Young people and women are at the root of a fast-developing dynamic entrepreneur scene driving technology innovation in Lebanon, according to a new report prepared by the UK Lebanon Tech Hub. The report indicates that women are increasingly taking the lead in Lebanon's startup scene. The same goes for the UAE and Saudi Arabia where woman are stepping up and leading innovation projects.
A national report in Lebanon called ‘The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2016 National Report - Lebanon', shows that young people and women are at the root of a fast developing dynamic entrepreneur scene in the Middle Eastern nation. The report is derived from data taken from global research by the GEM Consortium, who assessed entrepreneurship levels across 65 countries.
The report shows that two in seven 25-44 year olds were starting or running a new business in Lebanon in 2016. It also shows that four out of ten questioned said they intended to start their own business within the next three years. Women are increasingly taking the lead in Lebanon's startup scene, according to the report, with 16 percent of those surveyed saying they were involved in early stage entrepreneurial activity - more than twice the level recorded in Europe (6 percent) and a third more than in the US (12 percent).
Nadim Zaazaa, chief executive officer of the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, an international initiative by Banque du Lebanon (Bank of Lebanon) and the UK government, said Lebanon's burgeoning ecosystem is the result of a "big entrepreneurial momentum met by a strong VC industry bolstered by the Central Bank's masterstroke 331 initiative," an initiative to encourage budding businesses and local venture capital firms to fund new Lebanese tech companies.
"This very tech-focused scene is attracting many of Lebanon's diaspora back to the country, especially women and youth," said Mr. Zaazaa. "It is an exciting time to be in Lebanon as it is becoming the tech gateway to the Middle East. Our ambition is to be among the top ten entrepreneurial nations of the world. To invest in potential for innovation and become more competitive globally."
In the survey, six out of 10 Lebanese adults saw good opportunities to start a new business, more than two-thirds considered themselves to have the required skills and capabilities to do so, and less than a quarter of those would be deterred by fear of failure. As a result, four out of 10 intended to start a new business within the next three years.
Lebanon was the leading country among those surveyed in innovative business startups, or the proportion of new businesses seeing themselves as introducing new products or services, with few competitors. The report also showed Lebanon is amongst the world's leading entrepreneurial economies, ranking fourth of 65 countries in terms of new firm enterprise, eighth in terms of total early-stage entrepreneurship, and third in terms of the ownership of established businesses.
In the World Bank's "Doing Business 2017 Report", Lebanon scored 55.9/100, ranking 126th of 190 countries, including ranking 139th for ease of starting a business. In the overall rankings, Lebanon just about matched the average for Arab nations, although behind UAE (26th), Morocco (68th) and Jordan (118th), amongst others.
It's not a man's world anymore
The Middle East has suffered from a reputation for having 13 of the 15 countries with the lowest rate of female participation in the workforce, according to the World Bank. However, countries like Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are stepping up to show that women in the Middle East can contribute to the workforce, particularly the technology industry.
In ten Arab countries surveyed by UNESCO, in a 2015 report titled ‘Girls and Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Asia', women graduating in STEM subjects represented 34 percent to 57 percent of graduates, which is much higher than the Western world. In addition, 35 percent of internet entrepreneurs in the Arab world are female, compared to 10 percent globally.
In Lebanon, female mechanical engineer Rana El Chemaitelly stepped up to combat the lack of practical skills that many of her students lacked at the American University of Beirut (AUB). She set up The Little Engineer (TLE), an after-school club that gives students exposure to the field of engineering. Aiming to focus the skill sets required for an increasingly automated world, she has focused the courses on areas such as robotics, renewable energy and the environment.
Another Lebanese woman forging ahead in the tech industry is Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO of littleBits, an open source library of modular electronics that snap together with magnets. At 35, Bdeir is considered a leader in the internet of things (IoT) movement. She started littleBits in 2011 with the goal to "put the power of electronics in the hands of everyone, and to break down complex technologies so that anyone can build, prototype and invent."
Women are playing an integral role in the diversification of the Middle East. In the UAE, women make up 66 percent of the public sector workforce, of which 30 percent are in leadership roles, according to research by BBC. The 27.5 percent of women who make up the UAE cabinet play important roles in supporting technology and innovation in the tech-savvy nation. In the UAE, women aren't just participating in driving technology initiatives, but are often leading them.
For example, Her Excellency Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr heads the UAE government arm dedicated to transforming Dubai into the world's smartest city. As director general, Dr. Aisha draws upon her experience in eGovernment. Speaking to Telecom Review recently, she said she fell in love with the idea of serving the public sector from a young age.
Dr. Aisha served on the Executive Council from 2007-2008 and worked on a low-profile project called Digital City to see how Dubai could benefit from the digital city trend. From there, she became assistant director general of the Executive Office and eventually became director general of the Smart Dubai Office.
"I established my career starting from the Department of Tourism, to the Executive Council and the Ministry of Labor, until I came into the Executive Office of Smart Dubai," she said. "Happiness has always been the main goal behind our projects. Peoples' happiness is a very important issue for His Highness Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. That is why we have a Minister of Happiness."
The UAE's chief happiness and positivity officer, Amal Al Mutawa, is also a woman. In the book The Internet of Women, which highlights female leaders and cultural shifts around the world, Amal says she estimates that over 75 percent of employees in the prime minister's office are female. "You can see a female presence in everything that we do here that's technical," she says. "It's not a man's world anymore."
In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, women are starting to be recognized as tech leaders. Deemah Al Yahya is CEO of Saudi Arabia's National Digitization Unit (NDU), a government arm mandated to accelerate efforts to achieve Saudi Vision 2030 objectives, an initiative to diversify the kingdom's economy away from oil dependence.
Mrs. Al Yahya started her career in 2003 as a software engineer and content developer. She has held several important positions in Microsoft, until she was appointed executive director, Developer Experience and Digital innovation. Speaking to Telecom Review recently, she said Saudi Arabia is a young nation full of tech potential.
Saudi NDU was inspired by Dubai, Mrs. Al Yahya said, and the way the city has embraced digitization and education. "We are in an era where we are no longer competing against each other. We are working collaboratively to achieve an objective," she said. "The world is evolving very quickly, and as a nation, we have to exchange our best practices and learn from our neighbors in order to rise together."