In Egypt, give ‘em entrepreneurship

In the frenzy to understand, analyze and predict the historic events unfolding in Egypt, many rightly have focused on the Egyptian economy.  Here are some interesting data points:

  • A year ago, Egypt’s government released figures on the country’s poverty.  It showed that it had reached 23.4 percent, “up from 20 percent the previous year.”
  • In June 2010, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released its Human Development Report for Egypt.  That report noted that among the country’s unemployed, estimated to be 8 million, “90 percent were under the age of 30.”
  • Business Insider has this informative piece about Egypt’s “economic tragedy”, in what it calls “3 simple charts.”

In a special report in 2010, The Economist ran this set of social indicators:

Egypt is more populous and poorer today than it was 20 years ago.  But it is also more literate and connected to the world.  That is good and bad.  Young Egyptians are developing skills and becoming more aware of the opportunities around the world – (and the lack of them in their own country).  You extrapolate.

Increased freedoms would go far to ensure that these youth can access those opportunities.  Expanding entrepreneurship would guarantee it.  As much as Egyptians need and deserve freedom, they need and deserve the tools that will allow them to build vibrant and sustainable businesses.

Endeavor is one of the few non-profits working to do that.  It is working to support “high-impact” entrepreneurs through world-class mentorship and high-level networks.  They are entrepreneurs such as Hind and Nadia Wassef who run Diwan, a boutique bookshop committed to reviving Egypt’s rich literary heritage, Mostafa Hafez, a young techie who creates video games at Timeline Interactive, the company he founded with the belief that Silicon Valley isn’t the only place where innovation comes from and Fatma Ghaly, who as the CEO of Azza Fahmy jewelry, has created a highly-coveted Egyptian designer brand.  These entrepreneurs are shattering perceptions that entrepreneurship in Egypt can’t succeed.

Last year, following the April 2010 Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship, the State Department launched the Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP).  ”Focused on supporting and empowering entrepreneurs,” GEP is another program helping Egyptians realize their entrepreneurial potential.  It’s one of the few government programs that doesn’t make me cringe.  That’s because, rather than doling out funds or ideology, it is tapping into its platform to identify entrepreneurs and connect them to mentors and networks in order to help start-ups thrive.  From the looks of the crowds in Tahrir Square, thrive is something Egyptians are hungry to do.

Earlier this week the White House and the Kauffman Foundation announced Startup America Partnership, an initiative aimed to allow Americans to test “new ideas, bring new products to market and generate new businesses.”  Isn’t there a way to replicate and adapt this for Egypt?

Hat tip to @krmaher and @auerswald who have enriched, through their smart and measured Tweets, my experience of the events in Egypt.

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