Category Archives: startup

A New Economy for the Middle East and North Africa

menaDespite its geopolitical challenges, the economies of the Middle East and North Africa have vast untapped potential in their young, educated, and tech-savvy populations. If governments can implement the reforms needed to shift from public- to private-sector-led development, the region’s economies could become digital powerhouses.

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) possess all of the ingredients they need to leapfrog into the digital future. They have large, well-educated youth populations that have already adopted new digital and mobile technologies on a wide scale. That combination has immense potential to drive future growth and job creation. But will it?

Public spending, the region’s historical engine of development, has reached its limit. Because the public sector can no longer absorb the swelling ranks of university graduates, the MENA region now has one of the world’s highest rates of youth unemployment.

The digital economy holds the promise of a new way forward, but it is still in its infancy, and young people face obstacles in putting technology to productive use. Although the Internet and hand-held devices are ubiquitous throughout the region, they are currently used for accessing social media, rather than for launching new enterprises.

But there are green shoots emerging. For example, the ride-hailing app Careem has grown from a start-up to a billion-dollar company, creating thousands of jobs in more than 90 cities in the MENA region and in Pakistan and Turkey. And new digital platforms are already connecting job seekers and employers, providing vocational training, and hosting start-up incubators. The challenge now is to create the conditions for these green shoots to grow and multiply.

The first, essential step is for MENA countries to become “learning societies,” a phrase coined by the Nobel laureate economist Joseph E. Stiglitz to describe countries in which shared knowledge leads to increased innovation. This, in turn, fosters development; and in the case of MENA, it could lead to the creation of a vibrant digital service economy.

To get there, education systems will need to change. For the region’s young people, the curriculum is more often a source of frustration than advancement. The concept of a “skills premium” – the difference in wages between skilled and unskilled workers – dictates that higher educational attainment should lead to higher compensation and more secure employment. Yet in the MENA region, the opposite has happened: university graduates are far more likely to be unemployed than are workers with only a basic education.

Two factors work against the region’s young people. First, schools are still geared toward channeling graduates into large public sectors, which means they place less emphasis on fields such as mathematics and science. Second, bloated public sectors are crowding out the private sector, which would otherwise be a larger provider of high-skill, high-wage jobs.

Because the future economy will need technologically capable workers, curricula should be reoriented toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects and away from the social studies that were long prized by public-sector employers.

Moreover, education systems should focus on encouraging greater openness to innovation and risk-taking – a significant departure from the attitudes reproduced under a system of public-sector patronage. Specifically, moving toward an innovative “learning society” will require students to hone their critical-thinking and managerial skills within collaborative work arrangements.

In addition to skills, the digital economy will also need technical infrastructure. Connectivity is a prerequisite for the delivery of new mobile and digital services in e-commerce, vocational training, health care, and finance, all of which could substantially increase overall welfare. Countries in the region thus need to focus on expanding broadband Internet access.

Education and Internet infrastructure geared toward productive use would provide the foundation of a new economy. But ensuring sustained growth in the region will require improving its financial systems as well. A digital economy depends on payment systems that are not just easy to use and widely available, but also trustworthy. Developing effective peer-to-peer payments that require no financial intermediary like a bank will be crucial for ensuring that digital platforms for ride sharing, on-demand tasks, and other services can thrive.

Outside of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, which have relatively advanced payment systems, the quality of financial services in the MENA region currently lags behind most of the rest of the world. Barring improvements to the financial system, and to the banking sector in particular, the potential of the region’s vast human capital will not be realized.

Lastly, governments will need to develop an approach to regulation that encourages, rather than stifles, innovation. To be sure, ensuring confidence, especially in financial systems, is essential; but regulation must be balanced with policies to boost competition, so that start-ups can easily enter the market and test new ideas. There needs to be more space for more companies like Careem to emerge. Policymakers should look to Kenya’s model of light but effective regulation, which has fostered the rapid growth of the peer-to-peer payment system M-Pesa.

Seizing the opportunities that the digital economy offers the MENA region will require a big push. Policymakers will need to work on multiple fronts, while making the best use of all available tools. The sooner they start, the greater the chance that today’s young people can overcome economic exclusion and gain more opportunities to realize their – and their region’s – full potential.


Tunisia: Strategic Council for the Digital Economy calls for speeding up the Digital Development Agency

downloadThe strategic council of the digital economy has called to accelerate the creation of the Digital Development Agency (DNA).

The Strategic Council for the Digital Economy, chaired by the Head of Government, was born out of the Digital Tunisia meeting organized in 2013. This governance structure, which brings together actors from the public and private sectors and civil society, is intended to oversee developing the national strategy for the digital economy and monitoring its implementation, as per online news portal THD.

In an address delivered at the end of the meeting of the Strategic Council of the Digital Economy, the Minister of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy, Anouar Maarouf, said that the Digital Development Agency will have the mission of accelerating the implementation of projects that are part of the digital transformation, particularly those related to the digitalization of the Administration and the improvement of the digital infrastructure in the regions.

According to THD, Anouar Maarouf indicated that the Council welcomed the deployment of an integrated National Network of Administration, the granting of nearly forty IoT licenses and the progress of certain other projects, particularly those related to the dynamization of the startup ecosystem in Tunisia.

The Minister of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy also returned to all the measures announced by the head of government, Youssef Chahed, on the sidelines of the Tunisia Digital Summit.

Anouar Maarouf reminded that it will be possible, from 16 April, to obtain free birth certificates and online business registers and to use the QR Code instead of the certified copies. “The QR Code is currently integrated into pay slips and some university degrees and will be generalized gradually,” he noted, as per THD.

The mobile payment will also be effective from April 10 and regardless of the telephone operator or the banking organization users.

Anouar Maarouf added that the Strategic Council of the Digital Economy has made several recommendations whose objective is to promote the digital economy and its role in the national economy.

In this context, the Strategic Council for the Digital Economy has advocated the creation of a state IS. “This structuring project will play an important role in the management of the state’s financial resources,” said the ICT minister.

According to THD, the Digital Economy Strategic Council stressed the need to accelerate the creation of the fund of funds, a financing and support mechanism dedicated to Tunisian startups.


Qatar launches digital economy programme

downloadThe Minister of Transport and Communications Jassim bin Saif al-Sulaiti launched yesterday the ‘digital transformation for SMEs programme’ that is aimed at empowering enterprises to adopt technology seamlessly.

The initiative is designed to ensure the success of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by increasing their productivity and innovation.
At a press conference, the minister said 5,000 companies are expected to benefit through the scheme by the end of 2019, stressing that the ministry is committed to keep pace with with the digital age. He said the government of Qatar has clear plans for digital transformation and the enhanced role of technology in different sectors, in order to realise the Qatar National Vision goal of building a knowledge-based society.
Al-Sulaiti noted that Qatar now has some of the world’s most developed IT and communications infrastructure, including fiber-optic network, data centers and cloud-based computing services.
He said there are now 2,400 e-government services, with more than 1,000 of them on the internet and more than 600 of them on mobile, stressing that he is confident the government will provide all its services electronically by 2020.
The minister stressed that it is the citizens who will lead the digital transformation initiative, noting that Qatar is first worldwide in the use of internet. “The use of smartphones is at 147% and social media 99%. The ministry will also implement the smart Qatar programme “Tasmu” to use smart solutions in five economic sectors in a bid to speed up the implementation of Qatar National Vision 2030.”
Al-Sulaiti called upon the owners of small- and medium-sized enterprises to participate and benefit from the programme, which is designed to support them to be at the forefront of ICT development.
He also called on them to establish companies capable of playing a role in the development of digital economy and to take advantage of this golden era in the history of Qatar to build companies capable of contributing to the diversification of sources of income.

The Digital transformation of SMEs Program focuses on three specific areas: web presence, e-commerce, cloud services.afadfa

The ministry’s “Digital Transformation for SMEs programme” is set to provide strategic partnership with the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, Qatar Development Bank, Qatar Chamber, The Communications Regulatory Authority, Qatar National Bank, Ooredoo and Microsoft, for a range of digital and consulting services in the fields of e-commerce.
The programme will improve the business model through digital solutions, to offer the best services to meet the demands of customers, and to enable electronic partnerships with technology companies, financiers and government agencies to enhance the digital economy in the country, and to increase investment and raise gross domestic product.
The minister also toured an exhibition being held on the sidelines and met with officials of a number of small- and medium-sized companies working in the field of digital services.
After the tour, he said the firms participating in the accompanying exhibition represent companies that were able to provide services through the adoption of the programme of digital transformation, which has contributed to the expansion of their services. Besides, it enabled the customers of those companies to deal smoothly with them via smart phones .
Two discussions held on the occasion focused on the role of digital transformation in driving innovation in business and promoting economic growth and the power of web technologies, e-commerce and cloud services in the growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises.

What’s in it for SMEs?




Georgia develops $40m National Innovation Ecosystem project

Georgia is trying to increase the innovative activities of firms and individuals and their participation in the digital economy by developing the National Innovation Ecosystem (GENIE).

The total cost of the GENIE project, which will support innovative ideas and start-ups in Georgia, is $40 million.

Georgia’s Economy Minister Dimitry Kumsishvili discussed the project implementation process with representatives of the World Bank today. The project is being implemented with the financial assistance of the World Bank.

The project comprises of four components. The first component is about developing the innovation infrastructure, a network of innovation hubs and innovation centers in selected cities, towns and villages.

For the second component, innovation services will deliver services, many in coordination with community innovation centers and regional innovation hubs, tailored to project beneficiaries at various stages and levels of the innovation ecosystem.

The third component will involve the provision of matching grants and technical assistance to innovation financing projects to stimulate alternative forms of innovation financing and investment in the digital economy.

The fourth component, project implementation support, will aim to ensure the efficient and effective implementation of all project components.

As the project description published by the World Bank reads, the approval date of the project was March 18, 2016, while the closing date is April 30, 2021.