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Policymakers in Egypt Launch Global Entrepreneurship Week

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute

In Cairo, the Minister of Education, the President of the Financial Supervisory Authority and other high-ranking officials gathered on November 15 for the Launch of the Global Entrepreneurship Week. At this event, participants shared knowledge on how to build an entrepreneurial environment. Egyptian leaders tapped on the expertise of several sponsoring organizations, such as the Middle East Council for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (MCSBE), local universities, and development agencies like the International Labor Organization. The event had an attendance of over 300 participants, including over 40 students and entrepreneurs.

In one of the sessions at the launch conference, the General Secretary of the Social Fund for Development and the Chair of Industrial Modernization Centre (IMC) Management council explored the role of policies and pertinent institutions in supporting entrepreneurship, particularly those relating to access to finance. Financial policies to support young entrepreneurs are a major concern among government officials. The establishment of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority (EFSA), for example, represents an attempt to organize the regulations that support non-conventional financing mechanisms, and  a new law is under study to introduce regulations that would allow micro-finance companies to operate in Egypt. Other ideas are under development in Egypt. The president of EFSA stressed the importance of exploring other methods of finance that would cater to entrepreneurs, including venture capital and leasing. The Chairman of the Egyptian Junior Business Association (EJB) emphasized the need to also attract credit guarantee companies.

At the same time, these thought leaders know that entrepreneurial risk is also a function of many other regulations related to doing business. A broad range of government regulations should be enacted to reduce operating costs in the country, as many participants concurred. The General Secretary of the Social Fund, for example, expressed that non-financial support is as important to support young entrepreneurs in the process of establishing their businesses as access to financing.

These ideas are not mere subjects of academic discussion. At the conference, the Chair of the IMC Management Council invited the panel, upon a request from the Minister of Trade and Industry, to attend a press conference next Tuesday, where a protocol for cooperation between the Ministry and SFD is going to be signed.  Another MOU was signed between IMC, MCSBE, EJB, and SFD at the end of this panel.

This high-level interest in promoting youth entrepreneurship can turn into a powerful policy tool for growth and for reform. Egypt’s economic fundamentals have been considered unsound due to high unemployment and inflation rates and poor trade statistics. The country ranks 106th among 183 economies in terms of the ease of doing business, and presents several regulation bottlenecks in the areas of enforcing contracts, paying taxes, dealing with construction permits and closing a business. Among the youth (those aged 15 to 29), only 30% say their governments make paperwork and permits easy enough to get for people who want to start a business, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Another highlight of the Egypt launch event was the session on the question “Could the Egyptian Education Systems Foster Entrepreneurship?” Recognizing that schools should prepare students to appreciate the role of entrepreneurship in the economy and encourage them to consider it as a path in life, this session explored where Egypt is in terms of curriculum and initiatives to encourage students’ creativity and innovation.  With a panel that included around 10 students, the recommendations that came out of the session were not only to introduce entrepreneurship education in schools and universities, but rather try to change how all subjects are being taught to encourage creativity. Students need to have more support in developing their ideas. As one student put it “when we graduate and apply for a job, employers ask for years of experience….we do not have years of experience as fresh graduates, and if we want to gain this experience, support should be given to us to start our own businesses”.

Policymakers can continue to learn a lot from young entrepreneurs. For example, a young entrepreneur at the conference started a business that manufactures medical equipment inspired by his success at a business plan competition. This young entrepreneur stresses that Egypt’s comparative advantage should be its human resources, as he referred to himself as just a small example of many Egyptian colleagues who are working abroad on  technology development. This was in reference to the brain drain caused by the lack of support to talents in Egypt. Another  group of students from SIFE-Egypt in the French University in Cairo had won the world cup of SIFE international. They were then able to transfer many ideas into viable businesses that not only generate profits but also have a great social impact. One of their projects uses animal waste in one of the islands in the Nile to produce biogas that is used as fuel for bakeries on the island. Though they are successful, they also indicated that they face some problems that mostly relate to laws and regulations governing firm establishment and operation.

There is a lot more potential among Egyptian students to become entrepreneurs; they just need to “unleash their ideas”. This Week is estimated to help this new wave of entrepreneurs; Global Entrepreneruship Week is estimated to reach up to 10,000 thousands of Egyptian youth (triple the number in 2008), providing inspiration, assistance, mentorship, and awareness.

Egypt is not the only country where entrepreneurship policy is getting top-level attention. We will continue to inform you of other policy-related events in places from Vienna to Dubai.

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