19 December 2012

Egypt: Harness the Youth to Create a Culture of Social Entrepreneurship

Photo: This is Africa
Egyptian citizens


Give Egyptian youth a platform to exercise their entrepreneurial abilities, and they will build their country's next line of social enterprises and empower their own generation in turn.

The secret to achieving this lies in taking advantage of three Egyptian institutions that have been shaping the country's identity: rising usage of Internet, a large private sector that serves as a hub for regional commerce, and a regionally-renowned media industry.

Young people in Egypt face long waiting periods for jobs and uncertain economic futures. Twenty-eight percent of youth are unemployed, with females faring far worse than males at 47 percent (World Bank, 2012). As of 2008, it took males with a secondary degree or higher an average of 1.7 years to find a job (Brookings Institution, 2008). This situation calls for targeted action that maximizes Egypt's local resources and activates the energy of its youth.

Magnified by the Arab Spring, millions of young Egyptians are now active on online platforms. As of June 2012, nearly 30 million Egyptians had access to Internet, a 30 percent penetration rate (Internetworldstats.com). Twenty-five percent of all Facebook users in the Arab World live in Egypt, and in 2012 it added more users than any other country in the region, 70 percent of whom were in the 15-29 age bracket (Dubai School of Government, 2012). On top of this, a recent study from the Dubai School of Government found that Arabs increasingly view social media as a tool for developing entrepreneurial skills and gaining productive knowledge.

At the same time, Egypt is home to one of the Arab region's most notable commercial sectors. Multi-national corporations from around the world have set up shop in Cairo, while a multitude of local businesses have strengthened operations in the country and expanded their reach across the region. Similarly, Egypt boasts the most popular television programs in the Arab World. From Morocco to the United Arab Emirates, no Arab resists indulging in at least some form of Egyptian TV.

If we leverage these three phenomena effectively, we will see entrepreneurship take flight. To do this properly, I offer three examples:

The Internet must become the major platform for young social entrepreneurs. Egypt has some of the highest online penetration rates in the world, and social media platforms in the country are heavily populated by youth. They are eager to channel their energy through productive tools and projects that have a positive impact on their communities. INJAZ and the Coca-Cola Foundation have tried and tested this approach through the Ripples of Happiness program, a collaborative online project that challenges university students to develop innovative solutions for societal challenges. Through this program, we have witnessed the creation of social enterprise projects, ranging from emergency medical response initiatives to financially sustainable recycling campaigns, and even websites channeling youth to volunteer, by matching them with specific social initiatives. It has taught us firsthand that social innovation can organically emerge, once youth have the tools and platform to act.

The private sector needs a unified voice in support of youth entrepreneurship. The private sector can actively mentor young entrepreneurs and teach youth general business principles. Partnering with universities to set up entrepreneurship workshops and clubs would benefit both university students and the companies investing in them. Companies can also offer corporate incubation services to young companies. Recyclobekia - an Egyptian E-waste disposal company created by a group of students at the University of Tanta - was INJAZ's first student company to receive incubation services from a corporation, which allowed them to set up an office in an Egyptian corporation in Cairo and to receive material support and mentorship services from s its employees. Private sector leaders, such as Mobinil, Exxon Mobil, HSBC and Abraaj Capital, are already laying the foundation, demonstrating this innovative new approach to corporate social responsibility. In the future, the private sector's social footprint will be measured by how well they leverage their revenue to create new startups and jobs, a model that must quickly become part of any CSR program in the region.

Television is the most important tool for entrenching entrepreneurship in pop-culture. Egyptian television is the most watched media in the Arab World. With all Arab eyes on Cairo's TV stations, why not give people insight into the entrepreneurial journey? For this reason, INJAZ is launching in 2013 the Generation Entrepreneur reality TV series, which will explore the entrepreneurial learning process among Arab youth.

Filmed for Arab countries, the series tracks the experiences of INJAZ teams in the Company Program, as they create their own businesses. Against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, we see how youth link their desire for economic and social reform with their entrepreneurial passions. They see the opportunity to build their own companies as a chance to own their economic futures. This TV series will tell their stories to viewers across the region and millions of young people will see how they, too, can add value to their own communities through entrepreneurship. As Egypt is already a leader in the region's entertainment industry, there's no reason it can't become the Arab World's hub for producing, directing, and distributing a wide spectrum of such programs.

To build a foundation on which we can develop the next generation of social entrepreneurs in Egypt, we must put our money on the creative potential of our youth. If we allow them to exercise their entrepreneurial abilities, I guarantee that social innovation will follow.

Soraya Salti is senior vice-president of Middle East/North Africa for Junior Achievement Worldwide, INJAZ al-Arab

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