For young graduates just finishing their studies, the decision to either continue studying (at the risk of increasing student debt) or to enter the competitive job market can be a difficult one to make. There’s a third option, however, that’s becoming increasingly popular in the UAE: entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is not just an alternative to entering mainstream employment, however. In the UAE, where depleting natural resources has resulted in necessary diversification into industries like construction, metals and mining and hospitality, entrepreneurship is a starting point for continuing national economic diversification.
According to gulfnews.com, the UAE job market is set to absorb 405,000 new workers in the coming years, and as a result, the government has launched various initiatives that are aimed at assisting young entrepreneurs. As of 2013, there are 40 entrepreneurial programmes spanning licensing, real estate, funding, consultancy, public policy and business development and research in the UAE. The schemes are designed to help new entrepreneurs with guidance and direction via networks of experts and formalised support.
Despite the welcome initiatives, experts describe start-up culture in the UAE as conservative and quiet. There is indication of a divide between the web of support and the culture of entrepreneurship that has developed alongside it. For this to change, experts suggest, there needs to be better interaction between these two groups, who are working in an industry that has significant uncertainty and opposition to growth.
Although traditionally, nations with the GCC have been seen as more stable and have received proportionally more investment than others like Egypt or Jordan, there is now a marked emphasis on the future of the upcoming generations, with a view to growing entrepreneurial force throughout the Middle East. Egypt''s successes, for example, have included Mashaweer, a personal business service aiming to combat the urban challenges of Cairo; the young founders of which were helped by the country''s scale-up initiative, Endeavour.
Jordan has also benefited from a global infrastructure which includes international hotels and brands like Starbucks, and produces up to three-quarters of the online content for the whole region. Thanks to a monarch who actively supports technology and innovation, as well as thriving communities like the Tech Tuesdays networking events in Amman and female-owned start-ups like ArtMedium, Jordan has gained a reputation for innovation. On a practical level, government reductions in the minimum capital needed for a start-up and allowing expats easier access to a business current account in Jordan has made the country a hub for global investment opportunities.
Elsewhere, the Gulf countries continue to build on their natural resources. These nations have come a long way from being seen as giant oil reserves; income generated from oil export in places like UAE and Saudi Arabia has meant the governments have been able to inject cash into infrastructures, making progress in other industries like retail and consumer products and telecommunications. Add to this ambitious projects like the King Abdullah Economic City, a self-styled ''city of the future'', and the potential for employment and industry is only increasing in the Middle East.
The term ''emerging market'' is used again and again to refer to the Middle East and North Africa. With its stable economy and influx of foreign investment, places like the UAE have gone beyond the emergent stage, attracting 368 FDI projects in 2011, which in turn generated over 22,000 new jobs. Positive statistics such as this, coupled with more unexpected ones – like the fact that Arabic is one of the fastest-growing languages on Twitter – show that the Middle East has a strong entrepreneurial future.