondary school. In January 2016, Dimitri Zakharov (CEO of Impact Enterprises) said the LOVE support group significantly strengthened the company’s employees and services.

Zambia’s Action Plan For Unemployed Youth

In March 2016, Zambia’s government developed an action plan to increase employment for Zambia’s youth. These are some of the action plan’s objectives:

  • Make youth employment a strategic target for developing Zambia’s economy.
  • Rejuvenate the dynamism of the local labour markets by enhancing the quality of Zambia’s graduate programs and students’ skills.
  • Ensure full participation of Zambia’s young men and women in the design and planning of youth-centred interventions.

Jerry Sakala (patron of Zambia’s U.N. Youth Association) said that for strides of addressing unemployed youth to be meaningful, strong and coordinated responses will be required from both Zambia’s stakeholders and its youth. “This multi-sectoral approach will ensure that programmes and activities to empower and create employment opportunities for the youth are mainstreamed across all sectors,” said Sakala.

A Young Zambian Entrepreneur Employs 50 People

For young Zambians who have achieved stable employment, they now work to give back to their fellow unemployed residents. In February 2017, Jessie Chipindo (a young entrepreneur and founder of Zambia’s Dulce & Banana restaurant) employed 50 specialized staff to work for her business. Zambia’s government was greatly pleased with Chipindo’s work. Chipindo thanked the government for creating an environment where the country’s young entrepreneurs could flourish.

Agriculture as a Profitable Investment For Zambia’s Youth

In January 2018, Dr. Kaunda (cofounder of Billionaire Farmer Agric Solutions) said that Zambia’s youth could generate great profit from agricultural work; however, the challenge lies in attracting the youth to this job in the first place.

“We need to change the outdated perception that agriculture is back-breaking, unprofitable work for an old, tired generation,” said Kaunda. Kaunda also says that while agricultural work yields financial benefits, it still requires a firm commitment to hard work.

Establishing a Positive Change

On March 26, 2018, the Innovative Zambian Youths Organization (IZYO) institution planned to an entrepreneurship summit for Zambia’s youth. Joseph Maimba (the institution’s CEO) said this is part of the Zambian government’s effort to close the unemployment gap among the country’s young people. The summit will be begin on April 5, 2018 and focus on helping Zambia’s young entrepreneurs develop new skills.

Zambia’s government sees the potential of its young people to develop the country’s economic standing, and many entities will continue to focus on creating employment for Zambia’s youth

– Rhondjé Singh Tanwar

Photo: Flickr

Best Careers for Fighting Poverty
Many people are looking to make a difference these days through volunteer work, making donations and voting, but there are also many careers that can make a huge impact. The best careers for fighting poverty may be surprising to some, but each makes a difference in the lives of others.

Working in these fields makes the world a better place and improves the lives of the poor:

  1. Teachers
    Kids spend approximately 1,200 hours annually in the classroom. A teacher’s influence is vast and encompasses the education, mental health and safety of the children they teach. Education is vital in the fight against poverty and provides students with the tools necessary to make a living and gain the schooling needed to avoid poverty.
    It is important more than ever that female teachers gain employment in developing areas. This allows girls in culturally strict regions to be able to attend school, feel safe and receive gender equality in the classroom.
  2. Social Workers
    Those in vulnerable situations are able to receive support through their social workers, such as family counselors. Social workers work to improve the mental health of those seeking counsel, and help diagnose emotional issues, so that they can receive treatment and progress professionally.
  3. Doctors and Nurses
    Working in one of the best careers for fighting poverty, those in the medical field have the power to affect the health of people in poorer communities. They can even opt to go abroad with volunteer groups or Doctors Without Borders during seasons they choose.
    Doctors and nurses can also help vaccinate those in developing countries, provide health counsel and improve the health conditions of the community they work in. Citizens in good health are less likely to remain or fall into poverty in the first place. With good health, they are able to work full time, participate in the economy and attend school.
  4. Entrepreneurs
    People who start their own businesses are able to address issues that may not have already been addressed by their communities or nations yet. Entrepreneurs have the power to not only create jobs and positively impact their local economies, but are also able to create influential movements and businesses.
  5. Lawyers
    Lawyers are able to participate in pro-bono work, providing legal assistance to those who would not otherwise be able to afford the help. They are also able to prevent those wrongly accused from going to prison, which stimulates the economy and keeps people in the work force and out of crime.

There are many influential jobs that can reduce poverty in communities, but these are the best careers for fighting poverty that have the widest reach. The average person spends 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime and to be able to make those hours count is an impactful feat, accomplished by those who care enough to make a career out of making a difference.

– Emily Degn

Photo: Flickr

fintech startups in AfricaFinancial technology, or fintech, refers to innovations aimed at new ways of delivering financial services. With the goal of changing lives, fintech startups in Africa are moving people forward on a digital route. Fortunately, such firms have no lack of funding.

According to a recent report from Disrupt Africa, the overall funding from venture capitalists jumped by 51 percent to $195 million from 2016 to 2017, with fintech funding accounting for one-third of the funds. The regions that were considered as the top three investment destinations were South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.

Over the past several months, the African tech scene has trended in a positive direction as consumers turn to more digitally driven services in the region. After the success of MPesa in Kenya, many fintech startups in Africa are aiming to bridge the digital gap across other unreached communities in the region.

Here are three leading fintech startups in Africa that are rethinking ways to digitalize communities in Africa.

 

Flutterwave


Flutterwave was founded in 2016 and provides payment technologies and infrastructure to the continent’s largest financial institutions. With the aim of disrupting the traditional banking style in Africa, its instant rise captures the current tech scene of Africa.

The company currently operates in more than 36 countries and has partnered with 10 bank partners in Africa. With as much as 34 percent of adults in sub-Saharan Africa with bank accounts, Flutterwave has a practically untapped market to reach.
Founded by ex-bankers, entrepreneurs and engineers, the technology aims to make banking simple for its customers. With 10 million transactions processed, Flutterwave has processed $1.2 billion in payments and receives the backing from venture capitalists like Y-Combinator, Ventures and Social Capital. The company provides solutions for banks, enterprise and entrepreneurs, with no upfront, annual or special project fees.

According to a World Bank report, roughly $20 billion a year is sent to Nigeria alone, and foreign remittances made up the second-largest source of foreign exchange receipts in Africa’s biggest economy after oil revenues. Flutterwave aims to target the digital payment gap, enabling users to transfer money into different bank accounts. Such fintech initiatives will allow the communities and families in Africa to receive digital payments from family members and business relatives from across countries and, in turn, will spur growth in the developing region.

 

Pezesha


Launched in Kenya, Pezesha aims to become Africa’s largest peer to business microlending marketplace by including Africa’s low-income borrowers in the financial system. As one of the leading fintech startups in Africa, Pezesha is driven by the core values of integrity, security, reliability, excellence in teamwork, accountability, responsibility and innovation.

Instant loans can be availed by borrowers on the peer-to-peer lending platform via SMS, provided the minimum criteria is met. Such services allow low-income borrowers in Africa to generate credit scores using data analytics. Pezesha also extends funding for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which could indirectly benefit jobs and employment in the small business sector.

SMEs create 80 percent of the region’s employment and fuel demand for new goods and services. But according to The World Bank, an estimated 50 percent of SMEs have no credit access and are less likely to secure loans when compared to larger firms. By providing microcredit access, small businesses will get funding support and allow entrepreneurs to design bankable projects.

Pezesha was recently selected to participate in the BlackBox Connect 20 accelerator programme, powered by sponsors like Google, IBM, Stripe and Silicon Valley Bank.

 

Riby

Riby has become one of the best 50 emerging fintech startups in the world, according to the recent annual Fintech 100 report by KPMG and H2 Ventures. Based in Nigeria, Riby offers a mobile app-based service for a range of financial management features including the digitization of collaborative saving, lending and investments.

Riby acts as a platform for groups, employees, individuals, associations and financial development institutions and remotely helps them controls their financial activities.

The app includes features like personal savings, cooperative savings and loan management, peer-to-peer lending, agent management and personal and group investment management. Through the digitization of collaborative saving, lending and investments, Riby aims to increase financial literacy amongst individual members of the groups.

A major reason for the fintech rise is the usage of mobile phones in Africa, which has increased from five percent in 2003 to 73 percent in 2014. With 650 million mobile phone owners in the continent (more than in the U.S. and Europe combined), the 3G mobile network is also growing rapidly.

According to Disrupt Africa, more than 300 fintech startups are active across the African continent. It is evident that fintech startups in Africa are attracting the attention of banks and investors, but more importantly, they are helping the lives of many unbanked customers in Africa and indirectly improving the economic condition of the country.

For the African economy, the tech wave has just started. The untapped market could provide a wealth of opportunities for many fintech startups, equipping customers with more sophisticated digital tools.

– Deena Zaidi

Photo: Flickr

 EconomyWomen are dominating the African workforce and increasing revenue in many countries. This domination has led many countries to recognize how female entrepreneurship drives the economy through innovation and success as technology continues to advance.

Companies such as Mastercard are traveling to Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa to partner with nonprofit organizations aimed at teaching young girls why they should enter the workforce and how they can make an impact. With these partnerships, organizations, such as the Mini Enterprise Programme, hope that girls and women will take the initiative to enter the workforce in the near future.

In Ghana, women make up more than half of the labor force; if maximally utilized, the additional personnel could lead to increased production of good services by 2.5 percent within one year. One of the benefits of being able to export more products in a year is the increased revenue it brings in to the country. Female entrepreneurship drives the economy in Ghana by helping to build more jobs and providing more opportunities for other women to enter the force.

Female entrepreneurship also drives the economy by using education to teach youth. Companies work with organizations to empower young girls, as they have recognized the potential young girls have to drive the economy in the future. Many women in the field have stepped up as role models and proven that they can start businesses just as successfully as a man.

Furthermore, women are working faster than men to start businesses in many African countries. According to the World Bank, the time required to start a business for women and men increased about a day between 2015 and 2016,  however, women were still, overall, faster than men by one day.

The opportunity to involve women is a positive step forward not only for the economy but for the alleviation of poverty experienced by many around the world. Approximately six out of 10 of the world’s poorest people are women. They are usually the primary caretakers of the family, yet are often denied the opportunity to earn an adequate living.

The initiatives set out by Mastercard and other organizations give hope to women suffering from poverty and promote the continued empowerment of women. Empowering young girls has led to more African countries seeing the benefits of having female entrepreneurship drive their economies.

– Seriah Sargenton

Photo: Flickr

Women's entrepreneurship in developing nationsInvesting in women and girls is a promising way to develop a global economy. One way to do that is via women’s entrepreneurship in developing nations.  A thriving and successful economy and an enlarged consumer base are just some of the benefits of increased female membership in business and leadership positions. Developing nations stand to face the most benefits from the inclusion of women in the business world.

“Women’s economic participation and their ownership and control of productive assets speeds up development, helps overcome poverty, reduces inequalities and improves children’s nutrition, health, and school attendance”, reports the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Women are more likely to devote more of their earnings back into their families and communities than their male counterparts, feeding money back into their local communities.

An example of this is with seaweed farming. Women dominate the seaweed farming industry in several developing nations. A study focusing on Africa, India, and South-East Asia found that women made up roughly 90 percent of seaweed farmers in Tanzania, representing leadership opportunities and a significant trade for women. Economic contributions from seaweed farming were observed improving the quality of life for families involved in the farming business, according to the report.

The “seaweed women” made important advances in the sustainability of the farming practice but the women also demonstrate dedication and patience as described by their male coworkers during the farming process. Community members also benefit from the local seaweed industry, the report claims.

A similar study finds that female farmer-entrepreneurs in Ghana have contributed to local poverty reduction. While the study did not directly report on the residual benefits, “It is reasonable to infer that improvements in entrepreneurial ventures lead to the creation of more jobs, which improves the local economy,” the report concedes.

Thailand, The Philippines, Botswana, Costa Rica, South Africa, Peru, Malaysia, Colombia, Romania and China are among some of the lower-middle and low-income economies scoring high on Mastercard’s Index of Women Entrepreneurs. Furthermore, despite unfavorable entrepreneurial conditions, women in Bangladesh, Uganda, Mexico and Vietnam are resolute and establishing successful businesses.

Though there are many success stories, increasing women’s access to financial services and easier accruement of credit would facilitate benefits intrinsic to women’s entrepreneurship in developing nations. Experts claim that women are an untapped resource essential to global economic growth and development.

The OECD argues that the inclusion of women’s voices in politics is essential to mitigate gender disparities and commence national benefits for nations collectively. Featuring more women’s entrepreneurship in developing nations also contributes to emerging markets and increases global trading partners. Advocating for women in more business positions is in the best interest of everyone. In the words of the all-wise Spice Girls, girl power.

– Sloan Bousselaire

Photo: Flickr

Middle EastIt seems like every year, another company or app comes out that changes our lives and disrupts traditional businesses. Netflix changed movies and TV shows, Uber changed individual transportation and Airbnb changed the hotel industry. These new and innovative companies have allowed more people to access services that may have been out of reach in the past.

Now, this trend has taken hold in an unlikely place: the Middle East.

Currently, the two most prominent Middle Eastern startups in the region are Souq, an online e-commerce retailer and Careem, a ride-hailing service. While these firms are not based around wholly original ideas, the mere fact of their creation shows a desire for citizens in these countries to utilize smart technology to improve their daily lives.

Amazon’s acquisition of Souq in 2017 showed the effectiveness of the firm in the region, considering that Amazon’s modus operandi when entering new regions involves launching its own platform paired with a substantial investment component. The efficiency of Souq, however, allowed Amazon to make a direct buyout instead.

Startups like those seen in other parts of the world are sprouting up in the region regardless of the challenging economic and political circumstances they face. In 2016, the top 100 startups in the region raised over $1.42 billion, with each firm raising at least $500,000. But this does not come easily.

Many Middle Eastern countries do not have a conducive climate for startups compared to western Europe and North America. Bankruptcy laws and overregulation have stifled innovation for decades. However, the increase in startup firms in a variety of sectors shows a young, tech-savvy population that seeks to innovate and reinvigorate the economies of the Arab world.

Jamalon, an online book-selling firm, was started by a Jordanian who grew up in Palestinian refugee camps. Ala’ Alsallal saw a need for greater access to Arabic-language books for people in the region, especially works that are banned by various governments in the region.

“You know what the censors told me? ‘We don’t want any books that can change the way people think,'” Alsallal told Forbes Magazine. “That doesn’t matter,” he says. “We just keep sending them.”

Entrepreneurship with a social mission is common among startups, and it is no different in the Middle East, as shown by Jamalon. Average citizens are destined to benefit immensely from these companies. If this trend continues, the advent of Middle Eastern startups will increase access to services and will improve the quality of life for the people of the region.

Daniel Cavins
Photo: Flickr