Leading in an Agile World – Can We Usefully Redefine Leadership?

A colleague of mine recently circulated an email asking several of us to respond to his juxtaposition of leadership and catalyzing, reflecting the notion that the former is passé and the future is ‘catalyzing’ as the key concept. The response was quick and definitive…although “Concepts of leadership are evolving to keep pace with the disruption, transformation, and agility demands of today’s organizations,” as I noted in my last blog, most respondents believe that leaders still need skills grounded in experience while integrating catalyzing skills  for existing and future challenges.

This I believe is the core of agility: recognizing, mobilizing, enabling, empowering, and sharing leadership throughout the organization so that the culture reflects a blend of human and digital capacity geared toward innovation and collaboration. Now the challenge comes in several forms: the first is that not all companies are equal, in size, complexity, structure, and business model. Some are client or customer centric and have high brand recognition. Others offer specialty products that require strong R&D components to be competitive; while others are service-providers to emerging niche markets. Mixtures of bricks and mortar and virtual POS and distribution are not uncommon.

So while the structures and operational priorities may be dissimilar, the missions and goals can be reduced to “make money, keep customers happy,  stay happy.” This core of profitability and satisfaction are at the center of how leadership, whatever styles are effective, is exercised. Why “styles?” We learned ages ago that leadership defined by functions can range from directing and evangelizing to coaching and coercing, and at least a dozen more characteristics.

Leadership is a shortcut to conflate those traits that enable leaders in whatever context to lean forward, lead from behind, and construct and organizational culture that emphasizes continual innovation, adaptation, and a competitive edge, mirroring Jack Welch, former CEO of GE’s mantra of change leadership.

Michael Hamman and Michale K. Spayd put it this way in their White Paper, “The Agile Leader.” “An organization’s agility is not a function of “‘scaling’ current team-based delivery practices…Simply put, agile leadership entails a move from driving to results to creating environments that generate results.

Agile leadership is no accident. There is a clear methodology for enacting agile leadership.” They use the phrase ‘enterprise agility’ to express their assumption that “At the heart of sustainable enterprise agility is an adaptive, agile leadership.”

To value leadership in both its complexity and its simplicity, it is vital to remember that at the heart of leadership principles are, at least for now, human beings who make assumptions every day about how to succeed in a fluid and competitive environment. Back to Hamman and Spayd, “Fundamentally, it is as much about the interior—of individuals, of organizations—as it is about the exterior. It is as much about developing people as it is about building systems. It is as much about creating an agile culture as it is about adapting structures and processes.”

Catalyzing in this context is about aligning talent, resources, systems, objectives, and expectations to support agility, so that a catalyzing leader is an agile leader dedicated to mobilizing a coherent, consistent spirit of innovation shared by company teams that have transparent, respectful, reliable, and valued communications with their counterparts in- and outside the organization.

One could argue that because of the impact of technology and the yet to be understood tsunami called ‘AI’ that leadership is more difficult in today’s environment. On the other hand, it is also reasonable to point out that leadership in the past did not have the data, modelling options, robust algorithms, and highly developed technologies as learning aides. The uncertainty, complexity, and fluidity of today’s competitive environments, at all levels, demand a differently tuned skill set, which is why sometimes the strong survive, and sometimes they don’t. Change management has to begin within the individual, which is why companies have to seriously invest in driving agility throughout their organization and its processes and relationships.

The difference I believe is enabling the agility of leaders, teams, policies, communications, and the workforce to recognize, embrace, and capture change capabilities in order to survive and thrive. For success, mindsets need to be rewired to accept the inevitability of change and the acquisition of skills required to master its impact. These skill sets must extend beyond their particular silos and empower staff to collaborate across boundaries – and be rewarded for it. As employees recognize and accept agility as a means to mobilize and execute, they then become team members whose communications with others both assume and reflect the cultural values of the organization.

So for me, this is the role of leadership at all levels: to build consensus and collaboration around company strategies and communications that build agility internally and in its external relations.

 

Can Promoting Arab Women as Entrepreneurs Make a Difference?

Or will age-old stereotypes relegate them to secondary roles?

The economic and business roles of Arab women have been discussed for more than two decades and initiatives have been launched on the consensus that their participation is worth promoting. With electoral quotas in several Arab countries to promote their political participation and with more women appointed to significant positions in the private sector, there are indicators that the roles of women are being taken more seriously. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, while there is a great deal of focus on women driving and flying, much less has been published about those women who make up the majority of Saudis enrolled in medical and pharmacy schools, teaching and research programs, and a number of scientific concentrations.

But I believe that the emphasis across the region on building up women on entrepreneurs will only bear fruit if the term applies broadly to women who create and run small and medium-size enterprises as businesses as well as their counterparts engaged in IT, programming, hi tech, and similar sectors where entrepreneurs tend to concentrate.

Recent enterprise program initiatives recognize that empowering rural communities, co-ops, neighborhood associations, and similar groups will enable them to act as proto-incubators for bringing greater business literacy to those who have been largely marginalized economic players. The cost of not including women as serious economic actors is severe and largely unnoticed. A Brookings Institution article noted that “The World Bank recently said that globally we are losing $160 trillion in wealth because of the gender gap in earnings, including $3.1 trillion in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.”

Yet changes in legal codes, allocating more funding to female-centric programs, and building friendly ecosystems to support women in business still has to overcome the most significant barrier to women in the workforce – social and cultural stereotypes driven by a patriarchal society. As the Brookings article puts in, “In order to address the cultural barriers and the deep-rooted gender stereotyping concerning the division of labor, we must work closely with communities and with men specifically to raise the desirability and legitimacy of women working.”

Perhaps the reason that there is so much emphasis on promoting women entrepreneurs in hi tech is that these sectors are outside those traditional jobs tied to crafts and food processing or more male-dominated areas. An IFC article says it clearly. “It may surprise some to learn that one in three start-ups in the Arab World is founded or led by women — a higher percentage than in Silicon Valley. Indeed, women are a force to be reckoned with in the start-up scene across the Middle East. Because the tech industry is still relatively new in the Arab world, there is no legacy of it being a male dominated field. Many entrepreneurs from the region believe that technology is one of the few spaces where everything is viewed as possible, including breaking gender norms, and is therefore a very attractive industry for women.”

Digital platforms that are the backbone of many high-tech projects are one option for enabling women to spend time both at home and on the job. For example, “these digital platforms allow women to be unimpeded by cultural constraints or safety issues and lowers the implicit and explicit transaction costs of transportation, child care, discrimination, and social censure,” according to the IFC article.

So the future for highly educated women in the Arab world is not as regressive as for those with less education and access. In fact, “According to UNESCO, 34–57% of STEM grads in Arab countries are women, which is much higher share than universities in the US or Europe.”

Yet other statistics are not as supportive of a bright future for women. According to the IFC article, “In fact, 13 of the 15 countries with the lowest rate of female participation in the workforce are in the Arab World according to the World Bank. Restrictive laws in many countries across the region put women who wish to join or start their own businesses at a disadvantage, including prohibitions against women opening up a bank account or owning property, limited freedom of movement without a male guardian, or constraints on interactions with men who are not in their family, in addition to cultural and attitudinal stigmas.”

So it makes sense that the emphasis should be three-fold: opportunities for women at the community level through initiatives in traditional areas of crafts, niche foods, and specialty items (think argan oil and Zaatar); building ecosystems at the high end for university graduates who are well-versed in the digital economy and may apply those skills to upgrading those women at the community level (e.g. https://www.asilashop.com/, or http://deden.co.uk/heritage-natural-soap-by-tradition/), and those in-between who are eager to be active in their local economies and will excel if given training, resources, mentoring, and encouragement.

 

Women in Africa – Ready to Go, Almost

Investing in women, who make up the majority of the population, is a necessity as well as a great idea!

There is little doubt that Africa will witness rapid yet uneven economic and demographic growth in the next 20 years. Information from multiple sources indicates that its rise can positively affect the global economy by introducing a decisive regional economic force that must be reckoned with. The very steps that will enable this progress such as the African Continental Free Trade Area, widespread investments in communications, transportation, and distribution infrastructures, a greater emphasis on advancing agro-industry, and broad changes in education systems to prepare market-ready graduates to fuel the continent’s rise, are lagging.

This is not new. Since the last century, Africans from diverse communities as well as thought leaders have lamented the lack of coherent strategies in individual countries, regional groupings, and Africa at large that address shortcomings identified by governments and multilateral organizations. The wide disparity among African nations, in terms of GDP, PPP, literacy, gender ratios in education, the workforce, and professions, and continuing concerns with inclusion, corruption, social and health services, and rule of law, aggravate constraints to continent-wide growth. And one cannot overlook the consequences of hundreds of years of dividing Africa north from south, east from west, and other consequences of its difficult history with outside powers and regional rivalries.

Today, as documented by many data sources, Africa stands unevenly at a decision point – either move proactively to reform and enable broad economic inclusion, or face continuing malaise in addressing the needs of the fastest growing population in the world. The World Population Review points out that “There is a high proportion of younger people within the Africa population as a whole, with reports that 41% of the African population is under the age of 15. The life expectancy is also low – less than 50 in many nations and averaging 52 across the continent as a whole. This has reduced considerably over the course of the last twenty years with a widespread HIV and AIDS epidemic taking much of the blame for that statistic.”

Women outnumber men both in the older age groups and those just entering school so investing in girls and women as full partners in the economic future of the continent makes good business sense. A good place to start is focusing on women across the business spectrum because that would create multiple returns by enabling and empowering entrepreneurs and enterprises across many sectors rather than largely focusing on high-end technology and programming.

This is also consistent with initiatives that upgrade the health and well-being of Africans, which is a key goal of the UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all of the African countries. And it is critical that the international community work in partnership with countries and communities to combat the debilitating conditions that challenge the continent’s future.

To be clear, again looking at the disparities in education, income level, structure of economies, and other factors that differentiate the university graduates from the semi-literate farm and harvesting people, countries need to expand programs beyond urban areas and services and move aggressively to shore up the agricultural sectors that represent the largest percentage of many national GDPs. There are some significant projects that already exist that can serve as models for other countries. It has been suggested that marrying innovative technology programming skills with applications to agri-business may yield mutual benefits to upskilling both IT and agriculture workers.

The challenges for entrepreneurs and business owners are similar for men and women but are compounded by various norms that disproportionately affect women. The World Bank and the UNDP have worked for several decades to promote women in business through a variety of projects and programs but the problem begins with the legal systems that discriminate against women on social, cultural, and religious grounds.

The World Bank has launched an index measuring a country’s legal system vis-à-vis how women in business are impacted. Sarah Iqbal, Program Manager of the Women, Business and the Law Project at the World Bank noted that “Progress in Sub-Saharan Africa is heartening. Despite the myriad challenges facing the region, many governments are working to rescind laws, often holdovers from the colonial era that discriminate against women. We believe that if you change the law, you change the world and we look forward to recording further progress on women’s economic inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Her optimism reflects the fact that fully one-third of all reforms carried out globally were in sub-Saharan Africa, a total of 34 reforms with DRC, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia among the leaders. The full report and accompanying datasets are available at http://wbl.worldbank.org.

African women in the workforce is a continuing topic among World Bank bloggers. A recent blog put it quite well. “Walk around a major city in Sub-Saharan Africa and you will quickly realize that women are a highly visible part of the economy, selling all manner of products and services. In some ways, women are powering the economies of the continent to a greater degree than anywhere else in the world; Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where women make up the majority of self-employed individuals.” That bears repeating, women are the majority of small-business owners in Africa…that is why efforts to promote women in business must be broad-based to be inclusive of their efforts across the economy.

As the blog indicates, “What this fact conceals, however, is that on average women-owned firms have fewer employees, and lower revenues, profits, and productivity. In many cases, women’s businesses contribute little beyond basic subsistence. This limits the potential of women entrepreneurs and hinders economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa.”

This reality can be changed with policies and interventions that support business women through a comprehensive effort that includes literacy, business and financial skills training, mentoring, tactics for accessing financing, marketing, customer relations, and other inputs to making business succeed. As the author notes, “There is a huge opportunity to unleash women entrepreneurs, boosting economic growth and lifting millions of people out of poverty in the process. While in some cases removing barriers to women entrepreneurs may involve slow-moving policy debates, in other cases relatively simple interventions can make a huge difference.”

In multiple studies, it is clear that despite gender inequality, progress in opening up the business space by empowering and enabling women can be transformational for Africa. Limitations that must be dealt with were described in a posting in Africa.com.  Some of the unique challenges facing women include limited access to funding, a lack of mentors to provide guidance, stereotypes that block women from being accepted as experts and supervisors, self-limiting factors that discourage self-confidence and innovation, and social norms that continue to support male dominance in economic affairs.

Ironically, studies in micro-finance/credit and banking show that although “Women manage their credit better than men, the former still find it harder to obtain funding than the latter. A study by the African Development Bank finds that the financing gap for women in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at above US $20 billion, and younger women struggle the most. According to the 2014 Findex report, only 30% of women in sub-Saharan Africa have access to bank accounts.” This statistic shows the importance of empowering women through financial inclusion.

This past week, South Africa hosted #sheinnovates, a project of the UN Women’s Initiative Global Innovation Coalition for Change (GICC) launched in 2017 that brings together UN women and key players from the private sector, academia, and the NGO community. “It aims to develop the innovation market to better support women and accelerate the process of gender equality and women’s empowerment by building awareness of the potential of women-developed innovation; identifying key barriers to the advancement of women in the fields of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship; and working collaboratively to identify and address such barriers at an industry-wide level.”

Another noteworthy initiative is the US-funded African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) based on the assumption that the more that women network across borders and within communities, the more capable they will be to innovate, mentor, organize, and empower themselves and others. According to the State Department, “AWEP alumni have created more than 17,000 jobs and established 22 women’s business associations across Sub-Saharan Africa that are transforming societies and spurring economic growth.”

The website states that “In Africa, women are the backbone of communities and the continent’s greatest potential to unlocking economic growth as they provide the majority of labor with the least amount of resources. Reductions in the gender gap in education, health, political participation, and economic inclusion will result in an increase in the continent’s economic competitiveness.”

The program “Seeks to dismantle the obstacles to business opportunities and economic participation that African women face, “By identifying and building networks of women entrepreneurs [and business owners] sub-Saharan Africa is poised to transform their societies by owning, running, and operating small and medium businesses, and by becoming voices for social advocacy in their communities.”

As more and more resources are invested in African women in business, the continent will reap the benefits of empowering the majority of its population!

 

Fair Trade Lebanon Has a Banner Year Developing Local Communities through Jobs and Business Development

In the past few years, it has been instructive to see the achievements of Fair Trade Lebanon (FTL), an organization dedicated to empowering rural communities and women’s organizations through economic development. At a time when a great deal of attention is focused on megaprojects to advance Lebanon’s economy, FTL works at the local level to change how people build their futures. Given the well-known attraction of Lebanese food products both at home and abroad, FTL came up with the idea of encouraging local cooperatives and farmers to produce food items for local consumption and export with a fair trade certification. Initially directed at the overseas Lebanese, FTL now exports to over a dozen markets.

I caught up with Philippe Adaime, FTL’s CEO on a recent trip to Washington, DC and asked him to give ATFL a report on their progress in 2017. Here is his report.

2017 has been an extraordinary year for Fair Trade Lebanon. Proud of its 12 years of community engagement, the Lebanese non-profit organization is on the path to move forward from “good to great.”

In a country with regionally displaced populations of refugees, facing socio-economic pressures, and increases in unemployment and political instability, Fair Trade Lebanon (FTL) has been able to implement and manage 7 important projects in 2017 and impacted 2,500 jobs. These projects benefit first the host communities and farmers who are the backbone of the rural areas, and includes efforts to help refugees deal with their uncertain future by generating employment opportunities and the seeds for business development.

In 2017, FTL supported 35 women cooperatives and group of farmers to improve their production in order to access local and international markets. In fact, 19 cooperatives received 40 pieces of new equipment and supplies that benefitted more than 540 people. In addition, 1,000 men and women benefited from a MEPI-funded project (A US foreign assistance program) – a number that doubled in 18 months of activities – through the organization of 187 training sessions to support cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in improving their production. As a result, cooperatives and SMEs within the FTL network saw their sales increase by up to 40%, which affected 500 new jobs among 20 business units.

Furthermore, this improvement in production and increase of sales led to an addition of 15 new points of sales in Lebanon and 2 new importers. Currently, 35% of FTL’s producers’ production is meant for export; 13 units are certified organic, and 4 obtained the FLOCERT certification, which indicates that they have met international standards for fair trade.

Regarding refugees in Lebanon, FTL supported 900 vulnerable women from host and refugee communities through specific food processing training (preserves, catering, saj), and insured that 55% were Lebanese and 45% Syrian. FTL organized 390 training sessions related to food processing, hygiene, marketing, pricing, and event management. Importantly, 12% of these beneficiaries were youth.

FTL linked 300 Lebanese and Syrian to the private sector by enrolling them in a 2-months internship program where 12% where able to find a decent job. In 2017, FTL intensified its work in Akkar with a group of 30 dedicated Lebanese and Syrian women who established a cooperative in Khreibet el Jundi, and their products can now be found in the well-known Topline supermarket in Halba.

FTL’s target in 2017 expanding its domestic network by organizing 33 awareness sessions in mainly schools and universities reaching 1,300 students. In order to revive and promote authentic Lebanese cooking practices, FTL developed the concept of “make your own saj” and adopted the “shop in shop” channel to get closer to consumers. This created 12 new jobs and revenue of 8,000 USD per month of selling saj.

Concurrently, FTL launched a media campaign all over Lebanon through offline and online platforms, which reached 3,000,000 people all over the country and 18,000 followers on Facebook. FTL took part in 22 events in Lebanon and abroad to promote fair trade practices and market the cooperatives’ products. FTL also attended the World Fair Trade Organization conference in India, where it strengthened strengthed its partnerships with fair trade actors from other countries.

Finally, 2017 was marked by two big events. First, FTL organized the World Fair Trade Day in Lebanon with 2,000 attendees, 45 products exhibited, and 15 live stations to cater friends and supporters. Secondly, in partnership with the Lebanese Embassy in Washington DC, FTL organized an event at the Embassy’s residence under the theme “Authentic Lebanese Culinary Products” where FTL presented its mission and the wide range of products from “Terroirs du Liban.” Over 400 guests attended this event, including 10 importers and 5 media representatives who were greatly impressed with the quality of “home-made” Lebanese products now available in the US.

With a fair and ambitious motto “from good to great,” FTL looks back at 2017 with a feeling of satisfaction and yet a feeling of thirst to grow and inspire everyone they come across. Follow this link to see where FTL works all over Lebanon and this link to see the many products available.

 

 

Working to Grow Lebanon’s Economy through Enabling Entrepreneurs

I recently wrote about the visit of Lebanese entrepreneurs to the US to learn more about how we support the growth of entrepreneurs on the local level. Many of them have met Tony Fadell, the Lebanese-American who is credited as co-creator of the I-Pod, I-Phone, and Nest, and believe that they can only benefit from more interactions with overseas Lebanese. One of the participants, Hani Mawlawi, provided me with information on a program that may be of interest to overseas Lebanese who want to provide concrete encouragement to young people working to advance Lebanon’s economic growth.

Lebanon Science and Technology Park (LSTP) provides support to entrepreneurs to transform their innovative ideas/R&D science or technology projects into successful businesses, creating more job opportunities, and promoting the country’s economic development. Although currently targeting the north of Lebanon, it has aspirations to take its work throughout the country. In order to do this, it is necessary to recruit international donors and specialized agencies as partners who can bring their experiences and resources in support of LSTP projects.

In orders to reach the minimal size and development to become a viable entity, entrepreneurs must rely on an entrepreneurship ecosystem that includes access to technology infrastructure, financing, mentoring, skilled human resources, business and market strategic planning, and testing, marketing, and distribution of the final product or service. In Lebanon, boosting and enabling this ecosystem has been a focus of a number of programs within universities, government agencies, and international donors.

LSTP is collaborating with the UK Lebanon Tech Hub (UKLTH) to make the ecosystem a reality. UKLTH is a joint initiative spearheaded by the Lebanese Central Bank (BDL) and the British Government with a mission of creating jobs and sustainable economic wealth in Lebanon. Since its inception, the UKLTH has supported 77 startups locally, helped 7 enter the UK market and scaled up 3 into the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regional market through Dubai. It is reported that 1257 jobs have been created in the process and the cohort startups are collectively valued at $206 million. Another competitive round to identify new candidates for the program has just closed and there are high expectations that the project will successfully continue to advance entrepreneurship in Lebanon.

At the current time, the UKLTH’s programs include:

  • The Nucleus: Early stage venture-building program focused on product development.

  • The International Research Centre (IRC): Funds and manages applied research projects between Lebanese universities/startups and international partners.

  • The Scale-Up Program: Aimed at internationalizing and expanding MENA based startups into global markets.

  •  GEM: The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor is the world’s foremost study of entrepreneurship that looks at the entrepreneurial behavior and attitudes of individuals alongside the national context and how it impacts entrepreneurship.

The UKLTH wants to hear from overseas Lebanese with an interest in promoting technologies and applications from Lebanon to the world. So if you’re a tech person or someone who markets and distributes technology devices and applications, contact them and see how together you can make a better world for Lebanese entrepreneurs!

Expanding the Utility of Entrepreneurship in Jordan

My first training assignment in Jordan was with the AMIR 2 project in 2002. The emphasis at the time was on the ITC sector and its applications from e-government to health care, transportation, education, and communications, among others. Being an entrepreneur then was thought possible due to the low cost of entry and relatively easy access to Internet marketing. Startups focused more on obtaining needed broadband and programming equipment than investors with deep pockets. Jordan was a pioneer in building the IT sector and spreading it throughout the region.

Today, the emphasis on entrepreneurship continues to be a constant message to young people. Yet times have changed, and we need to rethink whether or not conditions are still favorable to entrepreneurs and whether or not they can create the jobs needed to offset some of the country’s employment needs.

Successful entrepreneurs exist because of three sets of factors. The first is a supportive eco-system: infrastructure, financing, available human resources, market access, positive regulatory environment, and an opportunity-driven marketplace. The second set focuses on scale of opportunity and the competition: entrepreneurs make profits, reinvest in their companies, attract new financing, and survive in a competitive environment driving more growth.

These two groups of factors characterized Jordan’s early IT successes but eventually led companies to set up facilities abroad, mostly in the Gulf, since Jordan could not keep up with incentives offered elsewhere. Today, the third set, related to sustainability, is difficult to achieve in Jordan since the IT market is largely saturated by local and foreign firms, leaving an uncertain future growth in the technology sectors. Workforce demand, reflecting Jordan’s growing population, no longer favors university graduates and engineers but has many opportunities for those who can wed technology with more technical and vocational skills in services, manufacturing, assembly, and productive sectors.

Women can play a key role through skills and technology

Women can play a key role through skills and technology

So a useful question is “Can Jordan, with its well-developed human IT capacity, power non-IT based employment?” Yes, if one sees IT as a tool and enabler for driving non-high technology entrepreneurship. The key is empowering human capital to use IT for achieving market access for newly configured products, aggregating services for rapid, customer-centered delivery, and improving traditional manufacturing and production operations. IT in the hands of semi-skilled yet aware vocational and technical skilled labor can be used for setting up plumbing and HVAC service companies, home health care and maintenance services, as well as catering and hospitality services, among opportunities. All can become efficient and profitable using IT tools, and it is a very rich area for marrying entrepreneurial skills with talented labor.

As importantly, entrepreneurs using IT solutions can provide numerous training and education programs to integrate and improve the quality of the workforce, either for their own staff or for employers committed to making investments in people and processes. Using IT to grow companies that blend university and vocational graduates to enhance service delivery or improve manufacturing processes is a good starting point for a new brand of entrepreneurs.

Another area of great promise where IT can facilitate job placement and a road to entrepreneurship is certification for skills acquired through experience. There are numerous European models that use hands-on testing aided by technology assessments to measure the competence of workers who lack high literacy levels. Certification programs are especially critical in a country like Jordan where more than 60% of the workforce is in the informal sector and the small member companies of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, some 70,000 firms, have five or less employees.

Entrepreneurs can figure out how to drive this competency-based training and work with micro and small enterprises (MSEs) to develop strategies for upgrading and providing more predictability to their marketing and production. This will strengthen the middle stratum of businesses, growing the SME contribution to GDP. And this brings us back to the original set of conditions for successful entrepreneurship – an eco-system that is user friendly.

Bottom line – Jordan has to rethink and recalibrate what it means by entrepreneurship and motivate the unemployed and underemployed university graduates to utilize their IT skills to develop solutions with MSEs to relaunch the lower 90% of the Jordanian economy. This partnership would redefine entrepreneurship beyond high tech applications and instead bring IT back to its roots as a facilitator for growth through more efficient processes.

Entrepreneurship cannot be viewed solely as the preserve of the brilliant and the educated. It is the achievement of aspirations through a combination of luck, timing, passion, and workable ideas. Jordan needs some great ideas now, and bringing together those with IT skills and others with hands-on talents to provide solutions utilizing vocational and technical jobs and processes can only benefit the country as a whole.

Problems and Promises of Youth Employment in the MENA

A very interesting series of studies is being produced by the CSIS Youth, Prosperity, and Security Initiative and the International Youth Foundation (IYF), a partnership that focuses clearly on global issues affecting youth, “Exploring the near- and long-term economic, social, and geopolitical implications of youth development trends around the world,” according to its website.

The partners work covers a variety of topics ranging from The Global Youth Wellbeing Index to CSIS-generated country and region specific studies. This recent panel, convened by Ritu Sharma, Senior Visiting Fellow for the Initiative was on “Scaling Youth Employment in the Middle East.” The panel featured Mohammad AlMbaid, IYF Country Director for Palestine; Jon B. Alterman, CSIS Senior Vice President, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and Director of its Middle East Program; and Zeenat Rahman, former Special Advisor to  Secretaries Clinton and Kerry on Global Youth Issues.

From the panel’s perspectives, four common themes emerged:

  • All countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have growing demographic pressures to create jobs and face of declining economic growth, weak educational systems, and mismatched education to employment outcomes.
  • There are cultural challenges to promoting youth employment ranging from gender discrimination to attitudes towards manual skills jobs.
  • University graduates are disproportionally affected with unemployment rates often 3 x that of the national average.
  • There are no one-size fits all solutions. Although the overall challenge of generating jobs quickly without relying on the public sector is common, other national factors influence policy options, implementation strategies, and definitions of desired outcomes.

Morocco is a useful case study on all four themes. It has a growing population, indeed 50+% of the population is under 30. Despite its success in attracting significant investments in the manufacturing sector, creating some 300,000 jobs in the automotive sector alone in five years, it still faces a gap in the educational system’s capacity to effectively train qualified labor. Its greatest success has come through public-private partnerships, yet it is still not enough.

Moroccan youth, accustomed to seeing previous generations taken care of by the government, are reluctant to enter into the uncertainty and discipline of the private sector. Although this is slowly changing, cultural factors often restrict a woman’s ability to find meaningful work and condition males to resist certain types of skilled jobs. This is particularly critical for university graduates where the 30% unemployment rate reflects not only a lack of white collar jobs but resistance to vocational/technical alternatives.

While Morocco does not have the resources of the Gulf countries to build and equip educational and training facilities, it has successfully recruiting tens of thousands of young people for manufacturing, services, industries, and technology jobs by promoting the benefits of skilled labor, how jobs can evolve into careers, and providing support for entrepreneurs. Yet the sheer numbers of youth, as evidenced in the focus of the panel on “scaling youth employment,” remain significant.

The Experts Search for Solutions

Building on this point of demographic pressures, Jon Alterman pointed out that public sector employment is often a stability issue – a means of insuring citizens’ loyalty. When government jobs are no longer available, threats to stability rise and issues of tradeoffs in the short term between security (managing conflict and unrest among youth) and stability (distorting the national economy through excessive non-productive government employment) become paramount. Equally “challenging,” Alterman mentioned, is developing effective strategies for changing attitudes toward job preferences, from no-risk subsidized government jobs to greater reliance on private sector employment tied to local, national, and regional markets.

iyfMohammad AlMbaid related how, after extensive surveys, IYF decided that university graduates would be the focus of their initial programs in Palestine. They work with a majority of the universities in Palestine to provide “life-skills training” for graduates to enable them to acquire those soft skills necessary to survive and advance in today’s workforce. Early results show that graduates of their courses are employed at 2x the rate of others who did not have the course. IYF is expanding its programs to vocational schools and works with the Saudi government to implement similar programs in the Kingdom.

Zeenat Rahman noted that the US government, beginning with Secretary Clinton, became involved in global youth affairs reflecting from President Obama’s concern that young people in many countries had literally no relationship to the US due to political conditions. Both Secretaries Clinton and Kerry focused a great deal of effort on youth programs, sensing that this was an opportunity to engage youth beyond counter-radicalization efforts to enabling them to take control of their futures. A key selling point, she said, was learning to address these issues from the self-interests of the partner countries rather than US prescriptions.

The discussion that followed was quite robust as most of those present have experience in youth employment efforts and lent their well-honed perspectives on workable strategies. There was broad agreement on the importance of shifting attitudes among youth toward skills-centered jobs; emphasizing “in-trapreneurship” based on life-skills that enable youth to make the most of their employment choices; the need for both top-down policies and grassroots programs for long-term effectiveness; and the need for more holistic approaches in education to produce better qualified and focused youth.

No one left with a sense that the job was done. As Rahman pointed out, there have been numerous and thorough studies globally of the youth employment phenomenon. What is much more challenging is implementing solutions that are sustainable, scalable, and timely, supported by public-private partnerships. It is, after all, in their core interests to enable youth to believe in their futures.

 

 

Progress Requires Empowering Youth, Not Deriding Them

Need to rethink assumptions about Arab work ethic

Jessica Ashooh, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force, took aim at several of the comments about Arab youth made by President Obama in his now famous interview in The Atlantic. While decrying the overall dismal state of the political life in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the president remarked that Arabs, frankly, weren’t up to par with their counterparts in Southeast Asia, which, he said, “is filled with striving, ambitious, energetic people who are every single day scratching and clawing to build businesses and get education and find jobs and build infrastructure.”

The president is, of course, entitled to his opinions. But given his stature, these somehow get translated into truth, which, in this case, supports stereotypes that disparage a generation of Arab youth, who are similarly engaged in a significant struggle to build value, create jobs, and improve their quality of life. This feeds into the common misperception that somehow “Arabs” do not share American interests in the MENA region.

Yet time and time again, from the high level of joint military cooperation such as the annual African Lion exercises to the multitude of education, training, capacity-building, and entrepreneurship projects the US supports though economic assistance funding, we indeed find significant alignment with our friends, such as Morocco, in the region. Despite the fact that being a “friend of America” entitles you to be on the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh hit list, we find youth throughout the Arab world actively engaged in challenging the status quo and building quality life options.

Contrast what the president had to say with a recent World Bank blog posting. “As you walk through the ancient market in Fes or that of any other medina in Morocco, pass a vibrant hair salon in downtown Casablanca with the feel of a beauty mega-factory, or see young people on a street corner in Rabat waiting to be picked up for a day job in construction, you cannot but be impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit on display. The young people hard at work across the country are part of a huge army of Moroccan youth, many of whom have less than secondary school degrees, stuck  in the informal sector with limited opportunities for a good, steady income.”

women cashiers WBThroughout Morocco, which is emblematic of the vast majority of Arab youth, young people are striving to find the means to acquire skills, financing, teams, and markets that will change their futures for the better.  As Ashooh writes, “Beyond the noise of the ISIS horror show, young Arabs are seeking education and starting companies at record levels, using technology to improve not only their personal prospects but also their societies.”

Morocco provides a multitude of examples of start-ups that are nurtured in facilities and labs with resources that support entrepreneurial teams of men and women working in collaboration to redefine how technology can benefit sectors from small-hold farms to mature information systems. Combined with the country’s dedication to renewable energy and improved health services, opportunities for enhancing quality of life are increasing daily.

The government senses that it has a key role to play but, rather than regulate how entrepreneurism should evolve, instead is listening to the youth and their allies in the private sector to encourage and abet an entrepreneurial eco-system. With increased access to early and second stage financing, business fairs to demonstrate new applications and technologies, and increased attention from private investors, youth are reaching for opportunities that simply did not exist even five years ago.

And while developing and using technology require a defined skill set, there are many other technologies that can be applied by those with a less formal education in areas such as agriculture, hospitality services, small-scale energy, home and health care, and artisanal crafts. These latent skills are accessible to previously illiterate village women, poorly educated rural youth, and those enmeshed in the informal economy. It is about options; it is about change. Remarkably, women make up some 35% of the start-ups in Morocco, 10 times the ratio of women-led tech startups in the US.

So if President Obama wants to see what the majority of MENA youth are focusing on, he should visit one of the dozens of tech fairs held each year in Morocco; or visit incubators that are borne of university-private sector partnerships. He should listen to the aspirations of those who every day are striving to make a difference in their lives and their communities.

Working Through Challenges, Morocco Maintains Focus on Progress

At a time when countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as well as the EU and US are struggling to balance civil liberties and heightened security measures, it is helpful to look at other factors contributing to a country’s stability and progress. This was the overall theme in articles published by www.the-report.com earlier this year, in conjunction with the International New York Times.

The series featured interviews with leaders in Morocco’s public and private sector, and articles covering some of the more visible development projects that are changing the face and tempo of the country.

For example, the interview with the Head of Government, Abdelilah Benkiran, provided a much needed antidote to the fixation on the role of religion in the Islamic-led government. Disagreements both major and minor (read abortion and gay rights to ads for alcoholic beverages on television) take up most of the media space with little insight, in the English-language press, about the PJD’s overall philosophy of governance. One message that sounded almost libertarian: “I believe that the government should disengage itself from all of the sectors that the private sector or civil society would take better charge of,” says Benkiran, “and refocus the available resources towards the citizens, the sectors and the regions that need them most.”

Given the current contentious climate in Morocco over a new media/press law, rights for juveniles, treatment of immigrants and migrants, enhanced rights for women, implementation of programs that equalize treatment of the Amazigh language, and the place of English in the educational system, recognizing private-public sector partnerships in concrete terms may go a long way to building consensus on policies to move forward.

Another article in the report looked at education and progress in economic development, which are closely linked because of the challenge to Morocco’s educational system to turn out qualified human resources. As the report notes, “With top-down educational reform now the focus of ambitious investment programs to transform the labour market, the country is ready to realise its potential both as regional hub and global competitor.” International donors, various ministries, NGOs, and civil society top the list of major players in redefining and empowering education and training in Morocco.

The series also surveyed efforts by the government to improve the quality of its workforce development strategies. “A major element in delivering Vision 2030, a roadmap to wholesale education improvements, are efforts to broaden Morocco’s talent pool via a significant increase in the number of scholarships and closer alignment with vocational training to better prepare its graduates for the job market.” Only by addressing the education sector broadly, from improving retention rates after primary school to improving the quality of products generated by universities, will concrete progress be achieved.

This raises additional concerns beyond the various players in the training and educational system, such as providing the technical infrastructure to support efforts that sustain institutional players and are also vital to the continued growth of entrepreneurism. “With the National Broadband Plan aiming to achieve broadband coverage for 100 percent of the population by 2022, Morocco’s nascent tech start-ups are ready to rise.” Extensive broadband is essential for the growth of technology and knowledge industries as well as its role as an enabler for existing industries to retool and reach new markets.

“Today, Morocco is the continent’s second-largest pharmaceutical exporter, with seven to eight percent of production now leaving the country, largely southward.  Following the expansion of its …state-of-the art manufacturing plant, however, Laprophan is looking not just to boost exports to Africa but also to the Middle East, Europe and the Americas.”

Morocco’s story would not be complete without acknowledging its vision to become a regional leader. “Today, although there is still much to be done, the country has nevertheless achieved the privileged status of a stable, peaceful Arab nation, governed smoothly by a democratically elected Islamist party. The successful transition from traditional kingdom to a modern global player, envied throughout the Arab and Muslim world, means that today more than ever Morocco is a key force in the region.”

The article focusing on Africa points out that “Numerous institutional and societal advances have laid the foundation for this stability, while economic reforms have succeeded in improving the day-to-day life of the Moroccan people and positioned the country comfortably and sustainably in the global arena.”

When looking south, one can’t help but be impressed with the results of King Mohammed VI’s “economic diplomacy.” “Today, 55 percent of Royal Air Maroc’s traffic goes to African countries, making Casablanca a regional hub. Morocco is also now the best-connected African country by sea routes, according to a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report, and has seen a 20 percent increase in 2015 in the number of containers going through its ports.”

In a related interview, US Ambassador to Morocco Dwight Bush, provided three reasons why he is optimistic about Morocco. The first is its open and progressive business climate. The second is security throughout the country that has resulted “principally because you have a moderate, progressive Islamic state headed by King Mohammed VI who has a vision of his country, his people and their participation both internally and on the continent to try to help other countries to come along as well.”

The third item for Ambassador Bush mentions is Morocco’s political progress. “From a political perspective, Morocco has been ahead of many others in the region.” He sums up his view in what is a fitting conclusion to the series. “The hope is that Morocco continues to show by example how to work effectively to move the country forward, recognizing that you have needs for security as well as liberties and freedoms. And so in addition to our commercial and investment orientation, we work with the Moroccans to expand civil society and political institutions.”

It is a series worth exploring in detail.

American University of Leadership Morocco Has Ambitious Educational Strategy

Highlights Role for Expat Moroccans in Developing Skilled Workforce

Dr. Anass Lahlou does not have small dreams…they are super-sized, multicultural, and multidimensional when it comes to higher education, especially educating Moroccans for the global economy. From his experiences with AMS, a well-respected training and education firm in the Washington, DC area, he became convinced that traditional approaches for preparing youth to meet diverse market labor needs were not effective in content, cost, or time. So he began working with his networks to develop innovative models for equipping young people with professional, business, and soft skills that would serve them throughout their lives.

He began with training small cadres of Moroccans in IT-related fields. His biggest challenge at that point, he told me, was finding enough Moroccan staff with US backgrounds who shared his approach to learning and leadership. The idea was to enable qualified students to obtain US degrees in Morocco, as he found that students were ready to move away from the limitations of the academic French model and towards the American system with its emphasis on critical thinking, problem solving, and student-centered learning.

In 2005, he set up a private institute for training and technology in Florida, where his original campus is located, receiving permission to operate in Morocco the following year. His American University of Leadership (AUL) was initially a bilingual French-English online platform, which he quickly expanded through partnerships and formal campus settings into a number of countries. He is very proud of the fact that of the resident students at the three campuses in Morocco, more than 20% receive scholarship support.

“My motivation, all along,” he explained, “is to make a difference in how students see education, not only as a degree but as a means of changing lives.” In 2010, he set his focus on Africa as well as Morocco, and to date has cooperative programs with universities in Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Senegal, and Russia, and agreements to move forward with Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

AUL-USA, the parent institution, is licensed by the Florida Commission for Independent Education (CIE)/FLDOE) and Accredited in Morocco by “ACBSP” Accreditation Council of Business Schools and Programs (under the auspices of the Council of Higher Education and Accreditation, CHEA). This year, he is the chair of the events committee of CHEA and will be hosting their annual conference at the Rabat campus.

What drives the instructional program is a commitment to upgrading the scientific, technical, business, and innovation climate in Morocco, focusing on Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Business, and Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and a Doctorate of Business Administration. His ultimate goal, through a newly formed AUL Morocco Foundation, is to create a Knowledge City in Bouznika, between Rabat and Casablanca, as an epicenter for 20-30 international universities to share a common campus and offer highly specialized courses in English that are unavailable anywhere else in the country, focusing on research, business, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

An American Marocophile, Elisabeth Myers, who serves as a strategic advisor to AULM, became committed to Dr. Lahlou and his mission after attending a retreat with his faculty in Rabat this year. She saw their remarkable commitment; and she became convinced that what Dr. Lahlou is doing is “just what Morocco needs at this critical time of rapid growth.” She told me that his “vision is extraordinary. He is offering the substantive courses in business with the more important underlay of leadership. AUL Morocco is changing the mentality of students, one at a time, to embrace the efficient, the effective, the proactive, the reliable—plus all the other qualities of leadership necessary to move the country forward to excel in the global marketplace of the 21st century.”

Elisabeth believes that the Foundation and the Knowledge City will “magnify exponentially what is possible for students at AUL, provide the resources to promote technological innovation and entrepreneurship, and significantly contribute to Morocco’s economy.”

When asked what was most important to him in the next five years, Dr. Lahlou spoke about the need to aggressively involve expatriate Moroccans in AULM’s programs. Because of their language capabilities, training in Western practices, and commitment to practical scholarship, he believes that they can make a significant contribution to the country. To that end, he is holding an international conference June 3-4 at the Rabat campus to help private universities in Morocco refine their offerings to reflect best practices to improve education in the country.

Dr. Lahlou’s list of best practices includes instructional technologies, program designs, interactive engagement models, and public-private partnerships for designing courses, in order to make private schools better contributors to economic development. Dr. Lahlou feels strongly that expatriate Moroccan education professionals can play a key role in encouraging educational institutions in Morocco to gain insights into options for upgrading their offerings. To do so will require a significant investment in improving teaching and faculties at all levels, especially in English-language instruction.

It is timely that AULM’s view of major changes to enable Morocco’s education system to produce qualified human resources is gaining momentum as the country is rapidly expanding its technology and new business sectors. Dr. Lahlou’s vision, however, can only be realized, he believes, if all are given the chance to learn. He hopes that securing support for the AULM Foundation and its commitment to broad scholarship support for its students will mark a turning point for Moroccan education into the 21st century.