Business Culture in the Arab World

March 15, 2011 in Entrepreneurship, Starting up by Nicolas Rouhana

A few years ago, I was invited to be a Juror in the Ecole d’Été Internationale pour Jeunes Entrepreneurs (www.eeije.com) at the University of Sherbrooke, Canada. As I was a Lebanese coming for the Arab region, I was also asked to give a talk regarding the “Business Culture in the Arab World” (in French of course!) to the participants, who were mostly from French-speaking Europe and Quebec.

For the anecdote, I recall that I modified entirely the original presentation during the trans-atlantic flight Paris-Montreal. The reason is that I suddenly decided to take a step back and give a much broader perspective on the various cultures (in plural) in the Arab world that hinders entrepreneurship and innovation. The entire presentation can be found here, but I will sum up below some of the main “cultures” addressed:
  1. Economy: based mostly on oil & real-estate, negative growth over the past 50 years
  2. Scientific: high illiteracy rates, low Internet and mobile penetration, low patents
  3. Social: individualistic, closed family businesses, not open to capital injections, fear of risk and failure, consumers vs producers of technology
  4. Politics: monarchies, bureaucracies, no transparency, unstable regions
  5. Universities: no corporate or government funded R&D, theory-driven rather application-driven, more concerned about academic reputation than commercial reputation (unlike their US counterparts such as MIT, Stanford, etc)
  6. Financial: lack of VCs and business angels, no exit strategies, no developed financial markets
  7. Low number of science parks & incubators
  8. etc etc.
of course ending the talk by showing positive and emerging initiatives that encouraged Entrepreneurship and startup creation (at the time).
The “raison d’être” of this blog now is that looking back at the findings in the presentation, I am amazed that most of the tackled points are still applicable today unfortunately, unless someone (and I hope) can prove me otherwise 🙁
I can admit that perhaps some points got better but others got even worse (just look at the latest rankings of the world bank “doing business” report,s or the WEF reports !)